Trial by Jury
The world of piano competition
December 1, 1985
Dec 1, 1985
26 Min read time
Illustration by Mitchell Miller
Who are Ralph Votapek and Gilda Muhlbauer? What do André Watts and Peter Serkin have in common? The first two, pianist Votapek and violinist Muhlbauer, are among the many relatively unknown musicians who have won major international music competitions. The latter two, Watts and Serkin, are highly acclaimed performers who never so much as entered a music contest. The discrepancy has made competitions one of the most controversial aspects of the classical music world. Are such events worthwhile? Do they constructively promote the art and its artists? Are they even as glamorous as many think?
• • •
It was 10:00 a.m. on a late September morning in New York's Carnegie Hall in 1983. A few hundred people, scattered through the upper tiers, sat quietly, waiting. In the orchestra seats were fewer than a dozen people, toward whom all eyes were turned. They were the judges, there to evaluate the players for the finals of the 1983 Walter W. Naumburg Foundation International Piano Competition. The audience was waiting for them to give the word that the first of six pianists scheduled to play that day could begin.
Founded in 1925, the Naumburg Competition is one of the more highly regarded music contests in the United States. With prizes offered in alternate years for pianists, singers, chamber musicians, and string players, its winners have included such luminaries as violinist and conductor Joseph Silverstein, cellist Lorne Munroe, mezzosoprano Shirley Verrett, and pianists William Kappell, Abbey Simon, André-MicheI Schub, and Jorge Bolet.
Bolet was himself one of the nine judges in Carnegie Hall for the 1983 competition. He was joined by pianists Gaby Casadesus, Martin Canin, Gilbert Kalish, Ruth Laredo, Jacob Lateiner, and Jerome Lowenthal, conductor Nathan Schwartz, and Edward Gordon, pianist and director of the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago.
Shortly after 10:00 they signaled for the first of the six contestants to start, and Boris Bloch walked on stage. He was followed by David Buechner at 11:00 and Hung-Kuan Chen at 12:00. The afternoon included William Wolfram at 2:00, then Stephen Hough, and finally David Allen Wehr. By 5:00 the contestants were finished and the clearly tired jury adjourned to decide.
• • •
The six artists the Naumburg jury heard were the only survivors among 160 competition applicants. Each had submitted various forms, three recommendations, and an audition tape. Judges listened to the tapes without knowing the name of the pianist playing and then selected 60 contestants for the preliminary round. Roughly a dozen continued to the semifinals; half of them were selected for these finals, the only stage of the competition open to the public.
The stakes were high. The finalist awarded first prize would get not only $5000 in cash, but two subsidized recitals in New York's Alice Tully Hall, recitals at the Library of Congress and the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, appearances with the American Symphony, the orchestras of Chicago and Philadelphia (at their summer homes, Ravinia and the Mann Music Center), Baltimore, Aspen, and Detroit, and a recording on the Musical Heritage label.
For a young musician, these are marvelous rewards, but the Naumburg is by no means the most lucrative contest in this country. The winning finalist in the Carnegie Hall International American Music Competition for pianists, held in the fall, receives roughly $75,000 in prizes, contracts and engagements. And first prize in the Seventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which was staged in Fort Worth between May 18 and June 2, 1985, carried with it $12,000 in cash, a recital in Carnegie Hall, recordings, and numerous appearances in recital and with orchestras around the world. The total value of that prize, given to twenty-four-year-old Jose Feghali of Brazil, is estimated at more than $200,000.
Until the late 1950s, probably the most important classical music competition was the Queen Elisabeth, in Belgium. Started in 1937, its first two winners were no less than violinist David Oistrakh, and, in 1938, pianist Emil Gilels. But the Belgian contest lost its preeminence in 1958 when the young Texan Van Cliburn rode into Moscow in the aftermath of the Cold War and grabbed top honors in the Tchaikovsky. The win made that competition the primus inter pares of music contests and made Cliburn an Arnerican hero. A ticker-tape parade in New York capped the pianist's victorious return from the Soviet Union.
