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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
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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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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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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


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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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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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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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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
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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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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
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Registered: 08/16/06
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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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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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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
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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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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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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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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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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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"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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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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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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On a similar note, has anyone ever noticed that the most successful American Idol contestants tend to be runners-up?
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#1247281 - 08/11/09 12:56 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: izaldu]
signa Offline
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i think that article is really right about the current judging system, which is broken. i also agree that judges should judge contestants without seeing or knowing who's playing but only listening to the pianist playing, which will eliminate the pre-assumption of the contestant.

in recent Cleveland competition, i saw some judges just flipping over the contestant bio/program during competition recitals. even though there's nothing wrong about it, it would give the judge the assumption before he/she even hears the performance, i think. if judges are only listening to a pianist without knowing about him/her, then it would be more likely for the judges to judge the performance by the performance or music creation itself, which would ensure some fairness at least, and judges will not know whether it's his/her student who's playing.

i totally agree also that there should be some standard judging system setup to ensure all transparency in scoring. every judge's score should be shown immediately after each performance and highest and lowest score should be excluded. i think like the skating system, there should be 2 different levels of judging - 1) technical aspect and 2) artistic impression (of a performance), and 2 parts should be made up for the total percentage of whole scoring.


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#1247356 - 08/11/09 03:02 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: signa]
hv Offline
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Another approach, as opposed to excluding high and low scores, is to aggregate only rankings. That prevents a judge manipulating the outcome by low-balling everyone but their favorite.

Not sure I agree with the concept of contestant anonymity. Sounds dehumanizing. Like going to a concert with nothing on stage but a CD player. Perhaps a Disclavier might be a slight improvement.

Not sure I like the idea of dehumanizing the judging either. Can you imagine a criminal jury passing a verdict with no deliberation or discussion? Might as well have a machine do it. Just need the right programmer.

Howard

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#1247389 - 08/11/09 04:16 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: hv]
eweiss Offline
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I know this won't be a popular position on these forums, but I think the whole idea of a piano competition is absurd.

Competing for what? Money? Fame? Career? And who wins? A handful of people who can play the dead composers extremely well?

The more I think about it, the more absurd it becomes to me. They even have this kind of thing in the art world where a few "judges" award ribbons to what they think is the "best" art. Absurd again.

The real reason for piano competitions is to draw attention to classical piano music and publicize a practice that, when you really think about it, damages more people than it rewards.
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#1247419 - 08/11/09 05:33 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: eweiss]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13813
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Originally Posted By: eweiss
Competing for what?


Attention.

However you look at it, competition, performance, even posting on internet forums, is basically a way to get attention. It's part of being human. Everybody does it a little differently, and everyone may state different reasons for doing it, but I think it all boils down to attention.
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#1247435 - 08/11/09 06:08 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Kreisler]
J Cortese Offline
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Personally, I love blind competitions or auditions. I keep remembering the stories of big orchestras that didn't have blind auditions who just coincidentally happened to have only white men in them. The second they started having blind auditions, women and non-white performers just "happened" to get picked. Now, many orchestras that started out all white and male for decades have become nearly half-and-half, with far more minority participation.

Blind auditions are the only thing that's fair. I would feel much more comfortable and as if I were being judged on my music and not my makeup in a blind audition.


Edited by J Cortese (08/11/09 06:08 PM)
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#1247442 - 08/11/09 06:29 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: J Cortese]
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Originally Posted By: J Cortese
The second they started having blind auditions, women and non-white performers just "happened" to get picked.


In that case blind audition is not going to help the "complainers" of competitions then. grin
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#1247445 - 08/11/09 06:32 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
John Citron Offline
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
You know, I wonder what Liszt's audiences thought about his volume? We know what the piano's thought, if pianos could think!



...And Liszt's piano was much softer than our's today. I heard an 1840 Erard in a concert two weeks ago. The three pianists from Mainland China included their teacher Yuan Sheng. This very old instrument did not sound thin and tubby, but very much like a modern piano except the sound volume was ear piercing. He along with his two students played everything from Liszt's Concert Etudes, to Chopin Ballades, Nocturnes, Preludes, and other pieces.

Liszt supposedly broke the pianos built during his day. I wonder how much this is true or just stories because these people played this instrument just like anyone would play a piano.

It's too bad the the competitions have come down to this. The shear noise level is inexcusable, and very damaging aurally in the end.

John
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#1247476 - 08/11/09 07:45 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: John Citron]
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My point about Liszt is that loudness is not a modern conceit. The instruments he was using later in life likely could make a racket every bit as loud as today's concert instruments.
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#1247480 - 08/11/09 07:58 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
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Is the drive toward technical pyrotechnics (fast and loud, which everyone seems to deplore) driven by the character of judging? Are the tastes of these supposedly stupid conservatory professors the real problem? I doubt it. I suspect what we are seeing is the rational strategizing of the contestants. The ability to play soft and sensitive slow pieces or movements may simply be taken for granted. You have to toss some of this stuff in between your tours de force, but it isn't the meat of your program. This is not the fault of judging. It is inherent in the high level of the all of the performers.

There is a rather clear parallel with 'sports' like ice skating. To my untrained eye, ice skating competitions are not really won or lost on graceful and slow body movements but by whether or not you hit your triple or quadruple jumps. These truly high level athletic pyrotechnics are actually the most 'objective' thing in the judges arsenal. The skaters' emotional depth only counts when there is essentially a tie on these other technical aspects of the performance.

Now, I suspect that there may still be some room for panache and originality. But it has to come after you have demonstrated that your technique is first rate. But exhibiting panache is risky. You may put off people who have a particular sound in their mind that they associate with composer X. Well, that's the subjectivity that people seem to want.

There's a line in horse racing about people who always bet the chalk. They're called losers. We're all worried about competitions forcing everyone to play in the same boring style. I'm not convinced that this is true, and it probably isn't a rational strategy either. In a winner-take-all competition, playing it safe is almost guaranteed to get you .... a pat on the back. You have to stand out to win. If you are one millimeter worse than the person the judges choose or one kilometer worse it doesn't matter. You lose. In other words, if your choice of how to stand out offends a judge and you lose, that's tough, but you were likely to lose anyway if you played it safe. The prize only goes to the venturesome person (assuming they're all technical virtuosi) who stands out in a way that impresses a sufficient fraction of the judges. The winner is thus likely to be a risk taker.
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#1247496 - 08/11/09 08:26 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
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I think that the talk about a pianist's ability to play loud and fast(or have incredible technique... however one wants to describe it)as:

1. the most important contest winning attribute in today's competitions

2. a quality that has only recently become important

is a significant overstatement. Almost all the great pianists of the past and the contest winners from 50 or more years ago were also terrific technicians.

I think there may be a lot more pianists today with incredible technique than there were 50 or 100 years ago. And I think one must have terrific technique as a prerequisite for winning a competition.


Edited by pianoloverus (08/11/09 08:27 PM)

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#1247511 - 08/11/09 08:57 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
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I am currently reading Janos Starker's autobiography called The World of Music according to Starker. As you probably know Janos Starker is among the world's best cellists and foremost teachers. He is known to have steadily refused to sit on competition juries due to his specific persepctive on competitions. Here is a quote from a response to a question during an interview:
"I find that the competition system is flawed. As far as I'm concerned, the competition system should be set up such that the preliminary rounds are simply for judging whether a person controls instrumental and musical aspects well. The only ones who should reach the final rounds are those that unquestionably play their instruments at the highest possible level and are unquestionably solid and learned musicians. Then and only then should the element of personality come into play, whether they are doing something different and whether they have something to say.

