Written by Laurie Niles
Published: September 24, 2014 at 6:37 AM [UTC]
First: the laureates were the violinists who deserved to win. One could quibble with the order among the very top finalists, but this would be a matter of taste. The whole competition was as triumph for excellence in violin-playing, and the violinists who consistently played best through all rounds were the ones who won. There was nothing fishy about the level of their artistry. A great number of extremely good, even great, violinists did not win prizes or advance to the finals. That was because of an abundance of talent at this competition.
The contestants were asked to prepare more than two hours' worth of music. Much has been made of a few bobbles that lasted a few seconds. In live performance, it is not unusual for even the finest violinists to bobble a note, misplace a shift, or suffer a memory slip. Nonetheless, there was less of this happening in the finals of this competition than I heard in the last few competitions I've attended. The perfect-note standard for live performance is perhaps the symptom of our scoured-clean recording world. For those who have an eighth-grader's take on judging technical level and artistry, they can find plenty of material to make seconds-long videos of bobbles and mistakes from just about any violinist brave enough to post a truly live performance on the Internet. Might be hard to find with Heifetz, but I bet someone could do it.
The point is that, unless those slip-ups are so frequent as to be a distraction, they don't matter in the larger scheme of two hours' worth of playing. Certainly they show how nerve-wracking the situation of a competition can be, but one slip doesn't get at the overall artistry, intention and technical level of the player.
As far as the integrity of the judging, Indianapolis's system of rules for its competition is beyond anything I've ever seen at any competition anywhere. IVCI already had an extremely detailed policy in place with regard to jurors who have students participating in the competition. In fact, it could be the IVCI's very transparency that allowed its detractors so much ammunition. Every participant's current and past teachers are listed plainly, right under their names in the program. The program also describes the detailed process by which a jury member who has students in the competition would vote. If a jury member has a student in the competition, that jury member does not vote on his or her student, in any round. In other words, they do not submit scores on their own students, at all. (Read the rules online in the competition program. The "scoring procedure" is outlined on page 37.)
A jury member's ability to either submarine or greatly inflate the scores of other contestants is also very limited under the IVCI's system, due to the fact that all scores are recalculated to a common statistical distribution to equalize each juror's score distribution in relationship to one another. Additionally, all scores are reviewed by John MacBain upon submission. (John MacBain designed the computer scoring system used by the IVCI, and you can watch a full interview with him about that system on the Violin Channel.) "Should there be any blatant irregularities; the process is in place to immediately alert me of any anomalies," said IVCI executive director Glen Kwok. "Fortunately, I have never had to experience this scenario." Beyond that, jury members are barred from speaking to any of the contestants for the duration of the competition, which means there is no "coaching."
Jury members grade each violinist after each performance using individualized scorecards, Kwok said. On the card is a place for the “Overall Performance Score” followed by scores for special prizes such as “Best Bach, Best Mozart, Best Beethoven," etc. Jury members may keep all the scorecards until the end of each round so that they can recalibrate scores as they go along as they feel is appropriate. At the end of a round, jury members sit collectively in the jury room to finish and/or finalize their scores before submitting them to Kwok.
"There is absolutely no discussion," Kwok said. "We literally physically collect the bottom half of their scorecards. I then give the cards to our mathematician and inventor of our scoring system, John MacBain, who enters the scores into his computer with the assistance of our auditor, Alerding CPA Group. Alerding CPA Group then issues a letter stating 'We certify that we have observed the counting of the preliminary scores of the 9th Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. The 16 participants advancing to the next round are as follows:' The entire process is audited for complete accuracy and transparency. No one knows the results until the auditor issues the formal letter to me and I announce it first to the Jury."
