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Why Piano Competitions
Will Never Yield a Superstar

Wall Street Journal, by Terry Teachout

Original Article

Posted By:StormCnter, 7/5/2013 12:01:47 PM

Boris Giltburg, an Israeli pianist who won Belgium´s Queen Elisabeth Music Competition last month, has mixed feelings about his victory. "I´m a bit angry at the world for not having come up with another way of discovering talent other than competitions," he recently told a Reuters reporter, going on to say that he would never serve on a jury for a classical-music competition. Mr. Giltburg´s comment attracted widespread attention—but it shouldn´t have. The only thing surprising was that the person who said it had just snagged first-place honors in one of the world´s most prestigious musical competitions.

How depressing.


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Reply 1 - Posted by: woofwoofwoof, 7/5/2013 12:09:42 PM     (No. 9410041)

Why is this a surprise? American Idol usually chooses the most mediocre singer. The Presidential elections ... but I repeat myself.

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Reply 2 - Posted by: ruready?, 7/5/2013 12:14:07 PM     (No. 9410052)

The rejection of the Tea Party by the RNC also is a red flag that no great leader will ever arise from the republican party. The control freaks (known as personal managers) have also killed the creativity in the US music industry that we saw in the 50´s and 60´s.

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Reply 3 - Posted by: bobgray2, 7/5/2013 12:33:29 PM     (No. 9410076)

The problem with music juries also extends to all other areas of human endeavor. Committees, or teams whether music, engineering, etc... almost never produce works of true innovation or genius. In fact they serve mainly, if unwittingly, to sabotage such innovation.

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Reply 4 - Posted by: mitzi, 7/5/2013 12:42:15 PM     (No. 9410089)

Sure, it´s possible for young musicians to find an audience through new media—but not in the old-fashioned all-at-once way exemplified by Mr. Cliburn´s dizzying rise to the top of the heap. Increasingly, savvy artists of all kinds are self-marketing themselves to micro-audiences by way of such Web-based technologies as iTunes, YouTube and podcasting.

I don´t think we need superstars. As long as their work is out there for us to listen to and appreciate. Self-marketing is the way to go.

There´s a few not-so-young musicians that I like and I watch YouTube videos and download iTunes. I was recently turned on to Spotify dot com ... great place to find almost everyone´s recorded music.

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Reply 5 - Posted by: Quigley, 7/5/2013 12:42:28 PM     (No. 9410091)

I find the use of the term superstar to be indicative that the writer has the disease too.

How could a solo piano performer be a superstar like madonna, 50 cent, or Teleprompter?

Assume an artist of exquisite taste and a second artist of good taste. Could untrained listeners have a different experience with each? The assumption is that each artist plays the music technically impeccably.

The listener should not need a superstar. The performer should find a different line of work if he wants to be a superstar.

Too bad perhaps.

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Reply 6 - Posted by: bob913, 7/5/2013 1:24:20 PM     (No. 9410142)

If he would have played variations of "Heart and Soul" he would have been a superstar.

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Reply 7 - Posted by: Hazymac, 7/5/2013 1:34:00 PM     (No. 9410150)

Searching for a determination to be made by something other than a bloodless committee with four hind legs, Teachout´s first bullet point is "The foundation puts up a million-dollar prize, then selects a famous artist to serve as the sole and only juror."

Musical competitions aren´t like a chess game or a sport in which score is kept; judges´ decisions are necessarily subjective, as in figure skating or gymnastics. Regrettable miscarriages of judgment are common and always debatable. If a subjective choice must be made, why not let a master make it by him- or herself?

I regret that classical music (which I have played on piano and will always love) is receding in the modern age, although I believe that excellence eventually reasserts itself in the cultural milieu after a period of being out of fashion. That phoenix-like rebirth will happen with baroque and classical music, the best of which is for the ages and should last as long as humanity. When that rebirth happens does not register clearly on my hazy crystal ball.

As some of you know, I met Van Cliburn (and his mother who was his piano teacher and constant on the road companion) in my own living room after his performance with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in 1964. (My parents headed the symphony guild then.) His victory in the 1958 International Tchaikovsky piano competition was a cultural and Cold War watershed. After four months away with chronic cluster headaches, I had not planned to return to this site, but Mr. Cliburn´s death in late February of this year brought me back to pay tribute to him. That was step one.

