Piano Competition Winner Says It’s Time To End Grueling Contests

“Competitions are for horses, not artists.”  Bela Bartok’s famous quote is oft repeated, especially by those who do not win them.  This year, however, that well-known phrase is being repeated by one of the winners and the drumbeat is growing louder.

Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg won Belgium’s Queen Elisabeth Competition, one of the world’s most prestigious and grueling music contests.  He thought his memory lapse during the semi-final round would certainly cost him a spot in the finals.  

His mother and grandmother, both of whom are pianists, left the room where they were listening, certain he had lost.  When Giltburg later listened to the recording, he found that he had not stopped, as he had thought.  Rather, his “right hand had continued to play something.” With the pressure off after he recovered, he actually relaxed, playing freely and fluidly.  However, he remains angry at a system he says is more punishment, than pleasure.

Aura Go is an Australian pianist currently based in Helsinki, where she is undertaking doctoral studies at the Sibelius Academy.  Last year at this time, she was preparing for a competition and had this take.

“It would be fair to say that the world is overstocked when it comes to pianists; there is a stark imbalance between supply and demand, which means that even the winners of the International Tchaikovsky, Van Cliburn or Chopin Competitions can be guaranteed a burst of concert activity immediately following their win, but no such assurance one or two seasons later,” she said

Has the performing world changed to the point that competitions are outmoded and unnecessary?  Are there better ways to kickstart a performance career?  Both Mr. Giltburg and Ms. Go make their points well.  I’d be interested in your comments.

Read more:

  • Prize-winning pianist caught between anger and ecstasy (Reuters)
  • Sydney International Piano Competition: a pianist speaks out (Limelight)

Watch Boris Giltburg play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto 3 with the St. Petersburg Phil

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