The "controversy" over the IVCI happened, perhaps not-so-coincidentally, right after the finalists were announced. A lot of people were surprised that Stephen Waarts did not advance to the final rounds, based on his excellent performances in past competitions, particularly his first-place award at the Menuhin Competition earlier this year. He's an excellent player destined for a fine career. Directly following the announcement of the finalists, his teacher, Aaron Rosand, contacted the columnist Norman Lebrecht, as well as the editor of the Violin Channel and me, seeking an outlet for his displeasure over the judging at Indianapolis. Particularly, he wanted to point out the relationship of several judges to students: among the finalists, three were former or current students of juror Miriam Fried and one was a student of Jaime Laredo. Those relationships were neither a revelation nor a secret revealed; they'd been listed in the program and known all along. Because of the high-level system in place for dealing with these potential conflicts-of-interest, jury members took the job, knowing that their students could still enter the competition.
Nonetheless, the fact of their connection proved fodder for Norman Lebrecht's story about the finalists, which began in this way :
"It was brave of the judges at the International Indianapolis Violin Competition to pick an all-women final line-up. Braver still to agree that five of the six finalists should be Korean. Heroic, when half of them are students of one of the judges, Miriam Fried (who must have recused herself from the selection). Now, if these stats look a tad unbalanced, please note that 27 of the 40 selected entrants originated from South Korea, China, Japan or Taiwan. How did that happen? Are we to believe that almost 70 percent of the best young violinists are now bred in the Far East? Or is it that teachers in Korea, China and Japan have learned to work the system, grooming their candidates to pass the entry level? Are any of the entrants, for instance, receiving state or corporate subsidies that are not available to European or North American contenders? The imbalance is so blatant at Indy 2014 that official clarification is required."
He missed on one possible explanation: that these candidates actually played best.
It is true that Miriam Fried did not vote in the final rounds, due to the fact that half of the finalists were current or former students. Jury member Jaime Laredo did vote on five of the six finalists, recusing himself from voting on his student in the finals. IVCI director Kwok describes the reason for this in this way:
"The decision to ask a jury member to recuse herself had nothing to do with online comments or public opinion. (Miriam Fried) was asked to recuse herself entirely in the Classical Finals and Finals simply because of the unprecedented scenario that three of the six finalists were her students. When a person can only vote on three out of six people, the scores cannot provide substantive meaning from a statistical standpoint because there are not enough scores. Therefore, the fairest outcome for all six was for her to recuse herself entirely, which she fully agreed. In Jaime's case, there was no reason for him to recuse himself beyond his own student. He only had one student so he could still effectively vote for the other five people. It would have been very unfair to the five kids if he could not add his opinion to the votes of the rest of the jury."
In other words, having Fried vote on only three finalists while the other jury members voted on five or all six would have skewed her distribution of votes under IVCI's scoring system to the disadvantage of the finalists she did not rate as the best. So, to be fair to them, she could not vote on any, and she removed herself from the jury for the finals.
Is it unusual, for jury members to have students in a competition that they are adjudicating? Not in this competition, and not in others. The only difference seems to be this competition's transparency and very direct policy about it. (And of course, all those Korean women in the finals.)
"In nine competitions, it is not the first time that there were three students or former students of a jury member in attendance, but it was the first time that three students of the same teacher advanced all the way to the Finals," Kwok said. "In order to have a jury of the caliber at the IVCI, they are selected as much as three years in advance of each competition. To make a jury member resign within the last six months of the competition just because their student made it past the screening round would be a grave disservice to the competition. Few people of the artistic level that the IVCI seeks to have on our jury are available for three weeks, on six months notice."
"Lastly, why should a violinist have to sacrifice his or her career by not being able to enter one of the most important competitions in the world (I am not speaking about Indianapolis only, but all the most important competitions) since they do not occur every year?" Kwok said. "Timing is everything, and in the case of 'The Indianapolis,' which is only once every four years, it can make a huge difference. With strict safeguards in place, there is no reason why a student of a jury member cannot enter and win fairly. If people think rationally, they must realize that when there are nine jury members and one person recuses himself or herself, the violinist must win the votes of the other eight in order to win."
What happens now? Norman Lebrecht, for his part, came up with a quota plan to "rectify" the situation of all these Korean women having too much success. From his blog, he proposes:
"1 No judge shall have taught any student within the past two years.