Competitions clearly don't operate this way because people are winning who are not at the highest level instrumentally, but who advanced through the competition because of their personality. I admire many of my colleagues, but I'm not about to get into arguments about the rules of a competition when lives of young people are affected."

He also recommends that the judges of the final phase be non-cellists. I happen to see alot of wisdom in this approach.
I do think that the progression towards fastest and "showiest" is almost predictable in view of the growing number of well-trained players and the thriving competition circuit. However this does not validate the selection parameters. After all, the highest purpose of technical wizardry is to be placed at the service of interpretation, expressivity and the generation of memorable beautiful music.

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#1247520 - 08/11/09 09:05 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
My point about Liszt is that loudness is not a modern conceit. The instruments he was using later in life likely could make a racket every bit as loud as today's concert instruments.



Sure the newer instruments made quite a racket, but still it was much softer than we have today. Liszt, Gottschalk, and others played big as well as softly. That was their way to show off. There's still a dynamic range to the music, which seems to be ignored or frowned upon by the competition performers. The old pianos didn't hurt the ears or cause deafness like the modern ones can.

John
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#1247531 - 08/11/09 09:31 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Andromaque]
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Originally Posted By: Andromaque
I do think that the progression towards fastest and "showiest" is almost predictable in view of the growing number of well-trained players and the thriving competition circuit.


If there is indeed a "growing number of well-trained players", then I don't see why that should result in a progression towards fastest etc. I think this assumes the judges have an incredible lack of taste/sophistication/musical understanding. In significant competitions, the judges are virtually all far more accomplished musicians/performers than all but a few on this fourm.

In fact, if all or most of the players have very excellent technique, then I think that could easily make musical aspects of their performance more critical in deciding amongst them.

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#1247535 - 08/11/09 09:34 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: John Citron]
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Originally Posted By: John Citron
There's still a dynamic range to the music, which seems to be ignored or frowned upon by the competition performers.
John


After listeining to virtually all the competitors in the Cliburn Competition, I cannot think of a single one who fits that descirption.

Which one of the pianists in that competition do you think would fit your description?

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#1247541 - 08/11/09 09:41 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
John Citron Offline
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Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: John Citron
There's still a dynamic range to the music, which seems to be ignored or frowned upon by the competition performers.
John


After listeining to virtually all the competitors in the Cliburn Competition, I cannot think of a single one who fits that descirption.

Which one of the pianists in that competition do you think would fit your description?


I was thinking more of the local competitions and the young crop of students I've seen coming out of NEC. Perhaps the VCC is way above the local yokel stuff that most people see.

There's a former NEC student that I know that ended up with hand injuries because her teacher pushed her to play louder and faster when it was too far beyond her technique. I've lost track of her since her days at NEC so I don't know of her status now. It's too bad if this is what the judges want and what the public likes to hear.

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#1247542 - 08/11/09 09:42 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
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Heck, I loved the chutzpah of the guy who actually played the Moonlight Sonata. That took guts. It didn't work out for him, but it was a great risk. Sure got some people talking.
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#1247543 - 08/11/09 09:43 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: John Citron]
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I don't deplore fast and loud playing when the music calls for it. I am endlessly impressed by the technical virtuosity demonstrated by the contestants I saw. I will never be that good.

When I said I was shocked by how few impressed me with their musicality...I didn't mean they didn't play musically. I meant I was expecting to be similarly blown away by their interpretation of the music, as by their technical skills. And what I was shocked by, was that not every one of the contestants blew me away in this regard as I expected. I don't know if I am saying this well at all.

I have an utterly unscientific method of "judging" the musicality of a performance. If the music makes me visualize pictures in my head (as if it were a soundtrack of something), I am touched by the musicality of a performance more than the technical skills of the musician. If I sit there noticing how technically proficient they are, rather than the music itself, then I am not as impressed by their musicality.

As I said, I may not know great art but I know what I like. When I spoke later to those whose knowledge and insight in judging a performance I do trust, I was rather gratified to find that they liked the same contestants I did, FWIW.

I don't think judges or conservatory professors are stupid. I have no more business second-guessing the judges of a piano competition than I have grading an advanced theoretical physics dissertation. Even if I had any business judging, I would not want to. At the level of a top competition, where the baseline technical skills are incredible, what do you judge anyway? Whether you like a particular performer or piece of music is so subjective.

Not that I am any great expert on the subject, but I thought from reading the few accounts of those performers and teachers who did not like the effect competition has had on music, that the main problem with competitions as they saw it, was that risk-takers, far from being the winners, were the ones least likely to win. Performers who take the greatest risks tend to be the ones judges and regular listeners either love or hate. The winners, so this theory go, are the ones who do NOT take risks.

And at any rate...the only truly factual, non-subjective point I made was that my ears hurt. I really don't think your ears should hurt from a piano competition (not in a room that was big enough for the piano anyway). I don't see why the ability to play softly and sensitively should be any more taken for granted than the ability to play fast and loud.
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#1247551 - 08/11/09 09:52 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
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Originally Posted By: pianoloverus


If there is indeed a "growing number of well-trained players", then I don't see why that should result in a progression towards fastest etc. I think this assumes the judges have an incredible lack of taste/sophistication/musical understanding. In significant competitions, the judges are virtually all far more accomplished musicians/performers than all but a few on this fourm.

In fact, if all or most of the players have very excellent technique, then I think that could easily make musical aspects of their performance more critical in deciding amongst them.


Pianodad's answer illustrates well how the "progression" I mentioned has occured.
Judges notoriously disagree on aspects of musicality. It is one of the mysteries and cruelties of music making and music appreciation. A supreme artist in your eyes may barely register for me and vice versa. In fact in the book I mentioned previously there are plenty of interesting anecdotes about this issue. Artists with as impeccable credentials as Rostropovich, Richter, Fritz Reiner, von Karajan, Argerich have notoriously disagreed when evaluating competitors or other artists. I think that "quantifiable" parameters such as speed, playing difficult repertoire and "virtuosic" (usually transcriptions?) pieces probably end up being the common denominator about which most judges will have to agree. I may be wrong of course but that has been my impression for a few years now.

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#1247561 - 08/11/09 10:06 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: ProdigalPianist]
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Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist

When I said I was shocked by how few impressed me with their musicality...I didn't mean they didn't play musically. I meant I was expecting to be similarly blown away by their interpretation of the music, as by their technical skills. And what I was shocked by, was that not every one of the contestants blew me away in this regard as I expected. I don't know if I am saying this well at all.


Are you referring to the Cliburn Competition? If so, which pianists did you find musically deficient? If you were "blown away" by the technical performance of all the pianists. couldn't that just mean you could more easily compare their technique to your own?




Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
At the level of a top competition, where the baseline technical skills are incredible, what do you judge anyway? Whether you like a particular performer or piece of music is so subjective.
You judge musicality as well as technical skill. One judges musicality based on one's musical understanding.

Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
Not that I am any great expert on the subject, but I thought from reading the few accounts of those performers and teachers who did not like the effect competition has had on music, that the main problem with competitions as they saw it, was that risk-takers, far from being the winners, were the ones least likely to win. Performers who take the greatest risks tend to be the ones judges and regular listeners either love or hate. The winners, so this theory go, are the ones who do NOT take risks.

I don't think risk taking per se is necessarily undesirable. If the performer's interpretation or repertoire is unusual, it won't have a negative effect if he can convince enough judges that it is interesting or better yet, terrific. It's possible that if one's interpretation is highly unusual, it could mean not winning a competition if enough judges give enough low votes. It's also possible that a highly unusual but good interpretation could win a competition.

Originally Posted By: prodigalPianist
And at any rate...the only truly factual, non-subjective point I made was that my ears hurt. I really don't think your ears should hurt from a piano competition (not in a room that was big enough for the piano anyway). I don't see why the ability to play softly and sensitively should be any more taken for granted than the ability to play fast and loud.