Since then—and very much as an outgrowth of that dramatic event—literally hundreds of music competitions of various sizes and for virtually every kind of player and ensemble have sprung up around the world. Even ambitious toddlers can find some sort of contest suited to their stage of development, such as those run by the National Guild of Piano Teachers in this country. For today's leading young artists, the most important and difficult public appearances are likely to be in front of contest judges and the small competition audiences, not on recital stages. Indeed, many of them have make contest-playing an occupation in its own right and spend years going from one competition to another. After the Naumburg, for instance, Wehr entered the Van Cliburn and was eliminated in the preliminaries, and Buechner entered-and won—both the Gina Bachauer Competition in Salt Lake City and the American Jewish Congress and Pepsi—Cola Young Musicians Competition in New York. "It's a way of life," says Buechner. "If you want to have a career, you have to keep this up, even after you win. I consider competitions a necessary evil on the road of career building. I have to do them. I'm not rich enough to buy myself concert dates and so this is the only way."
• • •
Music competitions clearly point to the troublesome issue of how culture at large has come to be viewed and treated. From the National Book Awards to the Oscars, contests have become more than a way to affirm quality. They are the determinants, for many people, of excellence. Implicit in all this, of course, is the dubious notion that artistic quality can be quantified, that there may be a "number one" violinist just as there's a number one tennis player or baseball team. The question remains: Are competitions constructive, fair, reliable? Many observers say no, and are quick to cite countless examples of misjudgment and silliness, starting with the Nobel Prize winners in literature. In music, the criticism has been especially noisy, as competitions have come under attack from players, judges, critics, and audiences both for the way they are run and for the music they promote.
The justification is simple. While sponsors often describe competitions as places for young musicians to meet and compare thoughts and talents, their basic function, at a time when conservatories and universities are turning out thousands of competent players each year, is to separate the best from the ever-increasing rest. "There are so many musicians today, there has to be some way of filtering the lesser ones out," says pianist Hough.
Yet, like many contest regulars, Hough is well aware of the pitfalls in the system; he wonders whether the right ones are being filtered out. "Competitions can ignore so many important aspects of music, particularly the artistry. The ones who play it safe and get the notes right are too often the ones who emerge victorious," he says.
Not surprisingly, Naumburg Foundation secretary Lucy Rowan rejects this view. "Everything you do in life is a competition. Music contests are not unnatural." And responding to the charge that competitions encourage "safe," but mediocre playing, she adds: "If you're in it to play it safe, then you're playing safely and that does not sound exciting. That approach doesn't win competitions." Most observers and many participants, however, think Hough has a point. Observes fellow Naumburg finalist William Wolfram: "If a person stands out, he will appeal to some, but not to other, judges. The person who offends the least will remain. There's rampant pedestrianism among the winners.
Another contestant elaborates: “It often seems that for judges—who may have strongly differing tastes-to reach a consensus in a competition is to choose the individual of least resistance. That means the player who is note perfect but has a bland musical personality. Fifty years ago, if you were eccentric you were considered a musical hero. These days, everyone judging competitions is looking for problems, for you to do things wrong, and so eccentricity—chance-taking—can be a ticket to failure. Horowitz couldn't ever have won a competition."
• • •
As contests have come under increased criticism, however, more and more managers, conductors, and critics have been looking at those who do not win the gold medal. In several instances, it has been the losers who have gained the greatest fame. Ivo Pogorelich was eliminated in the semifinals of the Chopin Competition; Youri Egorov was a semifinalist in the Van Cliburn; András Schiff won lesser prizes in the Leeds and Tchaikovsky; John Browning was a silver medalist in Brussels; and pianist Misha Dichter and violinist Eugene Fodor were silver medalists at the Tchaikovsky. One of the reasons these artists have done well when the top prize winners have faltered, suggests Thomas Thompson, a manager for the powerful, New York-based Columbia Artists Management firm, is that they possess qualities which are crucial to a successful career, but not necessarily suited to a competition. "They've got intangible assets, most important of which is the ability to communicate with a live audience. Their presence as well as their playing appeals to the public." Charisma is simply not something competitions can judge accurately.
Charisma is not the only quality a talented performer can use. As Wolfram points out, a good sense of self-promotion is another invaluable asset. He cites Ivo Pogorelich, whose elimination in the Chopin competition was big news around the world, as an example. The story reported in most newspapers was that Martha Argerich, who served as one of the judges, became so upset by the decision to knock out the Yugoslav pianist that she quit the jury. The ensuing uproar was tremendous. The jury was accused of being fixed and Pogorelich became a hero. He was invited to play in Warsaw and was offered the chance to make several recordings.
