The Cliburn Competition screening jury traveled from Hong Kong for the first round of auditions to Hannover, Germany, for the second group of pianists, who tried out from Jan. 8 to Saturday.
The five-member jury currently is in Moscow, where hopefuls will audition until Friday.
Here are updates from their experiences in Hannover, compiled and edited from blog posts written by the Cliburn Foundation's interim executive director, Jacques Marquis. Follow his blog at www.cliburn.org, and for updates on the competition, which takes place May 24-June 9 in Fort Worth, check out our blog, Notes from the Cliburn, at dfw.com/cliburn.
The scoring system (or Hannover Part 1)
First day in Germany, but -- and I do not know why -- the first thing I would like to share with you is how the jury members will choose the 30 candidates to come to Fort Worth in May. I think it may have to do with the German way of being organized and efficient.
During the next weeks, we will use a method that most international competitions are using right now: a yes/no process. Without going into detail, the yes/no process seems to me the best way to be clear about expectations of the jury.
"Do you want to listen to this candidate for the next round?" It is a very clear question, and what I like most about it is that this is also the same question that we can ask the general public.
The jury members -- those in the screening auditions as well as those in the competition -- are chosen because they know and can evaluate what it takes to sustain an international career: artistic vision, sustainability, a piano technique that will last, etc.
In most competitions, there is no discussion or deliberation. Each member of the jury will personally mark each candidate and give their result to the competition organizers. The results will be combined, and we will proceed to the next round. Easy and nonconflictual.
Souvenir de voyage: Haircut in Hannover: check! My hairdresser surely was a fan of TCU; her hair was purple!
Food in Germany: We feel welcome in Germany -- for the first night wir haben Schnitzel, Apfelstrudel und hausgemachte Bier! As good as Chinese food, but more comfy.
Artistic programming (Hannover Part 2)
One of the key aspects of the Cliburn Competition is the impressive amount of repertoire required of the candidates: preliminary round, two recitals of 45 minutes; second round, a recital of 60 minutes plus a quintet with the string quartet; and, finally, for the finals, two concerti.
Everyone in the music business will tell you, that's a lot of repertoire for 20 days -- especially for young musicians.
Artistic vision, sustainability and strong technical piano base are key to building a career. All six finalists of the competition will have career management support from the Cliburn for the three years after. The Cliburn will act as an agent (without the commission!) and book them for many engagements.
Three things come to mind:
1. This is why our competitors must have a lot of repertoire. They will have to play concerti, chamber music and recitals, sometimes very soon after the competition.
2. They will also have to learn a lot of new repertoire. That's life! When you begin a new job, you have to learn a lot of new things; this is the same for them. Fortunately, they will already have a lot of notes in their hands ready to go.
3. Through the three rounds of the competition, we see which pianists can handle the pressure, achieve sustainability, stay in physical shape (a pianist is like an athlete, in that he has to take care of his body all the time) and, above all, have a unique artistic vision. This is not an easy task!
The process is long and hard for them, but the career is tough and very exigent. And it's only the beginning.
Souvenir de voyage: Yesterday we met Yeol Eum Son, Cliburn 2009 silver medalist. She is in Hannover studying with Arie Vardi, one of the jurors for the competition in May. She was just in Moscow for a concerto and is now going to England and France for chamber music. She gives 45 to 60 concerts per year. That's a lot of notes and repertoire. By the way, she will perform at Bass Hall on March 12.
Travel tips: Downtown Hannover is full of shops and galleries. You never know when you may need something, especially on a long trip. I have to go now -- I need more socks and a scarf for Moscow next week.
Why do young pianists enter competitions? (Hannover Part 3/
Competitions can be fantastic for the careers of young musicians. Winning a competition, any competition, is a boost of confidence -- a confirmation that you are headed in the right direction, a statement about your artistic vision.
But you can also easily lose a competition -- which can be a fantastic downer and a reality check for an artist. It could even possibly signal a career change. But you can keep your faith after a loss. After all, a competition is a short moment in time and space, and the music-competition world is difficult. You have a limited time to perform and to succeed in front of a jury -- each member of which has his or her own views on piano and music-making. The timeline is short, and the consequences can be endless.
Winning a competition does not guarantee you a sustainable, lifelong career. What it can do, though, is open a window to the world. You can certainly have an international career without winning a major competition. But winning can help a lot.
Competitions are a great moment to evaluate where you are, talk with colleagues and meet (after the rounds) the members of the jury.
Imagine the pressure on these young artists; in the midst of the all of the stress, their ultimate goal is to make beautiful music -- music that will make you dream, cry, think or love.
We have arrived in Moscow now after a fantastic time in Hannover. We've heard 24 candidates so far, and we will listen to 18 more in Moscow and 30 in Milan. And many more in the United States...
Travel tips: You remember Hong Kong? Just letting you know that I went shopping in Moscow today ... again. (Apparently luggage loss knows no borders!)