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#1245709 - 08/08/09 10:38 AM Piano Competitions' Dark Side
Piano*Dad Online   content
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From the NY TImes:

Piano Competitions' Dark Side

I don't think there is much new here. The arguments against these high level competitions are well known and well rehearsed. But I'm fascinated by the welling up of reform ideas from the players themselves.

P.S. I was unaware of the incident with Schiff. That intrigued me.
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#1245728 - 08/08/09 11:53 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
Monica K. Offline

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Registered: 08/10/05
Posts: 17815
Loc: Lexington, Kentucky
Very interesting, piano*dad! I loved the closing quote by Prosseda: "The public doesn't want us to play the standard way perfectly. The public wants us to make them cry.”

I was also intrigued by the accusation made of secret vote-trading among judges. That seems like a pretty serious ethical violation, but no source was attributed for it, nor was any indication given of how widespread that practice is.
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#1245738 - 08/08/09 12:22 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
John Citron Offline
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I wonder if any of the competitions will eventually fade away because of the huge number of them. The other thing too perhaps the larger conservatories should establish jury and competition standards like they have for juried figure skating and other sports events. This may also cut back on the hogwash that goes with these events.

John
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#1245766 - 08/08/09 01:47 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: John Citron]
Horowitzian Offline
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Good article! I agree that there needs to be some absolute standards for judging (conduct in particular) like there are in figure skating (thanks, John!) and gymnastics.
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#1245784 - 08/08/09 02:12 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
Damon Offline
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Registered: 09/22/06
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Loc: St. Louis area
I like the Pridonoff solution.
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#1245805 - 08/08/09 03:55 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Damon]
jdhampton924 Offline
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Registered: 01/13/08
Posts: 1009
Loc: Evansville, Indiana
There is a lot of things that they can do to improve upon the problem. I was shocked at the number of asain pianists. I thought it would be higher then thirty-five percent. I thought it would be closer to fifty percent. That was close to the ratio I seen when I was in school or doing auditions, competitions ect ect. Though I do leave out Europe.

Even if the competitions were blind. It would still leave the problem of going for the fastest.

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#1245806 - 08/08/09 03:56 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Damon]
apple* Offline


Registered: 01/01/03
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i have heard before about the vote trading and i'm not in competitions.

i had read the article yesterday and figured somebody would post it here. I love following the van Cliburn competition.. that would be so neat to be so talented.
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#1245816 - 08/08/09 04:23 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: jdhampton924]
Damon Offline
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Registered: 09/22/06
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Loc: St. Louis area
Originally Posted By: jdhampton924

Even if the competitions were blind. It would still leave the problem of going for the fastest.

Do you really think that? I doubt your favorite performances are only the fastest ones. I know mine aren't. There may be a problem in that a judge who has a student competing will recognize his playing, but he shouldn't be a judge anyway
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#1245821 - 08/08/09 04:34 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Damon]
jdhampton924 Offline
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Registered: 01/13/08
Posts: 1009
Loc: Evansville, Indiana
Originally Posted By: Damon
Originally Posted By: jdhampton924

Even if the competitions were blind. It would still leave the problem of going for the fastest.

Do you really think that? I doubt your favorite performances are only the fastest ones. I know mine aren't. There may be a problem in that a judge who has a student competing will recognize his playing, but he shouldn't be a judge anyway


I believe that it would only solve one performance. How does not seeing the performer change if your picking them by speed?

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#1245877 - 08/08/09 07:27 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: jdhampton924]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Why would any reputable musician pick winners by speed? I have seen no evidence that musicians are particularly impressed by that feature above all the other features that define musicianship.
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#1245887 - 08/08/09 07:41 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: jdhampton924]
Damon Offline
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Registered: 09/22/06
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Loc: St. Louis area
Originally Posted By: jdhampton924
Originally Posted By: Damon
Originally Posted By: jdhampton924

Even if the competitions were blind. It would still leave the problem of going for the fastest.

Do you really think that? I doubt your favorite performances are only the fastest ones. I know mine aren't. There may be a problem in that a judge who has a student competing will recognize his playing, but he shouldn't be a judge anyway


I believe that it would only solve one performance. How does not seeing the performer change if your picking them by speed?