The truth of the matter is somewhat different, claims Wolfram, who was also a contestant in that competition. Argerich did complain publicly about Pogorelich's elimination in the semifinals, but she also complained about the ouster of three others, Alexander Lonquich, Hung-Kuan Chen (another of the six Naumburg finalists), and Wolfram himself. Pogorelich wasn't the only one to be given both a recital in Warsaw and recording contracts. Wolfram and Chen also played in Poland under the same auspices and Wolfram made three albums.
Pogorelich, says Wolfram, “was accompanied by various public relations people at the competition. They made sure he got the most attention and that the stories all centered on him. I'm not commenting on his talent, I'm merely suggesting that knowing how to make yourself appealing to the press and public is worth at least as much as winning a competition."
The attacks on the jurors at that Chopin competition were not exceptional. Judges are frequently cited as a major problem with the competition system. "We should be able to rate the judges," Wolfram says. Buechner adds: "It seems purely arbitrary whom judges select," pointing out that winners in some competitions regularly don't even make it to the finals in others. Some observers argue for more touring musicians and fewer pedagogues on the juries during all the rounds. (Often the famous artists become judges only for the final round.) Says Wolfram: "The great players aren't judges because they don't have time. They're too busy playing." Yet, adds pianist Andras Schiff, those performing artists "are the ones who are most capable of telling which musicians are best suited to a concert career" because they do it for a living. Wolfram concludes: "The selection of judges should be as closely monitored as the selection of winners."
• • •
The choosing of judges is hardly less controversial than the choice of age and repertoire limitations. Usually no one past his early thirties can enter a competition: The Naumburg's age limit is thirty-three; the Van Cliburn's is thirty. (Singing contests generally have higher age limits since a voice often doesn't mature until the later twenties or thirties.)
Many competitors are disturbed by these limits. "You don't stop developing after thirty," says Wolfram. Pianist Elizabeth Wolff agrees. She found that when, in her thirties, she decided to further her career and enter competitions, she was considered too old. "The logic of the competition sponsors," she points out, "is that time is on their side to develop a young person's career. Nonetheless, what they practise is age discrimination. There's simply no truth to the argument that a major career can't be made after thirty." She cites Bela Davidovich, Alicia de Larrocha, and Alfred Brendel as recent examples.
Rowan, on the other hand, defends the age limit in the Naumburg as a practical decision. "We feel we can't help make a career after a certain age. By thirty-three, the artist has been around for a while and if it hasn't happened by that point, the Naumburg isn't going to do it." Experience proves that in general Rowan is correct. Although there may be exceptions, most first-rank talents are well on their way to major careers by the time they reach thirty.
Repertoire requirements raise a different and more serious set of problems. In almost all cases, they are not flexible enough to allow a spectrum of artists—Mozartians, original instrument players, contemporary music specialists, flashy virtuosos—to display their strengths. They are usually intended to serve conflicting aims: both to give the judges the opportunity to hear the musician perform a variety of different works, and to allow the player to keep that variety within a comfortable range. For its part, the Naumburg is relatively fiexible about repertoire. Entrants are asked to prepare two full recital programs "that illustrate repertory interest and which could possibly form the basis for two New York programs. One American work must be included in one of these programs." For the final round, the contestant must prepare two concerti, one from each of two categories. The first group consists of three Mozart, the two last Beethoven, and the Schumann; the second lists both Brahms, both Chopin, the Rachmaninoff Second, the Prokofieff Third, and the first two Bartok. If Mozart or Schumann is chosen from the first, then Chopin may not be played from the second.1
As in the Naumburg so in most other competitions, a concerto performance constitutes the final round. This, critic Samuel Lipman has said, "speaks volumes concerning what contest managements feel their work is all about. . . .Concertos in the repertories of popular soloists are played today largely for the purpose of whipping up an audience. . . .To place the public weight on concertos. . .is at worst to distort the work of the pianist, and at best to make clear that the pianist as artist stands foursquare in the world of show business."
The issue has futher ramifications. The repertoire requirements, particularly the emphasis on big romantic pieces, skew the contests in favor of certain kinds of artists-those, usually, who excel at works like the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff concerti. (Cliburn made his reputation on the Tchaikovsky B-flat Minor and the Rachmaninoff Third, and Feghali has followed in his footsteps, performing the Tchaikovsky when he won the finals.) There is, as Lipman suggests, a commercial side to this. Such an ability appeals to the broadest audience and thus makes the musician easier to sell to the public. Consequently, as Schiff points out, contests are often hardest on musicians, like himself, who favor the less popular Mozart and Schubert.
