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Laurie Niles

Violinist Heather Kurzbauer on International Violin Competitions

September 24, 2010 at 8:50 PM

What does the jury really talk about during a competition? Are there too many competitions? How do the judges decide? These are a few of the questions that various panels have been exploring each night before each round of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.

On Wednesday night, Heather Kurzbauer of Amsterdam, who has covered many competitions over the years for The Strad magazine and who has also served on the critics jury for the Hannover International Violin Competition in 2009, spoke about the difference between American competitions and others around the globe, about judging competitions and about their value. She was joined IVCI Executive Director Glen Kwok.

Heather Kurzbauer

What is the value of a competition? Does it really help launch careers?

"It depends, but certainly many careers have been launched by competitions," Heather said. "I think competitions are helpful to launching careers if one thinks about them in the right way."

Competitions allow all competitors – not just the winners – to gain public exposure. "I don't agree that competitions are for horses," Heather said. "How else would we meet these wonderful people from all over the world? We love our local heroes, but this gives us a chance to hear someone from halfway around the world." It also allows students to receive advise and mentoring from jury members from around the world.

Glen added that nowadays, with the Internet, "Every performance you give, literally the whole world truly is watching," noting that listeners from at least 100 countries have tuned in this week to watch the current Indianapolis competition over the Internet.

Also, people can e-mail each other about performances that excited them and watch the archived performances many times, thanks to the Internet.

What are some of the mistakes contestants make?

One mistake they can make is their choice of repertoire, Heather said. For example, it doesn't make sense to play two intense 20th century pieces in a row, or for that matter two pieces of any genre back-to-back. "You have to think of the psychology of the jury," she said. Don't make them tired.

Another mistake can involve what the contestant wears. "Wear things that make you comfortable onstage," Heather said. "Especially for women, you need to get some really good advice about what to wear" so that it does not detract either from the music or from your own level of comfort. A strapless gown that is constantly falling down and requiring adjustment is not the best bet.

When the jury is splitting hairs, deciding between players of almost identical skill level, what causes one to win over another?

One jury member from another competition told Heather that he asks himself, “Would you pay money to hear a recital by this contestant? Who is the musical memory-maker for you? They are all good girls and boys, but who is the one where you say this is the musician? 

"It's what makes you go on Youtube and listen to Fritz Kreisler," Heather said. "It may be a little out of tune and smeary, but then you find yourself in tears."

How much discussion goes on between jury members?

Said Glen Kwok: "Our philosophy for Indianapolis is there should be no discussion. When I share with the jury who the semi-finalists and the finalists are, they are hearing it for the first time."

An audience member asked: Shouldn't all the pieces be the same, for the sake of scientifically ranking the contestants?

"You, as the audience, would go crazy, and the jury would go crazier," said Glen Kwok.

"I think that's where music and science diverge," Heather agreed. After hearing about 10 Sibelius concertos, you stop looking forward to it. Being able to choose pieces "shows so much more depth of musicianship," Glen said.

What if the jury does not agree with the way a contestant has chosen to play a piece?

This can be a big issue, when one starts talking about "historical" and "correct" performance of Bach and Mozart. One thing is for sure: there will be dissension. "The nine individuals on this jury come from very different musical cultures," Heather said.

Glen added that the World Federation of International Musical Competitions requires for certification that 50 percent of the jury not be from the host country.

Are there simply too many competitions? asked another audience member.

"I don't think so," Heather said. Having many competitions across the world "ups the ante and broadens the chance for exposure for young musicians."

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on September 25, 2010 at 1:44 AM


From Bram Heemskerk
Posted on September 27, 2010 at 1:54 PM

"One mistake they can make is their choice of repertoire, Heather said. For example, it doesn't make sense to play two intense 20th century pieces in a row, or for that matter two pieces of any genre back-to-back. "You have to think of the psychology of the jury," she said. Don't make them tired."

Perhaps a MISTAKE of Indianapolis, Hannover + Elisabeth is that candidates have to play the partita's + sonata's of Bach and the Paganini Caprices, the Mozart vc's semi's and the Tsjai, Beethoven, Brahms in the final. THAT makes the public tired. A lower level of candidates who plays interesting pieces is less tiring for the public. Perhaps the jury must work harder for their money and must be tired after hearing a lot of new pieces. They must be ashamed with their poor violinrepertoireknowledge they don't know those pieces which is perhaps nearly iron repertoire  for the candidates and the public who have more violinrepertoireknowledge, because they like to listen to more repertoire.

In a discussion in Holland we talked about "conservatory robots" and "conservatory automats" formed through all the obliged iron repertoire in competitions.

Someone make this drawing about this subject: "Can someone remove this conservatory automat" :

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