Again, who picks a performance for speed? What are you suggesting? Are you saying there should be a way to keep judges from picking the fastest? Is that really a problem? confused
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#1245949 - 08/08/09 09:52 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Damon]
jdhampton924 Offline
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Registered: 01/13/08
Posts: 1009
Loc: Evansville, Indiana
Originally Posted By: Damon
Originally Posted By: jdhampton924
Originally Posted By: Damon
Originally Posted By: jdhampton924

Even if the competitions were blind. It would still leave the problem of going for the fastest.

Do you really think that? I doubt your favorite performances are only the fastest ones. I know mine aren't. There may be a problem in that a judge who has a student competing will recognize his playing, but he shouldn't be a judge anyway


I believe that it would only solve one performance. How does not seeing the performer change if your picking them by speed?


Again, who picks a performance for speed? What are you suggesting? Are you saying there should be a way to keep judges from picking the fastest? Is that really a problem? confused


No, just saying for those who believe it is a problem. Such as the president of that one competition mentioned in the artical, blind judging is only the first step. But I guess her competition had no reputable musicians.

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#1246015 - 08/09/09 12:57 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
tomasino Offline
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Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I have enough reservations about piano competitions without contemplating them being judged like a figure skating contest. What an appalling thought.

Perhaps reforms should be along the lines of instituting a panel of judges that is different each year, none of whom are known in advance, and none of whom know one another, and are disallowed from talking to one another. And maybe in this panel of, say, five judges, only two should be pianists. The others might be a violinist, a poet, an actor or a playwright, maybe even a photographer. Maybe there should be no system of judging, and no accountability whatsoever, total subjectivity. They simply vote for whomever they like best. They list the top three in order of preference, and use instant run off voting to determine the winner.

Tomasino
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#1246021 - 08/09/09 01:25 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: John Citron]
PlayWellOneDay Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/16/06
Posts: 45
Loc: Melbourne, Australia
Originally Posted By: John Citron
...perhaps the larger conservatories should establish jury and competition standards like they have for juried figure skating and other sports events.

It's interesting you should mention ice skating, because that system is famously broken. Torvill and Dean's amazing Let's Face the Music and Dance routine for their Olympic return at Lillehammer took the roof off the stadium but came third because of a technicality.

You can't judge art by the rules of sport.


Edited by PlayWellOneDay (08/09/09 06:43 AM)
Edit Reason: spelling/dialect

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#1246041 - 08/09/09 03:13 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: PlayWellOneDay]
wr Offline
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Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 8029
Originally Posted By: PlayWellOneDay


You can't judge art by the rules of sport.


Exactly the problem: what do you judge it by then? The number of people in the audience with teary eyes? Bartok may have had the right attitude - just don't participate in an inartistic process.

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#1246045 - 08/09/09 03:26 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
wr Offline
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Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 8029
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad

P.S. I was unaware of the incident with Schiff. That intrigued me.


Well, do keep in mind who said it, and that Tureck isn't around to tell her side of the story. Not that I am any great fan of Tureck and the anecdote could very well be true, but still, it seems a bit uncalled for to present it as something like a fact.

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#1246054 - 08/09/09 04:35 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
NocturneLover Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/09
Posts: 149
Loc: Dantooine
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
Why would any reputable musician pick winners by speed? I have seen no evidence that musicians are particularly impressed by that feature above all the other features that define musicianship.


Also some people pick emotions over technically sound pieces. That's why you see Lang Lang with his over-the-top gestures to impress the crowd when inside his head he could be faking it. IMHO, in practice when no one is looking, nobody sways around with fake emotion because nobody is watching them during practice. Only during performance when thousands are watching do they sway to move the audience and give it that added effect.

Thank you for the link to the article Piano Dad.
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#1246132 - 08/09/09 10:52 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: wr]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: PlayWellOneDay


You can't judge art by the rules of sport.


Exactly the problem: what do you judge it by then? The number of people in the audience with teary eyes?