Which competition did you attend? How close did you sit? Which pianists do you think played so loudly your ears hurt and never played softly and sensitively?

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#1247570 - 08/11/09 10:14 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Andromaque]
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Originally Posted By: Andromaque
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus


If there is indeed a "growing number of well-trained players", then I don't see why that should result in a progression towards fastest etc. I think this assumes the judges have an incredible lack of taste/sophistication/musical understanding. In significant competitions, the judges are virtually all far more accomplished musicians/performers than all but a few on this fourm.

In fact, if all or most of the players have very excellent technique, then I think that could easily make musical aspects of their performance more critical in deciding amongst them.


Pianodad's answer illustrates well how the "progression" I mentioned has occured.
Judges notoriously disagree on aspects of musicality. It is one of the mysteries and cruelties of music making and music appreciation. A supreme artist in your eyes may barely register for me and vice versa. In fact in the book I mentioned previously there are plenty of interesting anecdotes about this issue. Artists with as impeccable credentials as Rostropovich, Richter, Fritz Reiner, von Karajan, Argerich have notoriously disagreed when evaluating competitors or other artists. I think that "quantifiable" parameters such as speed, playing difficult repertoire and "virtuosic" (usually transcriptions?) pieces probably end up being the common denominator about which most judges will have to agree. I may be wrong of course but that has been my impression for a few years now.


Yes, the judges can disagree on musicality. That's why there are a lot of them so the consensus will decide. As you said, in a high level competition most of the contestants have a terrific technique.Excellent technique is a prerequisite, so I think their musicality will be a very important factor.

I think technique is more something that can eliminate a competitor(if they lack it) as opposed to determining a winner.

There were very few transcriptions played in the Cliburn especially if one excludes Petrouchka and La Valse(which despite their difficulties have very little superfluous passagework). Same thing for the smaller IKIF competition I attended.



Edited by pianoloverus (08/11/09 10:21 PM)

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#1247589 - 08/11/09 10:30 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
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I actually think the repertoire and number of rounds is what makes the Cliburn so problematic. With all those recitals and all that repertoire, everyone is bound to have good moments and bad. Once you make it past the first round, it starts to seem a bit arbitrary to me.
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#1247591 - 08/11/09 10:32 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: John Citron]
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Originally Posted By: John Citron
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: John Citron
There's still a dynamic range to the music, which seems to be ignored or frowned upon by the competition performers.
John


After listeining to virtually all the competitors in the Cliburn Competition, I cannot think of a single one who fits that descirption.

Which one of the pianists in that competition do you think would fit your description?


I was thinking more of the local competitions and the young crop of students I've seen coming out of NEC. Perhaps the VCC is way above the local yokel stuff that most people see.

It's too bad if this is what the judges want and what the public likes to hear.

John


The VCC is undoubtedly way above a local competition.

I'm sure some of the public is impressed mostly by high virtusity, but clearly some of the public(who have been posting on this thread)are not mainly interested in that. I would assume that the judges in competitions even much less important that the VCC usually have a performance and teaching background much greater than most PW posters. I know this was the case for the IKIF Competition.


Edited by pianoloverus (08/11/09 10:33 PM)

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#1247748 - 08/12/09 07:03 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
wr Offline
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
Is the drive toward technical pyrotechnics (fast and loud, which everyone seems to deplore) driven by the character of judging?



Well, since technical finesse does seem to win competitions, I don't know how it could be anything other than the character of judging that drives it.

Quote:


Are the tastes of these supposedly stupid conservatory professors the real problem?



They aren't stupid - they are earning money and/or prestige. And we have no idea whether they vote their actual tastes, or what their actual internal criteria might be. We can't track the voting of individual judges, especially over the course of multiple competitions. If we could, we might have a better idea of what they really used as measurements. But the competition organizers may know how they vote...hmmm.

Quote:


I doubt it. I suspect what we are seeing is the rational strategizing of the contestants. The ability to play soft and sensitive slow pieces or movements may simply be taken for granted.



Why would it be taken for granted, when most of us know it is much simpler to play fast and loud? The strategy of fast and loud is much more likely to be based on the path of least difficulty.

Quote:


You have to toss some of this stuff in between your tours de force, but it isn't the meat of your program. This is not the fault of judging. It is inherent in the high level of the all of the performers.



No, it is not inherent with high level, it is inherent with low levels of performance. "High level" isn't fast and loud (although it is capable of that), it is subtle and profound.

Quote:


There is a rather clear parallel with 'sports' like ice skating. To my untrained eye, ice skating competitions are not really won or lost on graceful and slow body movements but by whether or not you hit your triple or quadruple jumps. These truly high level athletic pyrotechnics are actually the most 'objective' thing in the judges arsenal. The skaters' emotional depth only counts when there is essentially a tie on these other technical aspects of the performance.



If anything, you've just demonstrated the point that piano competitions are nothing other than sport, and really have nothing to do with art. And maybe that's the way they are heading - but there are still those of us who think that playing classical music is far more than that and is a real art that is intrinsically more valuable than what can be determined in a competition.

Quote:


Now, I suspect that there may still be some room for panache and originality. But it has to come after you have demonstrated that your technique is first rate. But exhibiting panache is risky. You may put off people who have a particular sound in their mind that they associate with composer X. Well, that's the subjectivity that people seem to want.



The problem is that first-rate technique is rather common and isn't really very interesting except to others who are working on it, and their teachers. Real honest-to-goodness personal interpretation and music-making with deep insight into the music is what is rare. Competitions value the first, and not the latter. But that points up another problem of competitions - the pianists are typically not musically mature.

Quote:


There's a line in horse racing about people who always bet the chalk. They're called losers. We're all worried about competitions forcing everyone to play in the same boring style. I'm not convinced that this is true, and it probably isn't a rational strategy either. In a winner-take-all competition, playing it safe is almost guaranteed to get you .... a pat on the back. You have to stand out to win. If you are one millimeter worse than the person the judges choose or one kilometer worse it doesn't matter. You lose. In other words, if your choice of how to stand out offends a judge and you lose, that's tough, but you were likely to lose anyway if you played it safe. The prize only goes to the venturesome person (assuming they're all technical virtuosi) who stands out in a way that impresses a sufficient fraction of the judges. The winner is thus likely to be a risk taker.


The recent Van Cliburn totally disproves what you just said. One of the winners can't be considered objectively because of disability, but the other was possibly the single least venturesome pianist there. He was simply highly competent, basically quite musical but not offering any special insight, and really stood out mostly for not standing out. Probably the safest choice the judges could possibly make out of that field.

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#1247775 - 08/12/09 08:30 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: wr]
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Originally Posted By: wr
The recent Van Cliburn totally disproves what you just said. One of the winners can't be considered objectively because of disability, but the other was possibly the single least venturesome pianist there. He was simply highly competent, basically quite musical but not offering any special insight, and really stood out mostly for not standing out. Probably the safest choice the judges could possibly make out of that field.



How do know that the blind can't be considered pianist objectively? It's entirely possbile the jury bent over backwards to make sure that this pianist wasn't given any special consideration because of his blindness.

I don't think any of your criticsm of Zhang is valid either. Why do you think he was the "least venturesome" and why is being venturesome important? I don't think one has ever had to play unusual repertoire or have some highly unusual interpretation of a work to be a great pianist. I don't understand why you call his playing as merely "highly competent". I think he played some of the most difficult and important pieces in the piano literature masterfully.

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#1247782 - 08/12/09 08:41 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
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.


I agree 100% with everything above.