2 Contestants must disclose all past teacher relationships.
3 Contestants must disclose any previous contact with any of the judges.
4 No more than four students shall be admitted of the same nationality.
5 No more than 60 percent of contestants shall be of the same sex.
6 A judge who recognises a contestant from a previous competition must withdraw from the round."
It's not a system that would work in the United States, and here's why: The United States Supreme Court has rejected strict racial quotas since its Regents of the University of California v. Bakke decision in 1978. The Court has accepted the consideration of race in decision making to favor "underrepresented minority groups" (Grutter v. Bollinger, 2008), but it consistently has rejected straight-up quotas, such as in Ricci v. DeStefano (2009), when it declared that a city fire department did not open itself to "disparate-impact liability" when it promoted white and Hispanic firefighters who outscored Black applicants on a management promotion test. The Court most recently affirmed its "strict scrutiny" standard toward quotas last year in Fisher v. University of Texas, where it declared that any consideration of race must be "narrowly tailored."
Lebrecht's proposal is not narrowly tailored to bring underrepresented minority groups into the world of elite violin competition. It is aimed at *denying* previously underrepresented groups (women, Asians) the representation that they enjoyed in this one competition.
This is not a situation such as the Sphinx Competition, which is limited to contestants of color, and was born of a mission to help underrepresented groups. Once you open a competition to all, under U.S. law, you can't impose strict racial quotas on the outcome. Given abundant Supreme Court precedent, any competition in the United States that adopted Lebrecht's "standards" should expect to be sued, and to lose that suit, at potentially grave financial cost to the competition.
In conclusion: The fact that six finalists were women is not a scandal. The fact that five were of Korean descent is also not a scandal. The IVCI created an elaborate system for scoring that allowed jury members to serve even if their past or present students were in the competition. The fact that the IVCI's system could not accommodate the situation of one juror having so many successful students exposed a weakness that they would do well to address before the next competition.
I understand that some will still argue that having a juror that has some relationship to a contestant is a problem, even if that juror does not vote on the contestant. But do we want to have juries with no active teachers? If we do have active teachers, do we then want to disqualify all their students from entering a given competition? A system that bars all past or present students of jurors would open a whole separate line of problematic ethics, as would one that dismisses jurors whose students successfully enter. It's not a simple problem, and this is why the attempts to solve it have not been simple, either. But in the case of the IVCI, I believe that those attempts have been made in good faith.
* * *
Tuesday on Violinist.com, a young reader posted a blog in which she reported that this year's IVCI first-place laureate, Jinjoo Cho, had expressed a desire to share the 1683 "ex-Gingold" Strad she's been given to play for the next four years with the other laureates. It would seem that our younger generation is not only profoundly talented, but generous and community-minded as well. I think Josef Gingold would have heartily approved.
All this furore because of one disgruntled teacher who thinks his student should win all competitions. In comparison with Formula 1 racing, even if you have highly dominant car, you are not able to win all the Grand Prix throughout the year.
Instead of suggesting quota people should rather look what the Koreans are doing that they are so good. If they have so many high-level students there must be very high number of intermediate and extremely high number of basic level students. Is it connected with the school system, or do they have a newly born Shinichi Suzuki :-) influencing the basis of the pyramid?
Having served on the juries of international violin competitions, I know of all of the measures that are put in place to prevent cheating. I have several humorous and revealing anecdotes from behind the scenes I could share that would support this statement.
None of this seems to matter to people who are conspiracy theorists. I once had a conversation with someone who had forgotten that I had been a member of the jury at a particular competition. This person told me: "Oh, I was there. It was so obvious to everybody in the audience that so-and-so should have been the winner and that there was an organized effort by the jury early on to eliminate her." I protested that that simply was not true (and it WASN'T!), the person said: "Oh YES, it is true. It was SO obvious! There can be no denying it." I then reminded the person that I had been on that jury, was involved in every aspect of the decision, and that I neither witnessed nor took part in any such conspiracy to skew the results. The response? Continued argument that it was "undeniable".