Any attempt to micromanage the criteria for judging will fail. But that doesn't seem to be what the more serious reform proposals are about. There are clear incentive issues that need to be addressed so that the basic integrity of the judging isn't the issue. Reasonable people may disagree about which reforms are most important, but I suspect most of us can agree that certain existing facets of contemporary judging are deeply problematic. These problematic issues might include things like judges communicating with each other (explicitly or by body language) and judges rating their own students.

Blind judging is one option, though there are problems with that as well.

If some of the basic ethical conflicts are removed or smoothed, we'll still have the fundamental issue of how one judges among all these truly remarkable players. But that's life. I think the pianists themselves understand that the judgments being made about them are quite subjective. They can live with that. Getting slammed by judge X who wants to make more room on the podium for their own student Y is the bigger problem.
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#1246135 - 08/09/09 10:56 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: wr]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad

P.S. I was unaware of the incident with Schiff. That intrigued me.


Well, do keep in mind who said it, and that Tureck isn't around to tell her side of the story. Not that I am any great fan of Tureck and the anecdote could very well be true, but still, it seems a bit uncalled for to present it as something like a fact.



This is quite true. And it also applies to the quote from the disgruntled organizer who complained about judges favoring players who play loud and fast. That is not a 'fact' either, even though the article gives these opinions almost the weight of facts.
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#1246570 - 08/10/09 06:21 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
izaldu Offline
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Registered: 09/18/08
Posts: 1255
Loc:
Contestants anonymity should be compulsory!

and that wouldn't even sve half the problems.


I just don 't believe in piano cmpetitions.

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#1246706 - 08/10/09 12:01 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: izaldu]
John Citron Offline
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Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
Originally Posted By: izaldu
Contestants anonymity should be compulsory!

and that wouldn't even sve half the problems.


I just don 't believe in piano cmpetitions.



This is an excellent idea so that no judge knows whose entering into the competition.

I don't believe in them either, and I think that YouTube is helping to promote anything except for pure speed and technique more than anything because this is what gets the attention of the audience.

Sadly there's a lot of music and musicianship lost amongst the huge competition that YouTube has become. How many super genious nine year-olds have you seen lately on YouTube that play everything at a break neck speed with no musical abilities?

The bad part of this is these kids will grow up and play in the competitions and only show off their brilliant technique without the musical side of things as well.

Sadly we've lost this part of the musical-face on the public. They now only see the fast playing with note-perfection and rarely if ever ever hear the slower movements, or the more lyrical music that's out there.

I commend people like RachFan who has recently done his recordings of the late Russian composers. This is a rare treat out there, and is totally different from yet again another Chopin Etude played with metronomically perfect fast speed, but no sence of the music that these are meant to be.

John
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#1246724 - 08/10/09 12:28 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: John Citron]
SeilerFan Offline
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Registered: 03/27/09
Posts: 746
Good article! Thanks for posting.
They should have done better research. Eugene Pridonoff doesn't teach at "Cincinnati University" but at the University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music.

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#1246760 - 08/10/09 01:59 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: izaldu]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Originally Posted By: izaldu


I just don 't believe in piano cmpetitions.



There are many out there like you. But consider this as well. Many of the young pianists out there DO believe in piano competitions. Competitions may not jump start everyone's career, but they do provide a vehicle for exposure and a way to get some seasoning in pressure situations. Many of the reform proposals are in fact coming from the musicians. That doesn't suggest a general feeling that the whole idea should be swept away.

What is the alternative to competitions these days? Being a street musician has its attractions, but it's awfully hard to develop a following in the absence of modern competitions and the exposure they bring (even to the 'losers'). YouTube and other web ventures may fill in to some extent, but the jury is still out on whether competitions will be swept away by technical progress. The very fact that they have proliferated over time tells us something about the demand for them. The coin may be somewhat debased by having so many of them, but to the participants they still seem to have a lot of usefulness.