Criticisms of this sort have been leveled at contests long enough now that some competitions, like the Naumburg and Van Cliburn, insist on a second concerto—a Mozart, Haydn, early Beethoven, usually. Yet this, like the wide-ranging requirements in the earlier rounds, presents a no less significant dilemma. Are the best artists those who can play the most varied repertoire, Mozart as well as late Beethoven, Bach and Liszt? The careers of virtually every great soloist demonstrate that the answer is no. One wants to hear Perahia play Mozart and Horowitz play Tchaikovsky but one does not expect to hear, or insist they play, the reverse. Such specific desires are widespread nowadays, with the increasing attention to authentic performance practice and, hence, a more widespread respect for music specialists. The requirements of many contests thus fly in the face of scholarship and artistic preference.
• • •
Various competitions have sought solutions to these problems; some have loosened age and repertoire requirements, and others have made concessions to specialists. The Pro Musicis Award, won by Wolff, has no age limit. The American Music Competition is a contest for contemporary music players, although admittedly its function is as much to promote American music as to accommodate the interests of such players. Yet these are small changes. In Hungary, an entirely different system has come to prevail. There, young musicians are given a chance to perform what they wish before an audience of conductors and managers. The players get to meet influential music officials and the officials get to evaluate their talents and help the ones they like the most. The procedure, appealing in some ways, has its own problems. On the one hand, it is impractical for larger countries, and on the other, it is still influenced by rank. That is, the young musicians who get to play are selected by their teachersand thus the teacher acts as a kind of preliminary judge.
A somewhat similar arrangement has developed in the United States. For many years, this country's leading contest was the Leventritt Foundation International Competition. But the Leventritt abandoned the standard competition format after several years during which no contestant was deemed worthy of a first prize. The Leventritt then became a merit award and winners of the prize were named by a jury on the basis of recommendations from music professionals; no contest was held. Pianist Cecile Licad was given the prize in 1981 and she claims she did not even know she was being considered for the award. The Avery Fisher Prize is similarly administered and its recipients have included pianists Perahia and Richard Goode and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.2
This kind of system is, in some ways, a throwback to the precontest days when, to a large extent, whom you knew meant how far you got. New York Times music critic Will Crutchfield, for one, is an advocate of that process: "Earlier in the century, a young pianist got ahead through managerial interest, influence of important teachers, magnanimous private patrons and sponsors, and (most significant) a whole network of performance opportunities at the homes of the wealthy, at private soirees and at mixed concerts where the star might be Fritz Kreisler or some diva of the Met but on which a promising newcomer might appeak to play a group or two of solos. No doubt there was a lot of petty intrigue, bedroom politics, jealousy, unfair influence of money and what have you. But the artistic results were better. . . , " Those who disagree with Crutchfield will probably do so precisely because of the intrigue, bedroom politics, etc. But it should be remembered that competitions have been accused of being ruled by these same circumstances.
The more important complaint about the old system was that it failed to discover and promote talent arising far from the centers of influence. It is a common myth that there are dozens of full-blown Horowitzes and Perlmans out there waiting to be discovered. Today, thanks in part to the smaller competitions, players of promise come to the attention of important music professionals early, so that by the time they mature musically they are already well-placed in the music world.
Smaller competitions—even those as grand as the Naumburg—have other, less obvious, merits as well. The biggest contests, such as the Van Cliburn and the Tchaikovsky, may be simply too generous for most winners. The most jarring aspect of the contest system, after all, is that it suddenly thrusts before the public a new young talent. For the winners of the top-flight contests, this can mean a windfall of several hundred concert dates in the next few months, and they must quickly change their lives to meet these demands. Winners are supposed to be chosen partly on the basis of their readiness to handle this change, but it is obviously difficult to predict beforehand who is ready and who is not. Sometimes talented players simply can't handle it. Ralph Votapek, a Van Cliburn gold medal winner whose career never blossomed, recently told a new magazine: "I had felt very comfortable until I won the Cliburn. But then I started getting all this attention—the RCA contract, the Carnegie Hall debut, the New York Times interview—and it all made me a little uptight. I felt that suddenly I had to be great . . . but I wasn't ready psychologically.
