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#1247972 - 08/12/09 02:47 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: pianoloverus]
Opus_Maximus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/27/04
Posts: 1478
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
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 1049
Loc: Phoenix Metro, AZ
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
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19218
Loc: New York City
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
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19218
Loc: New York City
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



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13758
Loc: Iowa City, IA
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
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 1049
Loc: Phoenix Metro, AZ
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
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7753
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]
Piano*Dad Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10347
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
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
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
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
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8482
Loc: Ohio, USA
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: 13758
Loc: Iowa City, IA
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?
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#1248083 - 08/12/09 05:57 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Kreisler]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13758
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Never mind, I found it! laugh
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#1248090 - 08/12/09 06:08 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: Kreisler]
Bart Kinlein Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/08
Posts: 715
Loc: Maryland
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
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/08
Posts: 888
Loc: Somewhere in Europe
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
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/08
Posts: 715
Loc: Maryland
John Elton?
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#1248163 - 08/12/09 09:39 PM Re: Piano Competitions' Dark Side [Re: GreenRain]
Horowitzian Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/18/08
Posts: 8453
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
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7753
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
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7753
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
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19218
Loc: New York City
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
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19218
Loc: New York City
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: 783
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: 7753
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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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
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Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7753
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: 1478
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: 1478
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
Posts: 19218
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: 13758
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: 10347
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
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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