An American friend has sent me an article from last Friday’s New York Times about piano competitions. Michael Johnson, who has served on prestigious competition juries, laments the corruption that allegedly prevails.
Perhaps there are competitions whose juries engage in vote-swapping, fixing, accepting bribes and all the rest of it. I’ve heard the stories too. But there are ways of making it very hard for juries to indulge in such behaviour. In this regard I’d give honourable mention to the Scottish International Piano Competition, whose jury rules were so strict that we didn’t once discuss the pianists we’d heard, not even after the final result had been announced. After ten days with my fellow jurors I had no idea who had voted for whom at any stage, or what anybody thought about the outcome.
Maybe I’ve been lucky, maybe I’m naive, or maybe I’ve never been at the relevant competitions, but I’ve never encountered any tricks or tactics. On the contrary, my fellow jurors have always been anxious to do the right thing and united in hoping that someone will walk out onto the platform and play in such a way that we can push away our score sheets, lay down our pens and simply listen.
It’s true that the technical standard of playing keeps rising, and that there are now staggering numbers of pianists, from more and more countries, who play with amazing control and accuracy. All the same, even amongst these highly-trained and polished players, the artist who ‘speaks straight to the heart’ is still a rarity and is still easy to spot. As György Sebök would have said, ‘the standard of mediocrity is rising all the time.’