I think this distasteful matter over the Indianapolis outcome should be put to rest sooner than later. Jin Joo is a wonderful violinist and person. Her efforts should be rewarded, and her future left untainted by false controversy.
Bravo to the Jury of the Indianapolis Competition!
And I said it earlier, the main thing I find a bit awkward is when a judge has 3, 4 even 5 students competing vs. students with no teachers on the jury. You begin to get into shady territory (from an outside perspective) when a competitor only has to worry about 8 out of 9 scores vs. a competitor whom needs to worry about all 9 judges. The logic can go both ways in it could help or hinder one or the other.
I really loved the performances of the Finalists, even if my girl did not win. Though one Mozart performance made me raise a brow at what just happened to said performer and the orchestra. =P
The problem with this and every competition or audition where there are numerous contestants: each contestant is only allowed minutes, not hours, to show his/her worth, and will advance or be eliminated. Bobbles here and there in the preliminary rounds WILL matter and likely knock a contestant out, even if his/her musicality is worthy of final round. These bobbles are simply the lowest-hanging fruit that the judges latch on to and use as a quick and easy way to weed through the large preliminary field and eliminate contestants in order to move onto the next round.
This is the inherent logistical limitation to any competition or audition that unfortunately reduces judging of artists to "no bobbles = good musician."
"I don’t see that she impugns my integrity, but her post is so tedious I may have nodded off before that bit. It does appear, however, that Laurie has been sponsored by a discredited tournament and reflects its tenuous grasp on reality. In the cause of her own integrity, she should have declared an interest."
To fully disclose, I was one of several credentialed media that the IVCI hosted at the event. The other out-of-town media included The Violin Channel, a reporter from American Record Guide, Strad Magazine, and Strings Magazine. I can't speak to the specific arrangements by the other media outlets, but the IVCI is a sponsor of Violinist.com, running ads to attract applicants and viewers to the event. As part of the competition's payment to Violinist.com for its ad campaign, it covered my transportation and hotel accommodations to the event. That arrangement was negotiated by Robert, who handles all of Violinist.com advertisement. We have sponsorship arrangements with Juilliard and other institutions with events that I cover; Robert handles the sponsorship so I can write with editorial freedom. The IVCI had no editorial control over anything I wrote, nor did they request any, nor would we accept any kind of deal in which they had. This allowed me to be there and report on everything first-hand, as opposed to not being there and having no first-hand knowledge to share.
His point #6 is ludicrously impractical. But that doesn't matter because any reasonable person would have stopped reading after points 4 and 5.
Transparency is always best. Good that Laurie disclosed her not-scandalous arrangement with IVCI. Faculty-student relationships should always be transparent as well. It's sad that these brilliant young players, who did nothing to create this situation, are being forced to endure this muckraking.
If people are going to shame Jinjoo Cho, I sure hope those same people shamed Augustin Hadelich back in the day, too. I disagree with the shaming (if anyone should be shamed here, shouldn't it be the supposedly unscrupulous jury scratching each other's backs???), but at least it would be a consistent reaction.
And personally, I knew Jinjoo and Tessa Lark would take the top two slots, just like how I knew the general order of who the winners would be last time I watched in 2010 (check my 2010 blogs if ye doubt the claim). I wonder if I bribed myself. Yikes.
What bothers me about that is not that the Asian community is producing female players of a high enough caliber to effectively wipe the floor with the rest of us, it's the Barbi (and Ken) doll-ization of soloists these days. I've noticed that especially with the women, they all look like working fashion models.
In my opinion, back in the bad old, sexist days, you could be a man or a woman and have a body and face made for radio. It was just about the playing, although I remember much being made of Eugene Fodor's studliness. I guess it helped with the fast passages.
Now, I'm living in dread of the moment when the men take their cue from the "Barihunks" phenomena, and start buffing up and stripping down to play the Brahms. Yikes!
