Do away with music competitions?

May 20, 2009
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As home to the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis and the American Pianists Assocation Fellowship Awards -- and with IVCI head Glenn Kwok recently named President of the World Federation on International Music Competitions (the first American to land the position) -- Indy has a firm stake in the future of artistic competitions.

But with the highest profile piano battle in the country, the Van Cliburn, happening in Fort Worth this week, questions are being raised by at least one critic and a former winner about the value of such competitions.

Scott Cantrell, music critic for the Dallas Morning News, asked former Van Cliburn winner Alexander Kobrin what he would do to improve the competition. The pianist replied "I would erase them from the map."

The story goes on to note that only one past Van Cliburn winner, Radu Lupu, has gone on to become a "genuine artistic legend.") (See full story here.)

So what is the value of music competitions? Do they truly identify the best? What do they do beyond helping find an audience for yet unknown musicians?

And is not producing legends a good reason to knock the competition itself?

Your thoughts?
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  • Competition of any sort pushes people to excel. Many high school music students have wonderful experiences trying to make it to state music championships, for example, and even if they never play another instrument competitively once they graduate, they have learned and grown in a way they couldn't have without all that being part of a competitive team brings. Perhaps winning the Van Cliburn works the same way: it's the musician's goal, and once it's attained, he/she should be free to live the life of his/her choosing. I would fear the trickle-down effect if music competitions at the adult level went away.
  • Does anyone really strive to be a genuine artistic legend?
  • Music competitions offer the participants opportunities to expand repertoire, hear and learn from others, and strive for their best performances. It brings them visibility and recognition and helps to open doors to a career in music. Those participants that we have gotten to know and/or hosted in the violin competition have felt that coming to Indianapolis was an important event in their musical pursuit.

    Indianapolis music competitions offer our city an opportunity to be known worldwide as hosts of highly recognized, well-run, fair, gracious competitions. Our visibility as a city of culture is enhanced by the Violin and Piano competitions. They also help us attract people from beyond Indiana’s borders who are interested in the arts. While attending the international summer music festival in Imola, Italy in 1992 we were delighted to hear many young international musicians praising “The Indianapolis” which at that time had held only three competitions!
  • I hate music competitions but they do serve a purpose. Young would-be performers need to play in front of people, get used to auditions. If you win and take home a check that's nice, but if that's why one is entering these competitions one is destined to be disappointed. The best performers don't always win. Do judges ever recuse themselves in the cases of people they know (or are their students)? The important thing for participants to remember is that winning a competition won't guarantee you a career and losing won't stop you from having one either. Many great performers never won a competition in their lives. The conservatory in Milan rejected Verdi. It may have hurt at the time (and he never forgot!) but it didn't hamper his career in the least. Know why you are entering the competition! And remember that it doesn't always matter whether or not you win.

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