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#1247789 - 08/12/09 08:49 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
Heck, I loved the chutzpah of the guy who actually played the Moonlight Sonata. That took guts. It didn't work out for him, but it was a great risk. Sure got some people talking.


Why do think this was a great risk? The first movement may be played by too many beginning amateurs, but I think it is quite rarely performed in competitions and professional recitals.

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#1247807 - 08/12/09 09:15 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
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wr,

That fact that YOU think Zhang was a safe conformist choice does not necessarily make it so, though I respect your opinion on the matter. Even if it were true, the fact that one can find examples of competitions where the 'play-it-safe' musician won does not change the basic argument I'm making. You know, I'm sure there have also been cases in which somebody bet the favorite on every game in the NCAA pool and they actually won the prize. That doesn't make betting the chalk an optimum strategy in a winner-take-all situation. Whenever there is a statistical distribution determining outcomes and a single winner (or very small number of winners), the winners are unlikely to be the ones who play the odds right down the middle.

By the way, in a multistage competition like the Cliburn the best strategy to follow may vary from stage to stage. Conformism may be a better strategy in the opening round where you can be among the top 32, but NOT the optimal strategy for winning the final prize.


Edited by Piano*Dad (08/12/09 09:23 AM)
Edit Reason: dang typos! :-)
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#1247815 - 08/12/09 09:22 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
Heck, I loved the chutzpah of the guy who actually played the Moonlight Sonata. That took guts. It didn't work out for him, but it was a great risk. Sure got some people talking.


Why do think this was a great risk? The first movement may be played by too many beginning amateurs, but I think it is quite rarely performed in competitions and professional recitals.


It's just my opinion, of course, but playing something every teenaged pianist attempts (and often mangles) displayed a certain adventuresomeness. There is a reason why it is so seldom heard on the circuit. Pieces like that have become an odd combination of icon and saccharine. Exalted and cloying at the same time. I suspect his choice raised some eyebrows. And I suspect that may have been part of his purpose in choosing it.
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#1247823 - 08/12/09 09:37 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
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Quote:
The problem is that first-rate technique is rather common and isn't really very interesting except to others who are working on it, and their teachers. Real honest-to-goodness personal interpretation and music-making with deep insight into the music is what is rare. Competitions value the first, and not the latter. But that points up another problem of competitions - the pianists are typically not musically mature.


So are triple jumps in ice-skating. Try putting together a performance today that relies primarily on beautiful, graceful, and slow footwork and body gestures as the primary elements. Peggy Fleming in 1968 may have been the last.

You have to demonstrate your chops, even if everyone else seemingly can do it. Actually, I wonder if that should be taken for granted. I freely admit that I couldn't judge these things. My technique isn't good enough to understand whether there are weaknesses in the playing.

I think what I'm arguing is that there IS room for style and interpretation, but that technical mastery is a common coin that must be played as well. Much of the criticism of 'fast and loud' may be off the mark. Everybody must play some fast and loud things to have their technique evaluated by the judges, but it may not be the only thing on the table, despite the assertions often made by disgruntled judges whose choices didn't win consensus.

.... and this is an entirely different issue from the incentive problems and conflicts of interest that are also a feature of modern competitions.

BTW, have you noticed that reasonable people here can stake out opposite positions on something as basic as whether or not judging should be blind. This should tell us how difficult some of these issues are. There are potential costs to most of the reforms as well as benefits. The same is true for whether or not judges should be able to sit down and talk about things. Plusses and minuses.
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#1247915 - 08/12/09 12:19 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Horowitzian]
OrangeSchubert Offline
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When I was at the piano museum on Saturday, Michael Frederick talked about this desire among piano students to compete. Winning is no guarantee of a future of fame or fortune, regardless of the recording or gigging benefits that come with the prize. Most winners fade into anonymity when the following year's winner is crowned.

He said that his teacher would ask his students what they wanted to play and if they said "I want to play zzzz because I want to win the 'whatever' prize" then the teacher's answer was "Do you even remember who won it 5 years ago?" Most often the answer was no.
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#1247972 - 08/12/09 02:47 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
Opus_Maximus Offline
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Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
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.


I agree 100% with everything above.



Because - in the major competitions of the world - it's no so much a group of "maligned judges", as it is the SAME 15 OR 20 names (Kaplinsky,Vardi, Pressler,Dorensky,kammerling..etc) who seem to have a monopoly on the outcomes of all these competitions. Year after year, competition after competition, there seems to be something inherently wrong about this practice. I admire competitions like the Cleveland, E-competition, or Hilton Head, that make an effort for fairer judging procedures and try to have different jurors every year.

Secondly, even if we do have the temerity to doubt the outcomes of these competitions, we are not alone in doubting them; I can easily name you 10 professionals/concert pianists who are DISGUSTED by the outcome of the recent Cliburn competition - all of whom are just as or more qualified than the judges of the competition, and most of whom can play rings around them. I won't do it here for privacy purposes, but if you really want I can PM You.

Somebody earlier mentioned that it would be a good idea to have a mixed jury. Half pianists, a music critic, a singer, a poet, etc etc.... Or perhaps have the audience vote in the competition be equal to the first prize of the judges' vote.

Even six months ago I would have thought this to be a crazy idea...but recently I've been thinking more and more about it and I think it could prove to be very effective.

When you teach at a high level every day, all day, for decades, it seems possible that your ears, naturally, could gravitate towards craving "Correct" playing, above anything personal or artistic. I don't know if there are any long-time professors on this board, but to listen to piano students all day long for 40-50 years, it must mess with your ears, as you are not listening for enjoyment, but listening to correct;judge;criticize. It becomes very difficult to hear things objectively.

This may or may not be true, or may be true to a certain degree, but it was a concept that a friend presented to me a while ago and one that I"ve been turning over and over in my head. But thinking about it does make you want variety in a jury.

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#1247974 - 08/12/09 02:52 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
ProdigalPianist Offline
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Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist

When I said I was shocked by how few impressed me with their musicality...I didn't mean they didn't play musically. I meant I was expecting to be similarly blown away by their interpretation of the music, as by their technical skills. And what I was shocked by, was that not every one of the contestants blew me away in this regard as I expected. I don't know if I am saying this well at all.


Are you referring to the Cliburn Competition? If so, which pianists did you find musically deficient?


Good lord. I just SAID I didn't find them musically deficient, I was just surprised that more did not *overwhelm* me. There is a HUGE difference.


Originally Posted By: pianoloverus

Originally Posted By: prodigalPianist
And at any rate...the only truly factual, non-subjective point I made was that my ears hurt. I really don't think your ears should hurt from a piano competition (not in a room that was big enough for the piano anyway). I don't see why the ability to play softly and sensitively should be any more taken for granted than the ability to play fast and loud.


Which competition did you attend? How close did you sit? Which pianists do you think played so loudly your ears hurt and never played softly and sensitively?


Well if you MUST KNOW in order to rate my response to it (rolls eyes), it was the Bosendorfer USASU International. I sat in different places, generally the center area of the hall or the back left.

Among those I *heard*, the ones who I thought were not only awesome technically but stellar musically, were Adam Piotr Zukiewicz and Dmitri Levkovich. Edited to add: Among the juniors in the Schimmel competition, there was one young lady, whose name, sadly, I do not remember, who played a stellar Haydn sonata. She was not one of the finalists but I thought her performance of that particular piece was outstanding.

Please paraphrase my words accurately. I never said there were pianists who "never played softly and sensitively."


