Semifinals start today!
Yesterday was a day off for the competition, in that there were no recitals, and the Conservatorium was almost deserted – what a difference! Instead of the crowds of people making their way with a hum of anticipation into the auditorium there was an air of everything being on hold – muted, almost slightly mournful. The only sound in the hall was the sound of a piano being tuned, and many of the practice rooms were standing empty.
I absolutely loved the first two rounds: there was a real feeling of camaraderie among the players, and it seemed more like a festival than a competition. But of course, upstairs, the jury was listening and making notes and coming to their own individual conclusions. It was clear to me that they were going to have a terribly difficult time arriving at a decision – everyone agrees that the standard is phenomenally high, and that each and every one of the players had brought something special to the platform.
There is always a lot of discussion about the fairest, most efficient and most representative voting system. Sometimes there are marks, sometimes discussions (usually long…) – some systems discount the highest and lowest scores to guard against any bias, unconscious or otherwise……I don’t suppose that any system is ideal, but there you are, a vote has to be cast, and nobody wants the wait for the result to stretch on and on.
Here in Sydney the system of votes that was decided on meant that there was no discussion, and so the jurors would have been able to compile and adapt their own list of choices as the competition went along. As a result there was no very long wait for the names of the semifinalists – though I have to confess that I was glad it was long enough for me to escape with a friend to listen to the results on the radio at her house instead of at the hall. I do find it hard to see the players waiting for the verdict – it is all so public, and quite a few of them were going to be shocked and upset. Of course, twelve of them were going to be very happy! but for some of them this would have been shadowed if their friends had been less fortunate.
The repertoire the players can choose to play in the solo recital rounds is absolutely open, but nevertheless there are quite a few works appearing several times – which will be very interesting and the comparison between the performances might well be illuminating. But a huge amount hangs on the choice of repertoire – it is through this that the competitors will make their mark, so I think that the construction of programmes is really, really important. The balance and flow of one piece to another, and one programme to another, should ideally make an effective shape which will enhance and clarify the performance as a whole. Audiences really relate to the sense of unity and progression this brings, so it is worth spending a lot of time getting the very best options.
The players will just have found out if they are playing a violin and piano sonata or a piano quintet in the chamber music round, and that repertoire list was obviously quite narrow for practical reasons. I am very curious to hear how the players work with other musicians, and what other characteristics this section of the semifinals will reveal. Working in chamber music or with singers is so great for keeping ears and fingers fine-tuned, and of course the repertoire is divine.
I would expect the atmosphere backstage will now have more the feeling of a competition – far fewer players around, so less convivial, and we are soon getting to what in tennis is called ‘the business end of the tournament’.
I wish all the players who have progressed to this round the very best of luck – most importantly, I hope that they enjoy playing, and don’t get too stressed. And for the ones who didn’t make the cut – at least you will now soon be back with your families, friends, pets, your own house….and normal life… I hope the experience in Sydney will nevertheless have been a good one, on the whole, and I am sure it will have won you many new friends.