The first marker in this astonishingly high-calibre competition has been reached
The first marker in this astonishingly high-calibre competition has been reached – we have now heard all 32 competitors play. The first preliminary round finished last night, with the second round due to start around midday today.
I used the word ‘we’ just now quite unconsciously, but when I considered this I realised that it was exactly the right one – everyone here is a contributor, and is part of the reason why there is such a good atmosphere, and such a positive feeling out front and backstage.
I have been in the audience all through the first preliminary round and there is a tremendous sense of excitement and participation – I never heard any critical remarks, though of course people voiced their preferences – all different, I am happy to say! Many people have bought tickets for the whole competition, and have come to the earlier ones too. The sold-out hall must help give the players a feeling that it is a concert they are involved in, not a judgement.
The detail of the organisation is mind-blowing - I am just amazed at the amount of thought that has to go into each tiny element in order for the whole to function smoothly ... and smoothly it seems to be going! although, quite certainly, not without a huge and ongoing amount of work by the wonderful team and volunteers working behind stage for the competition. But nothing seems to be too much trouble, and I am sure this is the experience for the competitors as well.
The pianos – well, these are treasures that can also be monsters, as all pianists and technicians will know! The innovative idea of having a variety of pianos for the competitors to play clearly brings logistical nightmares to solve – but also interest and benefits, as we hear how each pianist adapts to a new instrument, brings their own sound and finds their own range of different colours – just as they will have to do throughout their careers.
I had the sense straight away that the well-being of the competitors was paramount. The most important thing for a pianist – a piano to practise on! A system of sign-ups for practice rooms is in place, and it seems that the players can all find the hours they need. The anxiety of having restrictions on practice time is absolutely the last thing a competitor wants to deal with, and it’s a bonus that the pianos are all here on site, no travelling around involved. And another important thing is keeping well and healthy in order to be able to deal with the very stressful demands built into a competition like this…. all the players have been allocated a ‘per diem’ to cover travel and food, and in his short, informal address to the players, the director Piers Lane encouraged them to use this to eat properly!
Which brings me to the competitors themselves – their role in the competition. There is so much stress and uncertainly involved, so much invested in preparation, time away from their families and careers with no promise of successfully advancing through the rounds.
It’s easy to see the competition from the audience’s perspective– an absolute feast of a wide variety of wonderful music, played by astonishingly gifted artists who bring their own individual personality and style to the stage. Then there seems to be an inbuilt gene in our makeup that loves a competition ... that likes to watch the drama unfolding of the field narrowing down until you get to the final few.
And it is exciting, as long as the participants keep track of the fact that one winner does not make the rest of the field losers. I have read with interest the comments that each competitor has written to go on their particular page in the SIPC programme – many of them have emphasised this, saying that this is a platform and not just a race to the first prize. This is so true! The prizes certainly offer a tremendous opportunity to the winners, and will help kick-start or augment an already promising career, but every player will be heard by the audiences here, by the jury, and by the many many people who will join in on-line or listen on the radio. Moreover, they must remind themselves that the jury’s decision will be subjective, to a degree, just as the opinion of the wider world will be – it is something that all performers have to get used to, and live with.
I write this newsletter today, because at the moment we still have a level playing-field after the next round the jury will come to the first of their many difficult decisions, and some players will be leaving us. I don’t envy the jury! I think it is a very, very difficult job at the best of times, and they will know that some people will be hurt, and many will disagree.
So - in conclusion - I applaud the sense of camaraderie that there is backstage, the willingness of these fine players to put themselves into this inevitably harsh spotlight, and I wish them the courage to find all the positives they can from the experience. I am looking forward so much to hearing them play again over the next days.