Edited by ProdigalPianist (08/12/09 03:04 PM)
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#1248005 - 08/12/09 03:45 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Opus_Maximus]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Opus_Maximus


Secondly, even if we do have the temerity to doubt the outcomes of these competitions, we are not alone in doubting them; I can easily name you 10 professionals/concert pianists who are DISGUSTED by the outcome of the recent Cliburn competition - all of whom are just as or more qualified than the judges of the competition, and most of whom can play rings around them. I won't do it here for privacy purposes, but if you really want I can PM You.

But don't you think you could find as many professional concert pianists who agree with the Cliburn results?



Edited by pianoloverus (08/12/09 03:53 PM)

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#1248017 - 08/12/09 04:09 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: ProdigalPianist]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist

When I said I was shocked by how few impressed me with their musicality...I didn't mean they didn't play musically. I meant I was expecting to be similarly blown away by their interpretation of the music, as by their technical skills. And what I was shocked by, was that not every one of the contestants blew me away in this regard as I expected. I don't know if I am saying this well at all.


Are you referring to the Cliburn Competition? If so, which pianists did you find musically deficient?


Good lord. I just SAID I didn't find them musically deficient, I was just surprised that more did not *overwhelm* me. There is a HUGE difference.


Sorry...I agree that I didn't say what you said correctly and there is a huge difference. Do you think it might be easier to be impressed by great technique that most pianists don't have as opposed to a great interpretation?



Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
And at any rate...the only truly factual, non-subjective point I made was that my ears hurt. I really don't think your ears should hurt from a piano competition (not in a room that was big enough for the piano anyway). I don't see why the ability to play softly and sensitively should be any more taken for granted than the ability to play fast and loud.


Originally Posted By: Pianoloverus
Which competition did you attend? How close did you sit? Which pianists do you think played so loudly your ears hurt and never played softly and sensitively?


Well if you MUST KNOW in order to rate my response to it (rolls eyes), it was the Bosendorfer USASU International. I sat in different places, generally the center area of the hall or the back left.



I agree I didn't paraphrase your words correctly. Would it be more correct to say the pianists played softly, but too often they played loudly and when they played loudly they tended to play way too loudly?

I'm not trying to make excuses for the pianists, but I'm curious how big the hall was for the competition? I did attend 14 concerts in 14 days at the recent Mannes IKIF in NYC. The hall at Mannes is small and only holds around 300. There were some pianists, including the winner of the most recent Liszt Competition, who sounded way too loud during almost the entire concert. Although I certainly think a pianist is responsible for adjusting to a hall's acoustics, I think some younger performers(espeially if they have played with orchestras a lot) are not experiennced enough to do this so that their loud playing is perhaps a result of this rather than really being unmusical.

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#1248019 - 08/12/09 04:11 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
Kreisler Offline



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I could probably find 10 people who are disgusted by the thought of puppies, birthday cake, and world peace. Everybody loves to be a critic. laugh
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#1248023 - 08/12/09 04:22 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
ProdigalPianist Offline
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All of the student, faculty and small ensemble recitals to which I've gone have been in Katzen Hall and my ears generally don't ring for days after them.

I think a major contributory factor in the excessive volume was the pieces that were programmed - big, loud Lizst, Rach etc of course figured heavily.

I looked over my diary entry about the competition and my comment there was that the dynamic range, as a whole, of the competitors I was able to watch was basically from F to FFFF. This was, of course, written while my ears were still ringing. I also wrote that I saw less "liquid fluidity" in sections that called for it, than I would have expected. Again, this is NOT saying that the playing 'lacked fluidity'...just that I expected Olympic levels of this considering the high level of other types of technical achievement, and did not see it.

Again, I had to work for most of the competition and was able to only see a percentage of the competition...over the lunch hour and some evenings. My comments were not meant to be a condemnation of competitions, or the the pianists competing at this particular one. Just about my experience as an attendee for parts of it.
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#1248033 - 08/12/09 04:35 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
wr Offline
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Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: wr
The recent Van Cliburn totally disproves what you just said. One of the winners can't be considered objectively because of disability, but the other was possibly the single least venturesome pianist there. He was simply highly competent, basically quite musical but not offering any special insight, and really stood out mostly for not standing out. Probably the safest choice the judges could possibly make out of that field.



How do know that the blind can't be considered pianist objectively? It's entirely possbile the jury bent over backwards to make sure that this pianist wasn't given any special consideration because of his blindness.

I don't think any of your criticsm of Zhang is valid either. Why do you think he was the "least venturesome" and why is being venturesome important? I don't think one has ever had to play unusual repertoire or have some highly unusual interpretation of a work to be a great pianist. I don't understand why you call his playing as merely "highly competent". I think he played some of the most difficult and important pieces in the piano literature masterfully.


So you have a different opinion than mine...

The "venturesome" thing is a response to PianoDad's remark that the most venturesome pianist will win. Compared to some of the others at the VC, Zhang was far from that. IMHO, of course.

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#1248054 - 08/12/09 05:10 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Kreisler]
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Originally Posted By: Kreisler
I could probably find 10 people who are disgusted by the thought of puppies, birthday cake, and world peace. Everybody loves to be a critic. laugh


Tell me about it! The web commentary on a recent article of mine in the Chronicle of Higher Education is ..... amusing.
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#1248073 - 08/12/09 05:32 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
J Cortese Offline
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I have to admit, I'm not fond of the idea of professional judges. I just do not see the value in having the same people making these decisions. There is no value to that. Having a tightly knit repeating group of people who judge leads to vendettas between them that impact the decisions but have nothing to do with the musicians themselves. Having "lay" people involved is a vital part of remembering WTF the music is supposed to do, or else the judging panel will turn into a bunch of people literally picking their favorite nits in order to be seen picking their favorite nits. Competitions like this (or any competitions) should ideally not be judged by the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons who only wants to sit there and go, "Worst. Episode. Ever." That's what this sort of thing can turn into very, very easily.

I guess I'm also not fond or and don't see the point to these sorts of competitions either, though. When you have seven dozen Michelangelos all competing in a portrait-painting contest, the ONLY way you can distinguish between them is to pull out a microscope. Which makes no sense whatsoever because who the hell looks at a painting with a damned microscope anyhow?
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#1248075 - 08/12/09 05:34 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
signa Offline
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i agree with Opus M on some judging monopoly on some competitions, with the same judges sitting on the jury board and make the business as usual every time.

it's time for setting up some judging standard together with panel of judge pool selection standard. also, especially for each earlier round, all judges should sit in isolation behind curtain without knowing who's playing. that's the only way to ensure the fairness.

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#1248080 - 08/12/09 05:53 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13813
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
I could probably find 10 people who are disgusted by the thought of puppies, birthday cake, and world peace. Everybody loves to be a critic. laugh


Tell me about it! The web commentary on a recent article of mine in the Chronicle of Higher Education is ..... amusing.


Web commentary, especially when it's anonymous, is really awful. You'd think that the Chronicle would be immune, but alas, the words may have more syllables than their counterparts on YouTube, but the content is similarly execrable. smile

I'll have to go check out that article, though! Is it freely available on the web, or do I need to stop by the library tomorrow?
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#1248083 - 08/12/09 05:57 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Kreisler]
Kreisler Offline



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Posts: 13813
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Never mind, I found it! laugh
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#1248090 - 08/12/09 06:08 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Kreisler]
Bart Kinlein Offline
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Does anyone else just go to these competitions to hear music well played? I recently attended the Cliburn and enjoyed my time very much. I learned a little, was rewarded with mostly excellent performances.

I don't know who won, nor do I care. I have no idea who the judges were, or if the performers were friends, students, or relatives of them.

Just a good musical experience!

Enjoy!


Edited by Bart Kinlein (08/12/09 09:38 PM)
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#1248118 - 08/12/09 07:08 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Bart Kinlein]
GreenRain Offline
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Good article!

