Are competitions fair or useful?
This is a question I ask myself every time the BBC's Young Musician competition comes around.
First the issue of fairness. Trying to select the winner between a violinist, a pianist, an oboist, a trombonist and a percussionist is like comparing apples with oranges with turnips with doughnuts with..er..cricket balls. Like gladiators in the Colosseum, who would you fancy between a man with a sword and shield and another with a net and trident? The pianists get to play a Steinway, the fiddlers an assortment of instruments some of which sound pretty ordinary. Then of course there is repertoire which is very limited for some instruments.
Are competitions useful? Since 1978 many winners have proved themselves worthy and gone on to have brilliant careers but what happens to the also-rans? This year I was highly impressed by all five finalists in the piano division and felt none of them deserved to be passed over or especially favoured. I didn't want to judge, I wanted to listen and enjoy.
I'd never heard of this before. The skeptic in me wonders if it's like songwriting contests where the main winners are the contest promoters who collect the entry fees.
I haven't paid any regular attention to the BBC young musician show.
I have a lot of strong opinions on this, though I have only loosely followed BBC Young Musician, so I can't really comment too much on that.
The competitions seem artificial and stressful, and often, the winner seems to be more of a consensus pick, who offends the fewest judges, rather than who I find to be the most interesting player (and let's just pretend to forget about judging shenanigans).
I found this - Julian Lloyd Weber, Andrew Lloyed Weber's brother thinks many classical competitions are rigged - he thought the Tchaikovsky was among the most egregiously blatant, interestingly he thinks the Young Musician competition is an exception. Supposedly there have been changes made to the Tchaikovsky judging, I'm not informed enough to say if they've made any difference.
I was asked to participate in a judging of a composition contest once. One contestant wrote an entire
The last Tchaikovsky violin competition, in my mind, was so obviously incorrectly decided. The 1st prize winner just happened to be studying with Boris Kuschnir, a jury member. The 3rd prize winner, Donghyun Kim, was on a totally different level than everyone else, but what do I know.
Competition must be a part of our human DNA. Formal and informal competition is part of the human experience. While some competitions are largely objective, the rest of them are overtly subjective. We humans seem to enjoy them both as participants and observers.
As far as whether they are useful, well, yes, they're useful to the folks who win. Forevermore they can parade that information in their "bio" along with the time they "performed with" (played whole notes in the shadows behind) Steely Dan.
Why can’t competitions be judged blind? Contestants can be assigned numbers, and the judges don’t know who is who until it’s all done.
Paul, the musicians who win competitions that matter are not the same people playing whole notes behind Steely Dan, and even among those musicians who play the latter sort of gig, nobody serious puts gigs like that on a resume.
Sue, my son did one competition this year like you describe. All the competitors were assigned numbers; their names were never published until after the competition when they announced the winner. However, I don't think it really worked because the music world is so small that the judges likely recognized a number of the kids. And if you recognize one kid and not another, you get a bit of bias there.
Susan - exactly what might constitute "fairness" in Young Musician is impossible to say when there are so many factors to juggle but I think one can at least be confident of the independence of the judges when for the second successive contest a percussionist is chosen as winner!
Geez, that isn't fair it all. That's all about spectacle. The level of actual musical training and actual musicianship is not even remotely comparable between any of the string players or pianists and any of the percussionists.
Percussion is just bish bash! Even the tone deaf can play piano! Brass players only use the fingers of one hand, or no fingers at all! Only with string instruments do you have to do completely different, equally skilful things with both hands! So one of our gang should win every time.
Competitions are unfair if jurors have their students competing. It's a blatant conflict of interest. These jurors ought to recuse themselves.
Ah yes -- nostalgia for the "Golden Age" of violin playing. Heifetz had a much easier task differentiating his Sibelius from previous recordings because he caught his stride right in parallel with recording technology. So he only had to differentiate himself from a few prior recordings, many of which were already handicapped by inferior technology. For example this concerto was previously recorded (and played beautifully IMO) by Julian Sitkovetsky but the quality of the two recordings is noticeably different.
Like Paul I'm inclined to venture a contrary opinion, that many of today's generation are actually more imaginative in their interpretations and I'd even say more "musical" than those of the Golden Age who to my ears did little more than stand and deliver. The best of them often eschew the well-trampled concerto circuit to direct their own pickup orchestras and chamber ensembles, e.g. https://youtu.be/jdf7Zxsa3b8
Neil, I don't know about your thesis; Oistrakh got second place in the inaugural Wieniawski Competition, where he lost to Ginette Neveu, who surely would be more of a household name in that same pantheon had she not died early. He then went on to win the first Queen Elisabeth Competition (called the Ysaye Competition at the time), over Elizabeth Gilels and apparently a very young Arthur Grumiaux (although the official website doesn't list him, so he may not have even made it to the finals). Kogan won in 1951.
As a judge in our local low-budget competitions I find it difficult to compare different instruments. As a non-pianist, it is even more difficult for me to compare pianists. My usual first reaction is that they all have good intonation and tone quality! Throwing singers into the mix is inherently unfair in age restricted competitions because they start and develop much later than instrumentalists.
Many years ago, I attended the finals of an international cello competition at Bristol's Colston Hall, adjudicated by Paul Tortelier. I was seated in the audience not very far from him and could see his reaction to the competitors' playing. He seemed to be a little irritated by one or two. The competition finished with no gold medal being awarded, but two silvers instead - Tortelier explained to the audience that the standard wasn't high enough to merit a gold. Anyway, he cheered up everyone afterwards by getting his cello out and giving a scintillating performance of the last movement of Kodaly's Op 8 for solo cello.
I seem to remember talk of an international cello competition in Greece, again many years ago, in which Xenakis had been commissioned to compose a solo piece for the contestants to perform in the finals. Unfortunately, the finals collapsed, presumably in disarray, when it transpired that Xenakis's piece was found to be too difficult for anyone to play!
I was contemplating this over the weekend. Competitions can be politically biased - Nobel prizes can be suspect - I'm pretty sure Solzhenitsyn never did much for his but be a Russian dissident, and Churchill's lit prize has been interpreted as a refusal to consider him for the peace prize.
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