Competitions, on and off the podium
Tong Chen, Jesko Sirvend and David Danzmayr at the prize ceremony.
As my readers remember, I am a veteran of about a dozen conducting competitions. My professor Leonid Korchmar put it in my head early on that competitions are one of the many ways to break into the consciousness of orchestras and public, and I am very grateful to him for insisting I go and compete. Even though music is not a sport, competitions are very important for young aspiring conductors. Sometimes the ways are not obvious, as I have stated in my old post "10 Reasons Why You Should Participate in Conducting Competitions".
This May I was following closely the Malko competition in Denmark. First of all it was interesting since I took part in the competition myself when it happened in 2005. That was the year of their first webcast, and my classmates could follow my round from St. Petersburg. Danish broadcasting company offers excellent service in streaming the whole competition and leaving the archive there for awhile. The other reason was that a lot of young conductors I know personally took part and I was very curious to see how they will do, and I was especially delighted to witness a close friend of mine, Tong Chen take the 6th prize in the competition!
That said I was not happy about everything that was going on in the competition. One of the reasons is that the president of the jury, Lorin Maazel, saw as his right to interrupt some participants and comment on their work. Can you imagine that happening in a piano competition? "I am sorry sir, but the arpeggios in your left hand sound a bit muddy - could you take this section again?" Unfortunately this is not the first time I witness this kind of behavior from the jury - my own compatriots have been guilty of this kind of attitude too. Why not just let all the participants concentrate on their competition round and let them do their best? It's a competition not a master class.
Another thing I am worried about is the trend of inviting agents and orchestra managers in competition juries so that they finally outnumber the conductors in the jury. I am sorry to say, but conducting is such a specialized field that for a layman it is almost impossible to tell how much influence the conductor has in the quality of the end product. The non-conductors in the jury are bound to make ill-informed guesses in this regard, or then they will just concentrate on the flashiness of the podium manner or other "marketability" factors. I know the competition organizers want to secure concerts for the winners by inviting these people, but I doubt we can find sustainable talent in this manner.
Enough about conducting - I also wanted to write about another kind of competition that grasped my full attention in May. I ran the first 10K race of my life at the Cleveland Marathon! A year ago I started running as a hobby, and in February I had gathered enough courage to register for the race. Before the race I had a period of about six weeks where I forced myself out of the bed early and hit the course five days a week. My longest runs a week before the race were around seven kilometers, and my friends assured me that if I can do seven it will be no problem to do ten when the race day comes.
I was surprised to find many connecting points between running a race and playing a concert. Both are preceded by a long period of preparation which intensifies just before the performances. Both require a lot of determination since now and then you seem to hit the wall and nothing gets better - but to get where you want you just need to plough through that phase. And when it is showtime you need to be able to distribute your strength along the whole course so that you can still play your best when the finish line is in sight! The 10K took me just under an hour, but for the next year I am planning a half marathon. Then we are already talking about operatic proportions!