Getting in the Competitive Spirit

By Barry Kempton

(photo above: a group of competitors pose for a quick photo during the 2013 Competition Preliminaries)

This coming Saturday sees our Student Scholarship Competition Finals at Landmark Center in downtown St Paul.  Over 200 students entered the competition and about 100 return on Saturday for the finals.  They compete for first and second prize scholarships of $2,000 and $1,500 respectively in multiple classes within the five categories of strings, piano, wind & brass, voice and guitar.  Actually there is a sixth category, organ, which we co-sponsor with the Twin Cities chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

The various competition proceedings are open for public listening this year.  If you’re interested in listening to some of the competitors, stop down at Landmark Center during the day.  Check our website later this week for a more detailed schedule.  Or come to the Winners’ Recital on Saturday evening at 7:30pm in the SPCO’s Music Room in the Hamm Building, 408 St Peter Street in downtown St Paul.  It’s free.

Results will be posted on Twitter and Instagram throughout the day if you would like to follow along @schubertclub #sccompetition.

Thanks to Valentina Lisitsa’s initiative, there was a competitive element in our recent International Artist Series recital.  Eight works or sets of works were offered by Valentina, and we the audience were invited to vote for the four we most wanted her to play.

It got me wondering about competition and ranking, and whether there are other ways they might serve classical music well.  The first reaction for many of us (myself included, I might add) may be that our music world is better off without the competitiveness of the sports world.  We can appreciate two different piano recitalists for their different skills and strengths without needing to say that one is better than the other. 

But on the other hand, we all do it.  We have our favorite recording of Beethoven piano sonatas and we can recall particularly memorable performances.  Isn’t that a form of internal voting, expressing a preference of one performance element over another?  So is it so wrong to explore ideas which might one day lead us to a new approach vis-a-vis ranking? 

A couple of ideas to start the ball rolling:  maybe we can invite subscribers to rank a concerts series at the end of the season and publish a “league table” similar to the NCAA March Madness Tournament Bracket.  Maybe we could present a festival of artists and declare a winning performer or ensemble who wins a prize.  How about a new take on the 3 tenors where each performs alone and the audience votes for their favorite? 

Tasteful or tasteless?  Rest assured, I’m not advocating especially for any of the above!  I don’t have a favorite idea.  But it’s interesting to explore ideas, and I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts.  Some will be more tasteful than others, but taste is a subjective thing.  So don’t hold back. The Schubert Club will be a better organization for listening to what you have to say.