I'm totaly against piano competitions. My arguments are similar to those in the article.

It is actually sad that one has to win competion in order to becaume famous, known...
I mean, how many famous pianist out there have not won at least one major competition?

The quality of playing can be judge only to a certain point. The rest is just the matter of the taste. Find me 10 teachers that have the same view on playing and i will be play you all of the Liszt's pieces. Someone likes rubato and pedal in Bach, someone hates it... And both of them can be good proffesors or pianist...Piano is art. Art can be judged only to a ceratin point.

Who is better? Horowitz or Argerich? Pink Floyds or Beatles? Michael Jackson or John Elton? Yes, everyone could agree that Horowitz is better pianist than I am, but can someone judge if he is better than other world wide known pianists?


Edited by GreenRain (08/12/09 07:21 PM)

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#1248159 - 08/12/09 09:36 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: GreenRain]
Bart Kinlein Offline
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John Elton?
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#1248163 - 08/12/09 09:39 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: GreenRain]
Horowitzian Offline
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Originally Posted By: GreenRain
[...] Yes, everyone could agree that Horowitz is better pianist than I am, but can someone judge if he is better than other world wide known pianists?


Well I of course would say that he is! grin But realistically, it would be silly to make such a proclamation.

That said, Horowitz is doubtless one of the top 5 that's ever lived. smile I find it interesting to note, in view of this thread's subject, that Horowitz specifically wrote out in his will that there was to be absolutely no piano competition created in his name.


Edited by Horowitzian (08/12/09 09:41 PM)
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#1248234 - 08/13/09 01:53 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
wr Offline
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
wr,

That fact that YOU think Zhang was a safe conformist choice does not necessarily make it so, though I respect your opinion on the matter. Even if it were true, the fact that one can find examples of competitions where the 'play-it-safe' musician won does not change the basic argument I'm making. You know, I'm sure there have also been cases in which somebody bet the favorite on every game in the NCAA pool and they actually won the prize. That doesn't make betting the chalk an optimum strategy in a winner-take-all situation. Whenever there is a statistical distribution determining outcomes and a single winner (or very small number of winners), the winners are unlikely to be the ones who play the odds right down the middle.



The fact that I think Zhang was the safe choice doesn't make it false, either. The most unusual thing about him in that particular context was his relative youth, and to a lessor extent, his national origin, and neither should have anything to do with consideration of how he plays. I thought he played quite well, but it was not "venturesome". I feel at least somewhat supported in my opinion by the commentary during the course of the competition both here and in other places. However, if you think it was choice favoring a wild and daring pianist, fine (but that may mean we don't live on the same planet).

I don't have any idea of what the NCAA is or why I should care about it, or about statistics regarding gambling.

Quote:



By the way, in a multistage competition like the Cliburn the best strategy to follow may vary from stage to stage. Conformism may be a better strategy in the opening round where you can be among the top 32, but NOT the optimal strategy for winning the final prize.


Oh, I am sure some of the competitors work out strategy right down to the nanosecond within each round. It wouldn't surprise me if there are paid consultants who come up with pages upon pages of analysis of the mathematical probabilities of what will happen if one does this or that either here or there. I can just see spreadsheets showing predictions of how the voting will go if the repeats in a Bach piece are ornamented lightly, moderately, heavily, or not at all, and in front of a jury made of variables d, f, i, m, n, o, p, r, y, and z.

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#1248250 - 08/13/09 02:47 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
wr Offline
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Registered: 11/23/07
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
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.


There is no particular reason why any of us who take it seriously and who have a fair amount of experience at it (and especially if that experience covers a broad range of music) should have any particular reason to take a back seat to professionals when it comes to assessing music-making. At least in theory, we ultimately are the intended audience, after all. I have no doubt that some of the Van Cliburn jurors have all sorts of expertise in some technical aspects of piano playing that I know little or nothing about. But when it comes down to things like who plays the most convincing Beethoven, who is most communicative with the audience, who has the widest range of tonal resources, who can make my hair stand on end even in over-exposed music, etc., etc., etc., there's no real reason that experienced and knowledgeable listeners can't be every bit as discerning as music professionals. Besides all that, there are music some professionals posting here, you know.

Said differently, being a connoisseur of an art does make a difference and does convey expertise. And I would guess that when it gets down to specific pieces of music played by competitors, there is a fair chance that there is a PW poster who is much more familiar with that piece and what is stylistically appropriate for it than one or more of the judges. They are not omniscient, and I certainly don't see any reason to automatically respect their opinions on artistic matters. Professional standing isn't the same as artistic merit, by any means.

Speaking of that sort of thing, one of the jurors at the recent Cliburn was Richard Dyer. He was a major champion of Joyce Hatto. Duh... Since those recordings he heard that were attributed to her were actually from who knows how many different pianists, it quite literally means he can't tell one pianist from another. It was like an inadvertent blind listening test. And you know what, when I heard the "Hatto" recording of the Rach arrangement of Mendelssohns's Scherzo from MSND, I knew right away it was not a world-class pianist, and said so, and I also heard some weird quality to it that turns out to be an artifact of the processing that was done to disguise the recording. And you know what else? When BBC Radio 3 did a Chopin etude survey which I heard portions of, I recognized right away that one performer they were presenting was not of the same quality as the others. And it turned out to be a "Hatto". So, just maybe, some of us here actually do have ears as good as some jurors in major competitions. Just sayin'...


Edited by wr (08/13/09 05:42 AM)

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#1248302 - 08/13/09 08:18 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: wr]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
wr,

That fact that YOU think Zhang was a safe conformist choice does not necessarily make it so, though I respect your opinion on the matter.


The fact that I think Zhang was the safe choice doesn't make it false, either.. .. However, if you think it was choice favoring a wild and daring pianist, fine (but that may mean we don't live on the same planet).


Why would one be interested in saying a statement isn't neessarily false? Why would one think being a wild and daring pianist is good? I wouldn't describe any of the Cliburn competitors as wild and daring and see nothing negative in saying this.

I think there is a big difference between a safe(with some negative connotations?) performance and a well thought out, beautiful, meaningful and musical performance. The latter is what I think Zhang produced.



Originally Posted By: wr
Oh, I am sure some of the competitors work out strategy right down to the nanosecond within each round. It wouldn't surprise me if there are paid consultants who come up with pages upon pages of analysis of the mathematical probabilities of what will happen if one does this or that either here or there. I can just see spreadsheets showing predictions of how the voting will go if the repeats in a Bach piece are ornamented lightly, moderately, heavily, or not at all, and in front of a jury made of variables d, f, i, m, n, o, p, r, y, and z.


As John McEnroe said "You cannot be serious".

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#1248319 - 08/13/09 08:44 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: wr]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
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.


There is no particular reason why any of us who take it seriously and who have a fair amount of experience at it (and especially if that experience covers a broad range of music) should have any particular reason to take a back seat to professionals when it comes to assessing music-making. At least in theory, we ultimately are the intended audience, after all. I have no doubt that some of the Van Cliburn jurors have all sorts of expertise in some technical aspects of piano playing that I know little or nothing about.


I would say that most professionals also know a huge amount more about the musical aspects of playing than most serious amateurs. Have you ever gone to a piano master class and heard the teacher say something very enlightening that you didn't know previously?

Originally Posted By: wr
Speaking of that sort of thing, one of the jurors at the recent Cliburn was Richard Dyer. He was a major champion of Joyce Hatto. Duh... Since those recordings he heard that were attributed to her were actually from who knows how many different pianists, it quite literally means he can't tell one pianist from another.


I think that would only be true if there were recordings by different pianists of the same piece and those pieces had been performed very differently.

