Since the end of the ARD Competition in Munich I have been mulling over the concept of competitions. Of course we all understand the point of competitions, and many are prepared to put up with the negative aspects in the hope of benefitting from the positive ones.
Personally, I always found it hard to play my best in competitions because of the unnatural atmosphere, but these days many young musicians seem to approach them as a necessary evil. I know some musicians who go in for half a dozen such competitions each year. They seem to take the view that if a jury doesn’t like them in one place, another may like them in the next, and eventually someone is sure to like them, especially if they go in for a mixture of competitions big and small. This seems to be borne out by the fact that every candidate already has a bunch of prizes on their CV.
As I travelled home from Munich I couldn’t help reflecting that there was an astonishing collection of musicians (jury + competitors) gathered under one roof for ten days. Although we’d all accepted the conditions, it suddenly seemed a great pity that there was so little opportunity for ‘knowledge transfer’. Yes, we did give the competitors feedback if they wanted it, but such feedback is given on the occasion of someone leaving the competition, and in my experience they are rarely in the right frame of mind to hear advice at that moment.
On my particular jury were seven extremely experienced piano trio players, some of whom I had never met before. It was remarkable to be sitting next to them, day after day. Would it have been better for us to spend ten days coaching the young musicians, perhaps playing with them? Could we have had a huge festival? Would it have been fun to ‘mix and match’ among the trios, a kind of chamber music speed-dating? Might there be a way to combine masterclasses with some ‘awards’ at the end? It would have been nice, too, to go out to dinner with the competitors and swap stories of life in the music profession. Sometimes you can avoid problems by hearing how someone else solved them.
Of course, such events would need serious commitment of time and money. But I could not help wondering if, instead of Group A (the jury) sitting in judgement on Group B (the young musicians), we could put our heads together to devise a forum which would bring A and B together to share knowledge in an active and constructive way.