The concerto competition is artificial competition.
Its a bold statement and not nearly as cut-and-dry as I’ve just made it seem… but the world of classical music performance is notably competitive. Even at an amateur level, there’s auditions for everything, not to mention your own internal competition to rise to your peers. And this makes me wonder why, exactly, do we add more to the already heaving stack of opportunities for critique by having so many concerto competitions? Now, before you tell me that concerto competitions are an opportunity for elite performers to enter the public consciousness or that they’re an important part of the classical tradition, I have to ask “why?”
Elite performers aren’t living in a bubble, necessarily popped by a first prize. And talent bookers surely have honed the skills of being able to listen to performers, knowing if they are a good fit for their venue or orchestra. Which leaves me wondering what the real purpose of the concerto competition really is. They’ve become a type of quality control, something “we’ve always done.” But I’ve had many conversations with some elite performers who are happy to tell me that their main motivation is fear – fear to leave the practice room, fear to stop thinking about music, fear that the person next to them is staying late to work on repertoire, that their peers are booking more gigs. To state the glaringly obvious – the competition is brutal.
Now, while it sounds like I am advocating a free-love-hippy-rule-free community, but I’m not. I promise. The majority of competition in the world of a classical musician is necessary and usually useful. No one has invented a better way to recruit for an orchestra. And word of mouth, marketing, being visible, etc is key for ensembles to succeed. Dare I say it, competitions are useful when vying for performance opportunity prizes. The competition I’m wary of is the kind that looks at a performer’s bio and, maybe subconsciously, makes a judgement based on the awards listed in their bio.
The whole thing boils down to: Be (a)ware of artificial competition.
But I’d love to hear the other side of the coin.