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#1248728 - 08/13/09 08:15 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
SlatterFan Offline
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Registered: 08/13/09
Posts: 784
Loc: Brighton, UK
Hi all, it's a wonderful community you have and I'm happy to be here (I'll briefly introduce myself in Kreisler's New Visitors thread this weekend).

I've enjoyed belatedly reading the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition Megathread, and catching up on the webcasts of the finalists' performances. One thing that really surprised me, unless I missed it, is that nobody here commented on how unusually Mariangela Vacatello played Le Gibet (the middle piece of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit). She held instead of re-playing the very numerous repeated B flats throughout the piece. Quite how someone interprets slurred detached notes as tied is a mystery to me. Those persistent, ominous repeated notes are a vital part of the atmosphere of the piece; and there is no doubt as to the composer's intentions, because Ravel's own performance of Le Gibet has been available on CD quite cheaply for at least a decade! Important interpretive things like this could have played a factor in the audience favorite not winning a medal.

As another example, when Chopin wrote "agitato" immediately after the chorale-like opening to his Introduction and Rondo (a fun, brash work full of sharp contrasts) Vacatello went instead for "mysteriously and gradually work yourself up to an agitato a few measures later". She proceeded to pull the speed around throughout the piece in a way that felt incoherent to me.

I found it difficult to relax watching Vacatello after she showed technical vulnerability in her opening Bach, though on the whole I did like her Bach. A talented player who perhaps showed her nerves more than the other finalists. I suspect that tends to put judges off, like watching an ice skater when you spend some of your mental energy hoping they don't fall.

In contrast I found Haochen Zhang's Scarbo utterly captivating. How I wish Ravel and Gieseking had been alive to hear it! For me the many moods were all there (especially mysterious at the recap of the opening in the lower register, before mischief takes over again), enabled by astonishing technical control and subtlely. "Unfinished" musician? Well, great artists are learning and growing all the time, so in that sense always "unfinished". I think it's easier for a great musician to come of his shell a bit more, than for a lesser musician to become a great one! Someone here has compared Zhang to a young Perahia, and I like that comparison.

Does anyone have any specific cases to report of the "dark side of competitions"? Date, competition, who by popular opinion should have won but who did win, and the suspected reasons/factors for the discrepancy? For example, Open Maximus, who did those "10 professionals/concert pianists who are DISGUSTED by the outcome of the recent Cliburn competition" think should have won, on the whole?

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#1248759 - 08/13/09 09:05 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
wr Offline
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Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7983
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus


I would say that most professionals also know a huge amount more about the musical aspects of playing than most serious amateurs. Have you ever gone to a piano master class and heard the teacher say something very enlightening that you didn't know previously?



Maybe from your perspective, that is true. From mine, it isn't.

What possible difference would it make whether a teacher in a master class said something I found enlightening? Do you suppose that professionals themselves don't ever learn anything, that they are somehow perfected beings who know everything there is to know?

Here's another little anecdote that may serve to enlighten - I was listening to Ashkenazy talk about how amazed he was at an encore someone played, and that he didn't know the piece at all, and hadn't heard it before. Well, guess what? Little amateur me knew that piece and had played through it many times, unlike the big-time world-famous professional. So who was the more knowledgeable?

Speaking of being musically knowledgeable, in one of the little background story videos the Cliburn put online, a juror gave this enlightened commentary on some poor aspirant (apparently in response to another juror asking why this player shouldn't get into the competition), "I just don't like the way he plays." LOL!! Trust me, even I can offer that kind of highly thought-out reasoning.

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: wr
Speaking of that sort of thing, one of the jurors at the recent Cliburn was Richard Dyer. He was a major champion of Joyce Hatto. Duh... Since those recordings he heard that were attributed to her were actually from who knows how many different pianists, it quite literally means he can't tell one pianist from another.


I think that would only be true if there were recordings by different pianists of the same piece and those pieces had been performed very differently.


So pianists don't have enough distinguishing characteristics to tell them apart unless they are playing the same music? You have got to be kidding.

By the way, after I posted, I remembered another bit of something that I heard in those "Hatto" recordings. There was a broadcast of a little survey of them and I distinctly remember thinking, when they moved from one recording to another, "That doesn't sound like it's even the same pianist." Of course, that was just from a casual, one-off listening on low-quality streaming audio, and the observation just happened to be true, even though I didn't know it at the time. But if I were a critic who actually had the recordings in hand to listen to as many times as needed to form an opinion, like Richard Dyer did, I would hesitate to publish rave reviews of playing that was so utterly different as to sound like it wasn't even coming from the same pianist. In fact, given the background story, I think I'd be worried that something was amiss.

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#1248775 - 08/13/09 09:21 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: wr]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Registered: 05/29/01
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Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus


I would say that most professionals also know a huge amount more about the musical aspects of playing than most serious amateurs. Have you ever gone to a piano master class and heard the teacher say something very enlightening that you didn't know previously?



Maybe from your perspective, that is true. From mine, it isn't.


So if you had a perfect technique(you mentioned previously that professional had a much better technique), you would be just as good a pianist as a professional beccause you know as much as them about music?

Because you were familiar with some piece that Ashkenazy wasn't, you think that means you know as much about music as he does??

Originally Posted By: wr
What possible difference would it make whether a teacher in a master class said something I found enlightening? Do you suppose that professionals themselves don't ever learn anything, that they are somehow perfected beings who know everything there is to know?


Of course not. But maybe if you heard them say something that they know that you don't, you would realize they know more. Maybe if that something showed they have more musical understanding than you.

Originally Posted By: wr
So pianists don't have enough distinguishing characteristics to tell them apart unless they are playing the same music? You have got to be kidding.


If one knows that two recordings of different pieces are by two different pianists, then if they have distinctive styles hopefully a knowledgble person would usually be able to tell them apart. But that is not the same thing as realizing that a recording(or several recordings) attributed to the same pianist is actually by more than one pianist. Why else do you think it took so long to realize the recordings were a hoax?




Edited by pianoloverus (08/13/09 09:42 PM)

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#1248818 - 08/13/09 10:33 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7983
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus


I would say that most professionals also know a huge amount more about the musical aspects of playing than most serious amateurs. Have you ever gone to a piano master class and heard the teacher say something very enlightening that you didn't know previously?



Maybe from your perspective, that is true. From mine, it isn't.


So if you had a perfect technique(you mentioned previously that professional had a much better technique), you would be just as good a pianist as a professional beccause you know as much as them about music?



There is no reason that it couldn't mean that, in specific cases. Not all professionals are equal.

Quote:


Because you were familiar with some piece that Ashkenazy wasn't, you think that means you know as much about music as he does??



It means that one shouldn't assume that an amateur is always less knowledgeable than a professional about the music being played. But anyway, my point isn't really about that kind of thing, but about people's ability to assess the relative musical merits of a performance. And, in the case of the Cliburn jury, I don't think that every single one of them can be assumed to be more refined, aware, and cultivated on that point than various of the amateurs who post here.

Originally Posted By: wr
What possible difference would it make whether a teacher in a master class said something I found enlightening? Do you suppose that professionals themselves don't ever learn anything, that they are somehow perfected beings who know everything there is to know?


Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Of course not. But maybe if you heard them say something that they know that you don't, you would realize they know more. Maybe if that something showed they have more musical understanding than you.



Of course. And the reverse is also true, where they could say something that showed they had less musical understanding than I. So what? It is not as if I am trying to say there are no music professionals at all anywhere who have better musical understanding than I.

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: wr
So pianists don't have enough distinguishing characteristics to tell them apart unless they are playing the same music? You have got to be kidding.