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Reply 8 - Posted by: StormCnter, 7/5/2013 1:34:27 PM     (No. 9410152)

As the writer stated, the classical recording industry is dying. People are no longer familiar with the classical genre. In the days of radio, there were broadcasts from symphony orchestras, opera performances from the Metropolitan, and we listened in our living rooms around the country. Even when Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky in 1958 with Tchaikovsky´s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff´s Piano Concerto No. 3, most of us recognized the selections. His album sold a million copies. None of that is possible today. My grandchildren don´t know Rachmaninoff from Sinatra and despite my efforts, "classical" to them is confined to The Nutcracker. The world is different now.

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Reply 9 - Posted by: Phosphene, 7/5/2013 1:35:56 PM     (No. 9410157)

when´s the last time a great symphony was written? why are musicians today regulated to playing "cover" versions of past greatness?

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Reply 10 - Posted by: ramona, 7/5/2013 2:06:07 PM     (No. 9410190)

What an interesting discussion. We seem to see clearly the ill-effects of competition in the high-pressure world of piano competitions - and I would add to this that we see similar long-term effects for school children when competition to perform and achieve high scores on standardized tests. The worst effect, in my opinion, is burnout and the loss of intrinsic motivation to continue playing the piano - or studying to learn rather than to perform.

Also, I´m very sorry to read of Poster #7´s challenge with headaches and hope that there has been a measure of healing that will keep this good, gracious and intellectually provocative L.Dotter here with us on a regular basis.
Ramona (the Pest)

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Reply 11 - Posted by: thefield, 7/5/2013 2:16:26 PM     (No. 9410206)

Please forgive me if I mispell his name but Van Clyburn comes to mind. In the 60´s.

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Reply 12 - Posted by: gillyo, 7/5/2013 2:46:50 PM     (No. 9410237)

My brother was a competitive pianist for about a year. He is a gifted musician but the emphasis on technical perfection was something that took the joy out of the music. Technically he was good enough to do well competitively, but the artist in him kept coming out. The audiences loved him, (he was over 6ft and was a defensive lineman on his high school team), and the contrast between what he looked like and how he played thrilled them. However, he couldn´t help making every piece slightly his own, which was not what the committee wanted to hear.

It´s the same whenever technique becomes the main focus in any artistic competition. That´s why winning a competition doesn´t necessarily mean that you´re the best, it just means that that particular committee thought you were.

An artist should always aim to please themselves, and not expect their art to be their livelihood. A true artist doesn´t care what others think, they just do what they feel they must.

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Reply 13 - Posted by: bob913, 7/5/2013 4:39:38 PM     (No. 9410373)

#8 I like Rachmaninoff
Their beef stroganoff is terrific!
I discover more classical music at youtube.com

When I listen to the radio the selections tend to long and the announcer does not always say what music was played or since the names are foreign I cannot remember them.

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Reply 14 - Posted by: mitzi, 7/5/2013 4:53:52 PM     (No. 9410388)

#13 - Do you have Music Choice on your cable TV? They have about 40 stations ... several classical music (classical masterpieces, light classic, etc.). The name of the piece, the performer, label and album if appropriate is on the TV screen. No commercials ... just all music, all day.

There´s a genre available for every musical taste.

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Reply 15 - Posted by: bob913, 7/5/2013 6:47:40 PM     (No. 9410552)

#14 I just looked and found them at 940 and 941
All the other types from 901

I never go that high up the numbers.
Wish I could have this music playing while watching tv shows. I usually watch tv with the mute on....

Wish regular radio had variety like this. When I traveled in Minnesota, going from Minneapolis up north about 200 miles I heard a variety of music - country and rock and roll whereas in Minneapolis it was rap and pop music. Los Angeles where I live has lousy choices.

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Reply 16 - Posted by: Hazymac, 7/5/2013 9:07:19 PM     (No. 9410665)

Thank you so much, Ramona. The support of friends like you is so life sustaining. You can never know how much I appreciate your friendship. May God bless you.

Now here is the second movement of Mozart´s 9th Piano Concerto, written when he was a mere pup of 18. How´d you like to be this caliber of a genius? We´re fortunate that we can experience this profound piece of music any time we choose.


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Reply 17 - Posted by: tisHimself, 7/5/2013 10:53:32 PM     (No. 9410749)

Ramona ain´t wrong. This is a much better site with your presence.

Classical music and so many other art forms have been stifled in a generation. We have glorified and celebrated the ugly, the profane, the quasi criminal influenced wrap.

New music shows no creativity nor is it reflective of rock, of jazz, of classical music. There is nothing artificial or contrived about Van Cliburn (or Van Morrison, or van Halen). You can´t say that about whoever won or will win American Idol.

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