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Given the complexity of the music, and the grave responsibility of awarding the competitors prizes, the value of which exceeds $250,000, the efficacy of a jury whose collective judgment is less than authoritative by virtue of professional experience remains to be seen. As for the computerized averaging system, well, I put that question to Professor Fred Feinberg of the University of Michigan graduate school. A leading authority on voting systems and statistics, Professor Feinberg was astonished to discover how poorly understood, by Cliburn staffers, are the inadequacies of such a 'standardization' process. The evidence of that misunderstanding has been demonstrated endlessly in defences of the system voiced by competition executives and others in radio interviews and concert brochures. But as Mr Feinberg points out, the problems of the system, which were not thoroughly analyzed by a professional statistician, pose certain dangers for fair adjudication. Nor is it statistically insignificant that the majority of semi-finalists were chosen from the last 8 performers in the preliminaries, suggesting that recency, in the mind of a juror, curries capital and bears fruit for those lucky enough to have played in the second half of the preliminary round.

To my great surprise was the level of playing of the Takacs Quartet, which I criticized mightily a few days ago as unprepared, scratchy and out of tune. In fact, this now appears to be attributable to poor miking, as they sound nothing like that at all in the flesh. On the contrary, the ensemble was disciplined, its sound warm, and its intonation secure. Nowhere was this more true than in a superb reading of Franck's piano quintet with Stanislav Ioudenitch, a popular favorite here. Even so, at a party last night, I mentioned it to the quartet's shy violist, so that he might look into it.

I have seen a great many friends and colleagues here, especially competitors Andy Russo, Maurizio Baglini and Roger Wright. Each played brilliantly (Russo's performance of George Crumb was miraculous), though the popular on-line vote was nearly 2 to 1 in favor of Roger Wright, whose video taped performance of Chopin and Rzewski is outselling by a wide margin those of the other competitors. Though Andy and Roger were not selected to compete in the semi finals, and Maurizio was rejected for the finals, each has made invaluable contacts. Indeed, this is a competition that, for its sheer generosity of spirit, makes it virtually impossible for anyone to lose. The Bass family paid one thousand dollars each to the 20 competitors who did not play in the semi-finals, and the city is swarming with agents, record company executives and presenters. Parties abound, taking place every day in some elegant Westover mansion or other. Last night it was a pool party at the lavish chateau of Van Cliburn's neighbor, providing welcome relief for the Russian virtuosi who availed themselves of the warm waters.

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Copyright © 7 June 2001 John Bell Young, Fort Worth, USA

 

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