If one knows that two recordings of different pieces are by two different pianists, then if they have distinctive styles hopefully a knowledgble person would usually be able to tell them apart. But that is not the same thing as realizing that a recording(or several recordings) attributed to the same pianist is actually by more than one pianist. Why else do you think it took so long to realize the recordings were a hoax?



It didn't take so long for everybody. Some people picked up on it right away and said something was wrong, including the possibility it was a hoax. But saying so because of one's perception isn't proof. In fact, a record reviewer, at I think it was Gramophone, was so annoyed with the stories circulating about the recordings being fake that he published a demand that someone offer proof. Too bad for him, it wasn't all that long later that proof in fact surfaced, with resulting egg on his face.

That reminds me - I know of another guy who sometimes sits on piano competition juries, a record producer, who was also not only duped but extremely enthusiatic about "Hatto" recordings. And amusingly enough, he raved about the Hatto Chopin etudes, when he had thoroughly disliked the etudes that were released under the real pianist's name, Yuki Matsuzawa. To be fair, some of the tracks, but not all, had been tweaked a bit. And even more amusing, he knew that one of the "Great Pianists of the 20th Century", Nelson Freier, thought they were bogus.

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#1248901 - 08/14/09 02:35 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: wr]
Opus_Maximus Offline
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Registered: 11/27/04
Posts: 1497
There are several issues going around here.

The first are the inherent flaws of unfair judging, specifically how they pertained to the recent Cliburn Competition. As you may or may not know, there were several contestants in the competition who are CURRENTLY studying with the juror members, (Albeit the jurors were not allowed to vote for their own students.)

One can argue that it is difficult to contract judges, or that the world's most prestigious piano competition (The Cliburn) will naturally attract the students of the most prestigious teachers, and the Cliburn would WANT the most prestigious teachers on their jury. Yet, it may be just me...but it doesn't seem to take much of a brain surgeon to conclude that this JUST IS NOT RIGHT!!

I have to plead ignorance on the way other judged events (figure skating, tennis, horse racing, literary awards, etc etc) are conducted - but I am GUESSING that it is not the contestant's own coach or English teacher who is sitting on the panel! (Correct me if I'm wrong). Even when someone is running for office, everyone's vote is equal.

I know that when teachers of students are sitting on the jury, problems arise.
the "vote swapping" mentioned in the article is, unfortunately, a very real issue, I have colleagues who have suffered as well as benefited from it. If two long-time colleagues are sitting on a jury together, and are not allowed to vote for their OWN student - but each have students in the competition - they can simply agree to give a high score to each others students. It's simple, buddy-buddy kinship. Making life easier for your friend and his student. You scratch my back I'll scratch yours. Heck, I'd probably do it myself under certain circumstances, as I assume most rational human beings would. Whereas if teachers were not ALLOWED to sit on juries in the first place, none of this would happen. Several years ago, a teacher at the Manhattan School of Music wanted to send his student to a competition in Italy, where Oxana Yablonskaya was a juror. He was friends with Yablonskaya, and she told him not to even bother with his student, as she already had a lot of friends on the jury, and enough of her students in the competition.


The second topic here is why people should take a back seat to the jurors in their opinion...

If you know nothing about piano playing, then you probably are better off putting your faith in others. But I feel that the posters who are involved here and have been critical of the jury's decision (Brendan, WR, myself, and others) all have demonstrated through their posts enough fundamental knowledge of music that permits them to challenge the decision of the jury, even if not as experienced.

Piano*Dad, I know you're an economist - and I would certainly listen with open ears towards anything you found fundamentally flawed with the reasoning of Adam Smith or Milton Friedman.

And how often do we doubt the decisions of our political leaders, and, as (in my opinion) with the Bush administration in Iraq, it turns out that they DID GET IT WRONG?!....any intelligent, well-read, college-educated human being should have every right to observe and critique a situation they are well-versed in from the outside. You don't see too many people who were stark critics of the Bush administration told to have some humility, shut their mouths,and simply trust those who have been trained to do the job, do you now?


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#1248904 - 08/14/09 02:53 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Opus_Maximus]
Opus_Maximus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/27/04
Posts: 1497
Actually, Piano*Dad...disregard my above post. Look at if as food for thought, but I just went back and read this whole thread and understand where you are coming from.

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#1248950 - 08/14/09 07:57 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Opus_Maximus]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Registered: 05/29/01
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Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Opus_Maximus
The second topic here is why people should take a back seat to the jurors in their opinion...

If you know nothing about piano playing, then you probably are better off putting your faith in others. But I feel that the posters who are involved here and have been critical of the jury's decision (Brendan, WR, myself, and others) all have demonstrated through their posts enough fundamental knowledge of music that permits them to challenge the decision of the jury, even if not as experienced.



I wasn't aware that Brendan had objected strongly to the outcome, although he may not have agreed strongly either. But if he or you did, I would have shown the greatest respect for and interest in your opinions because you are highly trained performing professionals and I know how well both of you play. For me that's a big difference between that and an amateur's opinion. The exception for me would an amateur who is so talented/well trained he could win a competition for amateurs or one who teaches piano at a high level but doesn't perform professionally.


Edited by pianoloverus (08/14/09 07:59 AM)

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#1248954 - 08/14/09 08:22 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Opus_Maximus]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Yeah, I was just frustrated at that moment by what I perceived to be a general tone that judges were morons and idiots. I would not argue that educated musicians here should automatically defer to competition judges as if there were some absolute military-like hierarchy demanding obedience! :-)

Oh, and you are absolutely correct in separating between the two strands of this thread. The former is tactical .... how do we deal with perverse incentives among judges that create at a minimum the impression of impropriety, and at worst lead to profound unfairness. This issue surely bothers the competitors themselves, which is why many reform proposals seem to be bubbling up from the ranks. On the other hand, reforming the process is very difficult. Often the reforms themselves can have interesting and unintended consequences. And any reform has to have a critical mass of political support if it is to have a chance of being enacted.


Edited by Piano*Dad (08/14/09 09:34 AM)
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#1248984 - 08/14/09 09:40 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Piano*Dad]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13813
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I actually think most judges are quite wise. I think they know that, ultimately, competitions are a lot like golf tournaments. Once you're in the PGA, you're *very* good, and it's not so much about the best golfer winning as it is who had a good day. And these days, it's more about how one fares over the course of a season than on one competition.

I don't think a lot of people realize that many high-level pianists basically do competitions for a living. They enter many competitions in the hopes of getting wide exposure, and while winning is one way of getting that exposure, consistently making the semi-finals or finals is another.

Professional golfers do much the same. They enter a number of tournaments each year, and while each of them would surely like to win, it's also important to consistently make the cut or hit the top 50, 25, or 10 consistently.

Also, in Golf, there is only one Tiger Woods, and even he misses the cut now and then. In piano, we don't seem to have a stand-out superstar right now, but one could very well emerge. (I can think of one, but he doesn't do competitions and seems content to hold a rather modest schedule and doesn't do a lot of concerto playing. He was at Aspen when I was there, and everybody pretty much agreed that he was in a completely different league than the rest of us. He's also the poster child for disproving the fact that doing technical exercises makes someone play mechanically.)
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#1248995 - 08/14/09 10:07 AM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Kreisler]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10410
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Quote:
I don't think a lot of people realize that many high-level pianists basically do competitions for a living. They enter many competitions in the hopes of getting wide exposure, and while winning is one way of getting that exposure, consistently making the semi-finals or finals is another.


Hey the same thing applies to 'low-level' competitions as well. My son took in about $1,200 in competition earnings last year. Not bad for a 15 year old. Sure beats bagging groceries all day, especially when you're going to put in all that practice time anyway.

Competitions with monetary prizes always attract his attention, especially if the award money doesn't all go to the top finisher. grin
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