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New System Works Fine

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Third day of preliminaries to the 15th International F. Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw Prof. Andrzej Jasiński, chair of the jury, talks to Jan Popis

Does the new system work?
The novelty of this year’s competition—public preliminary rounds instead of submitted recordings—are better and more objective. It is one thing to make a recording that you can repeat until you finally play, for example, a perfect etude, but to play it in public in a concert hall is something completely different.

When it comes to the organization—you can, of course, conduct preliminary rounds locally in different parts of the world, but in my opinion this is not the optimal solution. There are coordination problems, such as the need to send the same group of jury members to remote places, provide similar pianos, similar concert rooms, and so on.

The fact that candidates compete in preliminary rounds in Warsaw does not, in turn, need to be perceived as some extreme difficulty. Those who live close can return home after their performance and wait for their results (there are budget airlines, after all), while those from more remote locations can stay in Warsaw and practice in the meantime, as well as hear others.

Candidates in the preliminary round play two etudes and one work previously drawn from the repertoire prepared for the competition. What do they have to demonstrate? Does the program favor some players, for example, pianists who adhere to virtuosity?
I believe the preliminary round program does not favor anyone and tests all kinds of skills very well. On the one hand there are etudes, on the other, a larger form—a ballad, the first part of a sonata. During previous editions, the first stage featured a scherzo. When that was replaced by a ballad, the requirement level rose radically towards greater artistic maturity. The introduction of the first part of a sonata is another step in this direction.

Incidentally, as a result of the draw we have frequently listened to sonatas at sessions that have taken place so far. You have everything there: a large form, diversity of themes and the ability to combine them into a coherent whole, expressive values, the skill to maintain tension, diversity of texture and moods. You can get the full picture of what a candidate has to offer, primarily in terms of expression.

The preliminary rounds are held at two venues: the Frederic Chopin Music Academy and the sixth floor of the Palace of Culture and Science. What can you say about the conditions there?
I am pleased to say they are very good. Both rooms work fine as sites for conducting the preliminary rounds. We were familiar with the one at the Music Academy, while the one at the Palace of Culture and Science was a big unknown to some extent. There are very good listening conditions in both, which is essential for the work of the jury.

What about the players—is either venue easier to play at?
There are some minor differences. The room at the Music Academy is slightly more reverberant, the other room has more selectivity. But when you hear over 20 pianists during the day, it is clear how (differently) they deal with the piano and the acoustics. So it is not that all find it more difficult to play in slightly dampened acoustics. The best ones actually benefit from the selectivity, since nothing gets “wrapped up” in echo. Besides, the jury members have enough experience to be able to capture a pianist’s assets in any conditions and on any instrument. Quite frequently, they do not use the ear, but some other sense, as the artistic expression reaches “somewhere and somehow deeper” in the listener. I can see no danger there.

How are the candidates evaluated? What are the details of the terms and conditions of the jury’s work?
It was impossible to apply the “yes-no” method here. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to listen to everybody right to the end and then look through your notes and give your marks (remember there are around 150 candidates). Therefore we use points and a correction system whereby votes which deviate by 10 points above or below the average get adjusted to it. We rate on a 100-point scale, but each jury member can freely adjust their own scale, that is, decide from which point a candidate may or may not proceed to the first stage. The ratings are collected each day and entered into a computer. Nothing changes from this point on. The 80 participants of the competition will be selected this way.

Are the participants interrupted if their output is poor?
There is no such entry in the regulations, which is good. This is unpleasant and may leave a permanent mark on a player’s psyche or even cause a breakdown. This is not the point at all. We therefore never interrupt for purely humane reasons. I can tell you, however, that once a candidate was responsible enough to interrupt his own performance, whereas on another occasion a candidate did not, even though he should have already done so after two measures. Such incidents happen and you have to get through those as well.

Is there any recipe for success in the preliminary round?
The vital thing is to maintain a good mood right until the performance. Never allow stage fright take over, it will grow and be paralyzing. If you want to be afraid, do it a few days in advance. Be very afraid, so you can quash those unwelcome emotions.

Once a participant takes the stage, like downhill skiers they cannot stop without breaking a neck or leg. Go straight ahead, aim for your goal which has to be bright and clear.

I noted down recently that I liked a candidate because he “played with his entire being.” The expression is not only in the fingers or head, it is in the whole player, in the body and I do not mean the gestures. There is something different, transmitted from a person’s cell to the cells of another: a kind of intuition, energy, something unexplored. I do not want to be suspected of anything paranormal, but I feel those who have it—this element that I can’t put my finger on—are suggestive and influence others. This is what we are looking for—something that captivates people aside from a perfect performance. Beautiful sounds are not everything. It takes emotion and something that carries you away.

This interview appears courtesy of The Warsaw Voice.
You will find more articles in connection with the 15th International F. Chopin Piano Competition in a competition Gazette at www.konkurs.chopin.pl and www.chopin.warsawvoice.pl

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