Seen & Heard Editorial April 2001

Despite recruitment difficulties for the time-demanding task of concert reviewing, Seen&Heard has achieved some twenty reports during March and covered two major events in Europe. We are grateful to everyone who has been able to make time to contribute and to write to us.

Last month's Rotterdam competition report brought S&H an interesting post-bag from participants and other readers; people hold strong views about music competitions. Some excerpts from two opinions received from abroad may hopefully provoke further correspondence on this ever-topical topic?

1. - - I don't like competitions, because, sometimes, the musical reasons of an interpreter (not a player) are secondary in the judgement of the judges - - - It's sad to listen to winner competitors playing like "machines à jouer", contrivances playing ONLY the right notes... - - - This is, fortunately, not everytimes true, and it's possible to find complete competitions winners - - - I have made (of course) many competitions - -The most important prize I won in 1996 in Darmastadt, the conveted "Kranichsteiner Musikpreis". - - - I am still today very proud for this prize, because it has a deep sense: isn't not a normal prize, but is a prize awarding the ability and flexibility into solistic contemporary music interpretation, the ability to play contemporary chamber music, the knowledge of the repertoire... it's really a complete prize! - - during an international competition, I was "out of game" after the second round because, for the jury, I played french music "with too much of colours...": can you believe it??? But french music of first half of XX cent. is made especially of colours!!! After this experience I decided to stop - - and concentrated myself giving a my own dimension like interpreter of all repertoire, and especially modern and contemporary repertoire, - - still today I am in time to take part to the competitions (I am 26 years old), but it's useless to collect prizes only - - I am happy about my career, and I hope to do every more - - - Your CD review to - - - is perfect because you invite in listen to it, and his music is better to listen to than to write about. But I love very much read you reviews: your english is wonderful and I have possibility to learn it reading you. My english isn't good. - - - I'll study more to use it rightly - -

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2. Even had you not written such a positive review of my own performances, I would have wanted to write and express my gratitude for your coverage of the Gaudeamus Competition. Your evaluation is in-depth,  clear-sighted, and kindly provocative.

I agree with you in questioning the elimination process that the judges are obligated to undertake. In other competitions, the parameters for judging are more limited; repertoire is chosen by the organisers, and the competition is held for only one type of instrumentalist, singer, or ensemble. The judges in these types of competition can rely on more objective criteria such as technical precision or a communicative interpretation.

In a competition such as the Gaudeamus, my sympathy goes to the judges for their nearly impossible task of objectively rating one contestant next to another. From the performances I heard, particularly in the semi-finals, I also would have had difficulty in determining who was "better". All contestants were prepared and had chosen their program with great care, in compliance with their own impression of what quality contemporary music is. The judgement must come, therefore, from a projection of one's own musical preferences, especially in regard to choice of repertoire.

I heard a great deal of music I was unfamiliar with, and this furnished me with many ideas about upcoming repertoire, and also served to focus and solidify my objections to certain types of contemporary musical expression. One interesting thing about playing contemporary music is the necessity to expand one's resources of approaches to one's instrument, as Ian Pace so effectively writes in his program notes. But, this is a process of expansion, not of limitation. I felt that some of the musicians were a bit limited in their approaches to their instrument- limited not by what Ian Pace calls the "beautiful sound" entrapment, but by a conception of what "contemporary music" should sound like.

My experience at the Gaudeamus Competition was overall a positive one, many contacts I have made though this competition will be more beneficial is the long run than a place in the finals would have been. Thank you again, I will be looking into your reviews in the future - -

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During March we have been privileged to attend festivals which involved the participation of two of the most innovative figures amongst the older generation of contemporary composers, Kagel at the Royal Academy in London, and Lachenmann   who was working with music students in Geneva (a full report will be on line during this week).

From previous events covered abroad, we have received some interesting obscure CDs (some commercial, others not) & privately made tapes, which can be invaluable in getting into better focus composers represented, as is common, by a single work. These have included: Misato Mochizuki, Florian Maier, Sachiyo Tsurumi and David Lesser

In April we will be attending an international competition for choirs in Greece, and I anticipate a very different atmosphere, about which we will be reporting.

Your responses would be particularly welcome on the vexed question of over-perfection and over-preparation for performance, leading sometimes to some of the most famous musicians seemingly going onto 'automatic pilot' and disappointing? This relates to the CD culture and to competitions too. (See my review of the Emerson Quartet )

Peter Grahame Woolf

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