The artisan takes the date an unknown, and leaves it as a star. It’s the best accepted and constant allegory in classical music. And it’s a dream that music competitions brandish tantalizingly afore every appellant and every affiliate of the audience. In 1958, the angular adolescent Texan Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky antagonism and was accustomed home with a ticker-tape parade. The adventure imprinted itself on the minds of the nation that music competitions were a admission to distinction — alike admitting Cliburn never absolutely akin that experience, and no antagonism achievement has anytime been absolutely so important again.
Competitions can’t agreement stardom. And yet, at a time back the classical music business is disturbing to reinvent itself in a alteration world, the acreage seems to adhere to its competitions added deeply than ever. Some acquire bankrupt — such as the William Kapell Antagonism at the University of Maryland, discontinued in 2013 afterwards added than 40 years — but abounding added acquire sprung up. The Alink-Argerich Foundation, which monitors the advance of competitions about the world, estimates that today there are added than 800 competitions for piano alone.
So competitions, like the blow of the business, are redefining themselves. Rather than aggravating to aftermath the superstars of tomorrow, they’re added absorption on the present: an end in themselves. Indeed, the band amid the antagonism and added classical music organizations is added blurred. “We try to accomplish it added of a anniversary than a competition,” Idith Zvi, the aesthetic administrator of the Arthur Rubinstein antagonism in Tel Aviv, told an accuser in 2017. Competitions now action as presenters, putting on concerts year-round; competitions anatomy administration accoutrements to beacon their winners’ careers; competitions focus on fundraising and admirers development. And competitions bill themselves beneath as a aperture than as an capital allotment of a musician’s training. This is arguably an easier role, and it absolutely defends adjoin the abiding allegation that competitions abort to acquisition agitative new talent.
“If your ambition is to yze the world’s aing abundant pianist, well, we all apperceive area the concert apple is these days,” says Joel Harrison, admiral and arch controlling of the American Pianists Association, which holds quadrennial applesauce and classical competitions. “There are absolutely beneath opportunities.” But, he continues, “is your purpose to animate aerial standards, ambition setting, and [to] accolade excellence? Again let’s acquire a antagonism on every artery corner.”
In short, the acceptable archetypal of the music antagonism is dead. Continued alive the competition.
If you appetite to get bodies to buy tickets to a classical concert these days, business acumen goes, you charge to bill the concert as a big event. In this regard, competitions alpha with a congenital edge. They are big events. They appear already a year at most, and they action the action of sports, bottomward to the consummate of a champ or winners at the end. Are bodies interested? Look, they say, at “American Idol” — although absoluteness TV competitions are themselves crumbling in popularity.
Certainly classical competitions acquire to bazaar themselves — it’s too awash a acreage not to. And while the focus is on the competitors, it is additionally capital to acquire an audience. “It’s useless,” says Jacques Marquis, admiral and arch controlling of the quadrennial Van Cliburn Competition, “if you comedy to an abandoned hall.”
The Cliburn is Van Cliburn’s best abiding legacy, captivated by abounding to be the best important antagonism in the United States. Under Marquis, who took over in 2012, it’s alive to adhesive its cachet as a above arts organization. Of its anniversary operating account of about $7 million, Marquis says, alone bisected goes to the absolute competition. The blow goes to concerts, beat and advance — including alive advertisement of its finals to cine theaters about the world. “We’re co-producing article like 250 concerts a year,” Marquis says. (The 2017 winner, Yekwon Sunwoo, is giving a account for Washington Assuming Arts on Oct. 24.)
Harrison’s APA antagonism shares appearance with presenting organizations, as well. Each antagonism takes abode over best of a concert season, bringing the bristles finalists alone to Indianapolis for trials in altered areas — a recital; a arrangement with alcove orra; a three-day address at a bounded aerial academy — afore convening them as a accumulation for an acute anniversary of finals. For the audience, it’s a abounding division of a ambit of altered kinds of music.
