The Finals start today
Late on Saturday evening the announcement was made of the six pianists who made it through to the final – though I didn’t get the news till the following day, having made the (truthful) excuse of ongoing sleepless jet-lagged nights the reason for my absence –
Along with the list of the finalists, there was also a timetable for concerto rehearsals starting already on Sunday – not just a runthrough with piano, but a slot for a detailed discussion with the conductor, and a chance to try all four pianos again and decide which make they would like to play for their concertos.
The choice of piano is an emotive one for everyone – the pianists want to play the one which will sound best for them in the Opera House (still an unknown space for them), and which they feel comfortable with as well. They will be looking back over their previous rounds and remembering which instrument suited them and their sound best, and which will give them the best chance to shine in their final rounds.
The piano technician teams have expended a huge amount of time, money and effort, bringing the pianos in and taking care of them not only throughout the competition, but beforehand – in one case three months beforehand! These dedicated piano technicians had a rota to work on their pianos throughout the night - amazing! But the hall in the Conservatorium was in use by the competitors from 9am, with rehearsals ongoing until the competition started after lunch. For the teams of Steinway, Yamaha, Shigeru Kawai and Fazioli, having their particular instrument chosen for the final concerto round is an accolade which would richly repay their investment.
The way the pianos have played has occasionally been a subject of some heated discussion amongst the competitors. The choice of pianos was allocated beforehand, and this order was strictly adhered to on a rota basis: this meant that the competitors were sometimes faced with playing an important round on a piano they were not comfortable with. Of course, this is and always will be a troublesome part of a pianist’s life – being faced with an instrument one may not know and may not get on with….but in a competition, feeling the piano is your friend is invaluable and boosts the confidence, in the same way the feeling you are at odds with the instrument will tend to sap it - the last thing you want when there are so many other stressful things to deal with. Since they have a choice, this should all work out well for the competitors, but I quote here good advice given to me by a horn player about acoustic, which can be adapted to fit -
‘Don’t fight the acoustic……the acoustic will always win!’
So on Sunday I went through the Mozart concertos with five of the competitors in a strange, deserted Conservatorium – no coffee, food, chat, people bustling around – all the cafés closed in the neighbourhood – but the following day all the finalists had a chance to play the concertos in the Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Centre, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Northey conducting. This was a lovely, lively yet relaxed atmosphere to play in and there was a clap and a cheer for each pianist as they finished. It was extraordinary how different the piano sounded in each concerto – same piano, same hall, and I was sitting in the same seat….The players were almost certainly not feeling particularly relaxed but Ben Northey said afterwards how each one delivered such a good performance, with such individual styles, and thoughts – it is really a credit to them all that they can keep up this kind of standard even though preparation time has been quite tight over the weeks and they are some of them extremely tired by now.
Tonight is the first final – they will have a rehearsal in the Opera House, will be able to confirm the piano, and will – I expect – move into their accustomed rôle of playing concerts. If they can hear me…..….Forget it’s a competition! Just go out and enjoy playing divine Mozart with a sympathetic orchestra and conductor, and a packed-out audience who wishes only the best for you all!’
Until this evening,