Sunday, July 27, 2014

Music Competitions

I have written about music competitions before. Here is my account of my personal experiences with music competitions, both as competitor and judge.

The Guardian has an article up in which Julian Lloyd Webber discusses the problem of corruption in classical music competitions. I hadn't even considered this problem!
Classical music competitions are rife with corruption and bribery, Julian Lloyd Webber has claimed.
The distinguished cellist and conductor, and brother of musicals impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber, told the Times that the winners of internationally esteemed music competitions were chosen by jurors selecting their own pupils.
The competitions, which can award more than £15,000 to winners, are often seen as the launching pad for the classical careers of talented young musicians.
However, Lloyd Webber said corruption was rife in Britain and abroad, singling out the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, held every four years and open to musicians between the ages of 16 and 30, as the most prestigious example of unscrupulous judging.
Gee, if only I had known! But, since I never had any money, I guess I couldn't have bribed anyone even if I had known about the possibility. Of course, there may be less corruption in classical guitar competitions simply because the stakes are so low compared to those for other instruments or for conductors.

I had an interesting discussion with one very prominent classical guitarist about his experience with competitions. I probably should not mention his name. In any case, he told me that the Really Big Competition that he participated in resulted in him coming in second with a less-talented performer (based on my own estimation and that of this guitarist's subsequent career) coming in first. His opinion was that the placing was so obviously wrong--plain to most people in the audience--that it actually helped his career more to come in second than first as the scandal had more legs than the actual results. In any case, his career has done famously since and I don't think he even bothered to enter any more competitions.

So, as a young artist what should you do? At this cynical stage in my life, I might suggest that you should look around and try to find the most corrupt competitions and start saving money for strategic bribes. After all, when you stick in your bio that you won the Dubrovnik Classical Guitar Competition, are the people reading this publicity blurb going to know or care how you won it? They are just going to assume you won through sheer talent. I think I would give this advice because, based on competitions I have followed carefully, attending the various stages, the most talented musician NEVER wins. Even in competitions where there is no corruption. Why? I suspect because of the general dumbwittedness of the judges, some of whom might even be jealous of a really outstanding musician. Certainly a musician with an original and creative approach is going to be punished accordingly.

But all that being said, great artists do sometimes win competitions... Two examples, Scott Ross who won the Concours de Bruges in 1971 at age 20 and Grigory Sokolov who won the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1966 at age 16. So I guess if you are a superlative musician you might do well if you enter competitions at an early age. At least back then. Now, I'm not so sure. And Julian Lloyd Webber is convinced not.

Let's listen to a performance by each of those two competition winners. First, Scott Ross playing a little Fran├žois Couperin:


And second, Grigory Sokolov playing a Brahms Intermezzo:


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