APA winners additionally get two years of administration — a affection offered by added and added competitions, in allotment to adverse the botheration of competitions churning out winners and again abrogation them to bulwark for themselves with the blow of their careers. This is not aloof altruistic: Competitions are still measured, to a assertive degree, by the success of their winners. But some able organizations acquire managed to change the narrative, such as Adolescent Concert Artists and Concert Artists Guild, two administration organizations that authority anniversary competitions for adolescent musicians and represent the winners for a anchored appellation at the end. Instead of actuality apparent primarily as bloodthirsty competitions, both organizations are acclaimed for their abutment of adolescent artists.
Meanwhile, approved presenting organizations acquire continued acclimated competitions as a way to advance and added their own missions. The Metropolitan Opera’s civic board auditions acquire for decades helped advance grass-roots abutment about the country, with 42 commune and 12 bounded chapters. On the added end of the scale, the baby Kaleidoscope Alcove Orra, a conductorless ensemble in Los Angeles, started a antagonism for performers as a way to atom absorbing programming: It’s accessible to anyone, anywhere, on any instrument, arena a allotment of their best accounting for accompanist and orra. “We capital to accessible it up to bodies we didn’t know,” says Benjamin Mitchell, Kaleidoscope’s president. For their aboriginal antagonism this year, they got about 2,000 video applications from 88 countries. Six finalists catholic to Los Angeles for the final round, and the three winners all accustomed a banknote award-winning of $5,000 and will accomplish with the orra this season. The first, on Oct. 27, is Ekaterina Skliar, who will comedy a arrangement by Joseph Tamarin accounting for the domra, a Russian folk apparatus — an apparatus Mitchell says he’d never heard of afore the competition. “She aloof agape our socks off,” Mitchell says.
The artisan as competitor
Most competitions acquire an capricious clue almanac back it comes to creating big names. Fifty years ago, there were beneath competitions, and a win such as Cliburn’s, or Leon Fleisher’s in the 1952 Queen Elisabeth Competition, could actualize a star. Bodies accusation the admeasurement of competitions for the change in their status, as able-bodied as the shortcomings of juries: Teachers accolade prizes to their students, and the call for accord agency that sometimes the best agitative and alienated talents are larboard by the wayside.
The absolute problem, though, is that there aloof aren’t as abounding stars. In 2011, industry assembly told me that area already there were dozens of artists who could advertise out a house, the cardinal was bottomward to five: Joshua Bell, Lang Lang, Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. Today, not alike all of these illustrious names agreement a abounding theater. Competitions do still acme stars, such as the pianist Daniil Trifonov, who won both the Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky competitions in 2011. But alike Trifonov, admired admitting he is aural the field, doesn’t acquire the aforementioned cachet with the accepted public.
If acceptable a antagonism is no best a abundant career boost, accident one — back so abounding also-rans acquire historically gone on to bigger careers than the winners — is no best a stigma. For abounding performers, therefore, entering competitions has become aloof addition allotment of the job: article that keeps you performing, keeps you focused, keeps you in the accessible eye and ability aloof get you heard by the appropriate being — whether or not you win.
The cellist David Requiro is a antagonism veteran: He won aboriginal award-winning in the Washington International Antagonism in 2006 and the celebrated Naumburg Antagonism in 2008. He has a blooming career as a alive musician, including associates in one of the celebrated assuming apparel of the Alcove Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Bowers program. “When I auditioned for the Bowers program,” Requiro says, “it was important that I had some of these prizes on my résumé.”
But the absolute allowances of aggressive were beneath tangible, and added lasting.
“It able training like an Olympic athlete,” he says. “You map out these goals months beforehand.” And “in the end, it was the affectionate of alertness and acquaintance I had training for article for months that helped me” back it came to absolute auditions, absolute performance.
Losing the focus on acceptable would booty abroad what appears to be a competition’s accomplished point. And for bodies who aren’t accustomed competitors, competitions can become yet addition obstacle to a acknowledged career. And yet, the artists who do able-bodied in them acquire that they acquire a role above artlessly consummate a champ and ablution him or her on a anchored trajectory.
“I acquainted it paid off,” Requiro says, “regardless of the result.”
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