Ironically, the player who illustrates this best may be none other than Cliburn himself. The fifty-year-old musician hasn't performed in public for seven years, and while he has never revealed the reasons, it is widely surmised that he was given too much, too soon. Cliburn was not able to fulfill his artistic potential-his performing repertoire alone never grew enough—because he was immediately thrown into the spotlight and subjected to close scrutiny. (It seems all the more surprising then, that after withdrawing from the concert stage and deciding to live in virtual seclusion, he has devoted so much of his energy to his Fort Worth competition.)
• • •
It took only twenty minutes for the jury to reemerge that late September afternoon two years ago. Robert Mann—the Naumburg president, husband of Lucy Rowan, and first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet-walked onto the Carnegie Hall stage and thanked everyone, noting that "there are more young artists today playing better and better than at any time before." It had been particularly difficult, he said, to choose between second and third prizes, so the judges had settled on a joint second with no third place; William Wolfram and David Allen Wehr split that honor, each receiving $2,000. But first prize, Mann contended, had been a simpler matter, because the choice was recognized by all the judges to be an artist "with a rare portion of individuality." Englishborn Stephen Hough, a much-heralded twenty-two-year-old, was their unanimous choice as winner of the 1983 Naumburg Competition.
The Naumburg prize gave Hough two recitals in New York's Tully Hall. In his New York Times review of the first of these, the Times's critic Alien Hughes wrote: "As might be expected of a competition winner, this young man has a big technique. He is more than a keyboard athlete, however. His playing had warmth and personality and was governed by good sense." Nonetheless, noted Hughes, some items on the program "were less appealing."
Since then, Hough's career has progressed steadily and the young artist, now twenty-four, gives much of the credit to the Naumburg. "I would have to say it was, until now, exclusively responsible for what is going on in America. (Thanks to British contest wins, his career is progressing separately and equally well, he says.) It is not only because of the dates the competition gave me but also because of the help Lucy and Robert Mann have given me. Lucy called James Levine [music director of the Ravinia Festival as well as music director of the Metropolitan Opera] and I auditioned for him." The result was a summer concert date with the Chicago.
Hough has also performed with Robert Mann in various cities and will do a cycle of Beethoven violin and piano sonatas with him in New York this December at the 92nd Street Y. The Manns also helped him arrange his upcoming engagements as soloist with the Atlanta Symphony in November and the Philadelphia next summer. Hough now gives roughly forty-five concerts a year and has performed with such orchestras as the Baltimore, Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, London Symphony, American Symphony, and Hong Kong (where he filled in for an ailing Alexis Weissenberg with only a day's notice, playing the Brahms Second Piano Concerto). The Manns have been acting as Hough's manager until recently; now Columbia Artists Management has picked him up.
'Things are progressing slowly and that's how I want it," says Hough. "If I had won the Van Cliburn or the Leeds, I don't think it would have been a lot of help being presented with 150 concerts all over the world. Most people aren't ready for that quick a change. You can't just suddenly produce the goods." Indeed, the Naumburg has given him such a good start that Hough is planning to skip other contests, including the Van Cliburn and the Leeds. "If I reach thirty and things aren't going as I planned I would enter one of those, perhaps, but I think it's a great mistake and can be quite damaging if you don't do as well." Contests, he says, "are there principally to give you a start and let you do it after that on your own."
• • •
Hough’s point about a start is crucial. It is, in the end, the essential issue concerning the contest system today. Competition victories have always been intended to give players a few dates and the chance to prove themselves publicly. After that, the winners were on their own. Now, the question is: how big a start is a contest medal? And the answer, even for the very grandest competitions, is not very big—and getting smaller. Ironically, it was the success of music contests decades ago that spelled doom for the influence of today's competitions: the widespread and rapid growth in the number of competitions has meant that the prestige of each contest has decreased, and a competition victory will now only take the winner so far. "Even with the biggest contests, the value is short-lived. It's a useful credit for a maximum of two years," says manager Thomas Thompson. After that, the musician's career is judged solely on the basis of re-engagements. Without them, that artist has to win another competition to remain a desirable commodity for orchestra directors and recital series managers. "It means a lot less now to lose them, and a lot less to win them," says noted pianist, teacher, and frequent judge, Claude Frank.
