The Leeds International Piano Competition is with us once again; the last event in 2003 left us with Antii Siirala and Evgenia Rubinova, both brilliant young performers, with the first two generous prizes and, after fierce competition over three weeks, an enviable list of some forty concerto engagements, half in the UK and the rest spread over the continent, and a formidable inventory of just as many solo recitals.
Survival over the first eighteen months following such a success is the key word. Although most of the eighty or so competitors selected to take part in the competition this September are prize winners elsewhere, and all have given recitals and concerto performances somewhere in the world, the prospect of so many obligatory commitments over the oncoming concert season for the winners will need both physical and musical stamina. As the musical world is today -- and that is certainly not as it was four decades ago when this competition began -- they will also no doubt be living week by week on the precarious edge of their success, for there are always others pushing at, or being pushed through, the doors to celebrity. Discovery of new young talent is big business, and the pursuit of cross-over novelty or some original instrumental flair or eccentric repertoire can so easily unseat the conventional inventory of these dazzling but often musically unadventurous young pianists. Agents and the weakening trade in recordings are cultivating vicious marketing.
Probably from well before the games in ancient Olympia and the Roman gladiatorial contests, the public has had a voracious appetite for competition. The spectator sport is not only to see the winner, but also to see those who do not win, to enjoy the comfortable arm-chair from which we might criticize technical abilities which, even with the very last placed of the eighty contestants this year, will most probably be far beyond our own. And the inbuilt irony is that competition winners do not necessarily survive this ordeal which, in the absence of any other form of patronage, is now an essential route for those who feel a need to reach the top. There are many throughout the world who win international competitions and disappear into the seclusion, perhaps even comfortable seclusion, of teaching or back desk playing. And they too may well wonder if they have made any difference to music itself, or have they just been contest puppets to provide a transient circus entertainment.
Copyright © 11 September 2006 Patric Standford,
West Yorkshire, UK