Thursday, June 11, 2009
Some final thoughts on the Van Cliburn Competition
This year's competition had a lot of excitement after the last concert finished. The press in attendance was very divided regarding who the medalists would be. Most of the critics agreed that Bulgarian pianist Evgeni Bozhanov played himself out of contention with his bombastic style. But all of the five remaining competitors were mentioned as possibilities. We should have done a pool to see who would've predicted the outcome correctly.
The awards program featured Portland-native Fred Child as the master of the ceremonies. It turns out that the blind Japanese pianist who shared the gold medal, Nobuyuki Tsujii, released a recording last year (many of the pianists in the competition have already done albums), and it's now selling like hotcakes, according to this report. That album also contains a couple of Tsujii's own compositions.
I was impressed to learn how thoroughly and carefully the participants are initially screened. Richard Rodzinski and John Giordano assemble a jury that travels around the globe to hear the best pianists. Still, ten of the final 30 pianists had some Juilliard connections, which either points to how good Juilliard is or means that the screening process still needs some improvement. In any case, at the competition itself, the jury puts their scores into a computer (somewhat like the BCS system for NCAA football) and the computer gives them the final results.
Of course, not everyone is happy with how things turn out. Benjamin Ivry, in his article in the Wall Street Journal, thought that the jurors were way off the mark. He sounds fairly bitter. It should be noted that Ivry incorrectly states that Giordano is the regular conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony. Miguel Harth-Bedoya is the conductor of that orchestra. Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News points out, in this posting, some other inaccuracies in Ivry's argument. Also, Ivry doesn't think that blind pianists should play with orchestras. That's nonsense. Then a deaf composer like Beethoven shouldn't write music.
Now I'm wondering if there should be a competition for pianists in which only new music is performed. Assembling a jury for such a competition would be very interesting. Just for fun, all the pianists could be asked to play John Cage's 4'33".