While the winners of the few major competitions in the late 1950s and '60s all won international attention, today most big competition winners are unknown to much of the music public. Among recent Van Cliburn Competition winners, although Radu Lupu and to a lesser extent André Michel Schub are still in the public eye, others, including Ralph Votapek, Cristina Ortiz, Vladimir Viardo, and Steven De Groote have had much less success. The next few months will determine whether or not this year's Cliburn winner, Jose Feghali, can win an enduring place of prominence in the music world. "Feghali," wrote critic Alan Rich last spring, "for all his current glittering promise, will only have a brief moment of unchallenged fame; by this time next year, there will have been a half dozen other big winners in other major competitions."
The cruel fact is that there just isn't much room at the top. The consequence for contest winners, says Thompson, is that "it certainly isn't an automatic thing anymore for me and lots of other managers to consider a competition winner interesting. With so many winners nowadays, we're inclined to say, 'okay, now that you have these performing opportunities, let's see how you do, let's see if you're asked to be re-engaged; if so, then well talk about management and the rest of your career.' The days of Van Cliburn are over."
Stephen Sell, general director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, concurs. His organization "has refrained from agreeing up front with the management of any competition from engaging their winner." The Naumburg winner's date with the orchestra is actually booked by the management of the Mann Music Center, not by the orchestra itself. Sell says contest victories have little influence on a musician's ability to play with the Philadelphia. "In discussions I've had with [Riccardo] Muti [the orchestra's conductor and music director] about engaging artists, we do not consider a competition success a criterion. We discuss the artists on the basis of our personal experience and the recommendations of people whose opinions we respect. We're not anti-competition, but it's just not a criterion. From my experience as a listener, I have not been able to discern any particular qualitative difference between those who have a competition success behind them and those who don't. Contests are not the real world when it comes to musical development; their atmosphere doesn't necessarily produce the finest player."
The lessened prestige of a contest victory is also reflected in the way competition victors can be marketed. Publicist Judith Karp, Sell's colleague on the Philadelphia staff, says such a win "doesn't make or break a story. It can help if the artist isn't known, but sometimes the artist is better known than the contest and that can make mentioning the prize a liability. If it's a small competition or even a lesser prize, it can seem too small-time. If its a major contest, it can help with the non-music press—it gives them a kind of benchmark—but music writers have a better context for such things."
Music contests, then, have become something like advanced degrees for an academic—prerequisites for advancement but not in themselves any assurance of professional success. Easy as it is to cite droves of mediocre competition winners, it is also possible to link almost any of today's outstanding artists with a competition medal. That may not speak well for the batting average of contests, but, as Thompson says, the days of Van Cliburn are over. The important decisions now about musical greatness are clearly being made, not by contest judges, but by concert audiences. That may be a sign of weakness in the competition system. But it's the way things should be.
1 The requirements of the Van Cliburn, by contrast, are especially stringent. Those applicants admitted to the first round of preliminaries had to ptay one of the following works by Bach: an English Suite, Partite, or Toccata, the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, or the Italian Concerto; one of the Haydn Sonatas or Beethoven Sonatas up to and including Op. 31, No.3; one of the following works by Chopin: any Ballade or Scherzo, the Barcarolle, the F-sharp Major Impromptu, A Major or F-sharp minor Polonaise, or Polonaise-Fantasy; one Chopin Etude; and one etude by Debussy, Liszt, Rachmaninoff or Scriabin, or the Prokofieff or Schumann Toccata. The second phase of preliminaries required one Mozart Sonata; one major Beethoven Sonata, from Op. 53 on; a major Romantic work by one of nine listed composers; and a twentieth-century work by one of twenty-one listed composers that does not exceed twenty minutes.
The semifinals, which included twelve competitors, had two requirements: a piano quintet by Brahms, Dvorak, or Schumann, to be performed with the Tokyo String Quartet; and a one-hour recital of pieces not chosen for the previous rounds. The hour had to include a work by John Corigliano that was composed especially for the competition. The composition was sent to each competitor roughly a month before the contest began. (The Montreal and Queen Elizabeth competitions also require specially commissioned works. They are given to the contestants only at the contest so that the musicians must learn them within a few days.) The six Van Cliburn finalists were required to play two concerti. One had to be Mozart K.466, K.491, or K.503, or the Beethoven Second. Specific editions were recommended. The other had to be "a major piano concerto composed in or after 1800.''
2 This approach can be contrasted with that of the Luciano Pavarotti/Opera Company of Philadelphia International Voice Competition, which recently named all fifty-three finalists as winners. The value of such an accolade would seem to be negligible.
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December 01, 1985
26 Min read time