It cannot be entirely surprising that given that classical music, and specifically, playing the violin, is still held in high regard by Asian communities, whether inside the US or elsewhere in the world, that a substantial percentage of the top musicians are now Asian. If the top of the funnel starts with a disproportionately huge number of Asian girls, the bottom of the funnel has a significant likelihood of having a high percentage of Asian women.
I want to compliment Laurie for her legal analysis of the Supreme Courts rulings on affirmative action and attempts at fairness in these matters; and to the Indianapolis Violin Competition for a process that, to this reader, virtually insures fairness.
"Your comprehensive article in defense of the Indianapolis Competition’s point system, misrepresents the reason for my disagreement regarding the voting procedure. First, I must tell you I was a juror in the IVCI in 1990. I am thoroughly familiar with the voting process and do not believe it has changed. I sat with Joseph Gingold at the time, and all jurors adhered to the role of not making comments concerning candidates or displaying any signs of approval or disapproval. This was not the case at the 2014 event. An observer saw and overheard the remarks of a juror brazenly criticizing the contestants in the early rounds.
“Jury members grade each violinist after each performance using individualized scorecards, Kwok said. On the card is a place for the ‘Overall Performance Score’ followed by scores for special prizes such as ‘Best Bach, Best Mozart, Best Beethoven, etc.’ Jury members may keep all the scorecards until the end of each round so that they can recalibrate scores as they go along as they feel is appropriate. At the end of a round, jury members sit collectively in the jury room to finish and/or finalized their scores before submitting them to Kwok.” In 1990, at the conclusion of each round the score cards were gathered and removed for the computer. There was no “recalibrating scores” in a jury room where a lot can happen to effect the outcome. The initial impression without discussion was not preserved at this event. It was always amusing on the next day to have your score cards returned with marks changed if they were too high or too low. This evening out process made the final decisions ridiculously close and resulted in confusion to pick a winner. I remembered the heated discussion that took place, when the suggestion was made for the sharing of the First Prize. Joseph Gingold persisted that we must have one First Prize winner to sustain interest and financial support for future competitions. And so it was, a very narrow margin of victory based on just a few aggregated points complied by the computer. In short, the computer is not the satisfactory judge for artistry.
You are implying that I am simply objecting because my students did not advance. Please know that I am launching this crusade to insure complete fairness in future international competitions. You mentioned the subject of my student Stephen Waarts, who was the winner of top prizes in the Menuhin Competition, the Montreal Competition, and the Young Concert Artists Competition in NYC during the 2013-2014 season. His semi final round in the IVCI was highlighted by an impeccable performance of the extremely difficult Bartok Solo Sonata. He was the only contestant to play the entire round without a score; this included the commissioned work by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Was this completely overlooked by the panel? YES!! Because it wasn’t good enough to make the finals. There were most distinguished judges in all of the other events and it does not speak well for the peculiarities that were exhibited in this one. Most of the contestants played almost the entire round with a music stand and turning pages. In my humble opinion, this is unprofessional. This is a violin competition and not one for the piano. I am fully aware of the current trend of using music for sonatas, but in my opinion it simply means that you do not know the score. I have attended recitals by the greatest artists of the last century dating back to Bronislaw Hubermann, Fritz Kriesler, Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, Mischa Elman, Efrem Zimbalist, David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, etc. They all included sonatas in their programs but I never saw a music stand on stage.
Once and for all, it must be mandated that jurors cannot have their students participate to insure fairness for all. This practice must be discontinued in international competitions because it is a farce to believe that teachers will not protect one of their own by giving lower grades to candidates who conceivably are superior. It is ridiculous to think that because they cannot vote for their own students that harm cannot be done to other candidates. It would be very interesting to expose the scores of jurors who had students in the competition. Conceivably it would be good idea if jurors openly gave their scores for each round rather than submitting a silent score that was altered in the jury room or by the computer.
This rule must be established to insure that injustices will not happen in the future!"
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