I suspect a pianist like Steven Beus may very well succeed in building a successful piano career, even though he didn't make it out of the first round of the Cliburn. The exposure he has already received has given him a platform. Now he can go out and stand on his own two legs. He has street cred!
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#1246808 - 08/10/09 03:16 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
ProdigalPianist Offline
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Registered: 04/08/07
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Loc: Phoenix Metro, AZ
Another problem with the "fast and loud" school of piano playing that some people say dominates competition, is the danger of it training the audience that such playing is the hallmark of pianistic excellence.

It takes a while, doesn't it, before most people feel like they have enough experience to trust their own judgment over that of the judges, if it happens at all? At most people will have a sort of 'I don't know art but I know what I like' attitude, that assumes that their plebeian tastes are flawed.

I am fortunate that there's a competition in my neighborhood (literally) that brings in recognizable names on the international competition circuit. I had to work for most of it but I did get to listen to several pianists.

While I was in awe of all their technical skills, I was really shocked at how few of them impressed me with their musicality (I expected to be blown away by that too, across the board, and wasn't).

I was, however, almost literally blown away by the volume. Liszt and Rach, of course, figured prominently in most programs. After one evening spent in the concert hall, my ears literally RANG for a day and a half. I am not exaggerating. I spoke to some who were trying to attend a majority of the competitor's appearances, who said that people were trying to find places to sit that were out of "the blast zone" with limited success. Several of these were piano majors so we're not talking about people who have limited experience in piano recitals.

Perhaps that's why some judges' abilities are coming into question? Maybe they're literally being deafened wink


Edited by ProdigalPianist (08/10/09 03:17 PM)
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#1246979 - 08/10/09 09:47 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: ProdigalPianist]
Jeff Clef Offline
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Loc: San Jose, CA
"After one evening spent in the concert hall, my ears literally RANG for a day and a half. I am not exaggerating. I spoke to some who were trying to attend a majority of the competitor's appearances, who said that people were trying to find places to sit that were out of "the blast zone" with limited success."

What it finally came to, for me, is that I never fail to bring foam earplugs to our local concert series. It was that, or end up deaf as a post.

I love the series, and we had some great performers last year. It's a cozy-sized hall--- I was seated 15 feet from Valentina Lisitza (the whole performance, plus four or five encores)--- but boy, was I glad to take fifteen or twenty decibels off the volume.
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#1246991 - 08/10/09 10:31 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Jeff Clef]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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You know, I wonder what Liszt's audiences thought about his volume? We know what the piano's thought, if pianos could think!
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#1247047 - 08/11/09 12:43 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
Philip Lu Offline
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Registered: 05/25/09
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Maybe it's because musicianship takes a lot more hard work to make it more appealing to the listener's ear than fast playing or loud playing. I guess judges just don't listen much to softer pieces anymore...
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#1247242 - 08/11/09 12:03 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Philip Lu]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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I guess I just don't understand this open hunting season on judges. Judges are often prized professors at the best conservatories. Many of the barbs and zingers directed at judges and judging often come from other judges who are unhappy. We should take this with a healthy grain of salt.

Why do mere mortals like most of us (the people who couldn't perform at the level of the worst losers at the major competitions) seem entitled to assert that judges are stupid clods who think speed and loudness are the prime virtues. Why do we have the temerity to think that we understand beautiful, sublime, innovative playing while the professionals in the field are ignorant conformists.

Yes, there are some clear incentive problems in judging, but frankly people, have a little humility about how little YOU know and how much these maligned judges DO know.
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#1247256 - 08/11/09 12:22 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
Ridicolosamente Offline
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Registered: 07/08/08
Posts: 1469
Loc: Miami, Florida, USA
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
Competitions may not jump start everyone's career, but they do provide a vehicle for exposure...

Important note. A competition might appeal to/stand out to some listeners more so than a festival, so it is an advantage to have multiple channels of exposure.

Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
I suspect a pianist like Steven Beus may very well succeed in building a successful piano career, even though he didn't make it out of the first round of the Cliburn...

...either time.

Daniel
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#1247270 - 08/11/09 12:46 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Ridicolosamente]
Horowitzian Offline
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Registered: 09/18/08
Posts: 8453
On a similar note, has anyone ever noticed that the most successful American Idol contestants tend to be runners-up?
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