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There Is No Olympics For Classical Music

   With the recent  conclusion of the Summer Olympics in London , I thought it might be interesting to make  some comparison between  classical music and sports .  There are certain similarities , such as  competitiveness etc, but vast differences .  Recently, on Facebook , there was a sort of comparison between the Olympics and  the various musical ompetitions for aspiring young classical pianists and violinists etc .  Someone there compared the young musicians who compete for the prizes in these competitions  unfavorably with the young athletes in the Olympics, saying that  the classical musicians  are too inhibited  by trying to please the judges in order to try to win .

   Perhaps the most famous and prestigious of these musical ompetitions is the Van Cliburn  ,named after and spponsored by the renowned but now retired Americna pianist Van Cliburn, who achieved international acclaim by winning the Moscow Tchaikovsky competition in 1958 , becoming an instant American hero at the height of the cold war .  He  received a ticker tape parade in Manhattan,  a recording contract with  the prestigious R.C.A. record label  , became a classical music  superstar .  Years later, he founded a piano competition to find great young pianistic talents which takes place in Forth Worth in his native Texas periodically . 

    Aspiring young pianists come to Fort Worth to face a distinguished and highly demanding panel of renowned pianists .  There are Gold and Silber  medals , and the winner  gets a chance  to  receive  representation by  presitigious concert management and a handsome cash prize .But comparing   sports and classical music competitions is  unfair .   In sports, there are clear cut winners and losers . There are objective standards  for winning and losing .  You are either better at what you do than others or you are not . 

   However , in musical  competitions, the judging is totally subjective .  Technique is only  part of the criteria for excellence . All the contestants have technique in plenty, or they would not have been invited to compete (they send  recordings or videos to be considered ).  What really counts is the contestants  interpretation, his or her conception of a piece .  And there are no absolute standards of detemrining who is better here .  The panelists  often disagree among themsleves about who should advance to the next round of the competition .  Who gets eliminated  is a totally subjective decision . 

   Of course,  you can tell who plays a difficult piano work with  greater speed and accuracy .  But is this the most important criterion ?  Not really .  There are others factors such as  tone quality ,  expressiveness ,  command of a work's  architecture etc .  You can't measure any of htese things with a stopwatch or other means ,unlike the Olympics , where a tiny fraction of speed can mean the difference between a gold, silver or bronze medal  . 

   The judges argue among themselves  about who should be  eliminated in a round or not .  Many years ago, there was a gifted young  pianist from the former Yogoslavia by the name of Ivo Pogorelich , who later went on to make a major career ,if not without ocnsiderable controversy over his  interpretive quirks , and he entered a prestigious European competition .  In an early round,  the judges eliminated him , not for lack of  technique or overall talent, but because they just didn't like his conceptions of  the music . 

   However, the  renowned  Argnentinian pianist Martha Argerich, still  active inher early 70s ,  felt that he was  a  pianist of rare brilliance and individuality . She was so angered by the elimination that she resigned from the jury in protest !   These competitions may be an enormous stroke of good luck for the winners , but let's face it - they're a crap shoot !


Posted: Aug 21 2012, 11:13 PM by the horn | with no comments
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