commenting on no winner for Israel

  • Participant
    emily-mitchell on #150696

    Catching up on my Harp Column reading today, I am contemplating Kimberly Rowe’s frustration that no 1st Prize Winner was chosen for the most recent Israel Contest.

    Having won the 7th Israel Contest (’79), I can attest that winning a major competition used to be the leg-up that a young artist absolutely needed to move forward. But, the market has drastically changed. Record companies no longer give out recording contracts. Debut recitals are not attended by critics. It also doesn’t help that main-stream music business still looks at the harp as a luxury item. So the burden falls on the shoulders of a world class competition to stand behind its winner whom they believe is the unique, supremely special, creative individual who has that immediate connection with an audience. The burden of the winner is to take her or his abilities to the world stage and make the most of their win until a new winner is chosen.

    Why didn’t Israel or Laskine chose a 1st Prize Winner? Who’s to know but the jury? A jury only judges what it hears at the moment. A different jury on a different day might make an entirely different choice. Choosing a 1st Prize Winner just to have a winner is no longer criteria. The market is already flooded with beautifully trained, expressively talented, intelligent, performance perfect, young competition winners.

    Pearl Chertok once said, What are we, a bunch of Jewish mothers? Competitions are a huge disappointment to those who don’t win and most especially to finalists when a 1st Prize is not chosen. But, the world stage is not in the business of motherly kindness and a jury’s decision is final. Those who do win the 1st Prize then know that it has substance and is not just something with which to fill out a resumé.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #150697

    Emily- What a wonderful explanation. Everything you said makes perfect sense to me.

    What’s interesting is that if you take the long view of competitions, and pay attention to not just the first prize winner, but the first three prize winners
    -what Pierre Jamet called Grand Prize winners- then competitions are often an accurate predictor of who is going to have a significant career. A competition is a way of letting the world know, again, through the first three prize winners, who is a solid, gifted, hard working, dependable performer. And these top prize winners often end up in major orchestras or with major teaching positions.

    There may be too many competitions around now, not simply on harp, but on the more popular instruments as well like piano and violin, and thus, too many first prize winners to attract special attention to start a solo career. But I can’t think of anything else that will give young performers the opportunity, at this particular stage of their lives and careers, to push themselves as hard as possible to reach as high as possible with their playing. Musical competitions in this way are like the Olympics or any athletic competition, where at a specific point in time the contestants involved are in peak form, higher than they will ever be again. And competitions can give these people, for better or worse, an accurate overview of where they stand in their musical training.

    Participant
    emily-mitchell on #150698

    Hey, Carl: Oh, I agree that competitions are extremely relevant and we expect a jury to select a 1st Prize Winner. Some years produce a 1st Prize Winner, others don’t. It will be interesting to follow the careers of the prize-winners of this most recent Israel Contest.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #150699

    As far as the long haul is concerned in any career, it’s not only talent, ability, etc. that count. I think that the most important trait anyone can have in any profession to be successful is persistence. Successful people just never give up. NEVER!!! So in terms of a harp career, there are prize winners who eventually disappear, and others who are very successful. And there’s a third component too, and that’s timing. With major orchestra jobs for example, they don’t come up very often, and to get one of those jobs, in addition to being very competent, you have to be the right age and ready at the right time. Many very competent musicians will never get that coveted job just because the timing wasn’t right.

    By the way, I still would like to hear what went on in the jury room to result in no first prize being given. They may have had very valid reasons, or there may have been a back stabbing cat fight and this was the only way out. Either way, I’d like to know.

    Participant
    emily-mitchell on #150700

    Ah. Doubt you’ll ever know. The Israel jury does not deliberate. At least they didn’t when I was on the jury in 1998. Votes are tallied and that’s it.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #150701

    I thought they deliberated only in the final stage. How could they come to an agreement to not award a first prize without deliberating?

    Participant
    emily-mitchell on #150702

    Apparently through voting. In 1998 the jury listed the finalists in the order of their preference. If my memory is correct I believe we kept voting until we had a majority on the listing of the prize-winners. No deliberations and the voting did not have to be unanimous. Also, the conductor of the orchestra for the finals was on hand to cast the deciding vote in the case of a tie. It was surprisingly quick and harmonious because after two weeks of listening to the competitors perform, the majority of the jury had a sense of who’d be the top winners.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #150703

    I have spoken with one of the jury members. It was all handled extremely professionally and fairly as can be. A consensus apparently emerged through voting that there were certain qualities absent in the finalists that were desired, and each contestant was different. I’m not sure there was any discussion at all, certainly no fighting. It is handled extremely carefully to avoid that, not like in the old days. I think the youth of the contestants was a factor in that they may have needed more maturity. It seems to me that the lessons from this are, to not push very young players into the ultimate competition, and to make sure they have musical understanding, not just technical and performance security. It is also important to arrive early, in case of any sickness or jet lag.

    It is easy to look at the careers of competition winners and say that their careers validate their winning. That is like looking at an eclair and saying that must be a pastry. Winning the competition ensures a number of engagements and exposure that leads to at least some success, moreso in the “old days”, which, as Emily points out, are gone. There are many winnners who are not in the spotlight constantly. It is truly no measure of anything but what happened that day with those people. It is also not very possible for a talented harpist who doesn’t have money or sponsors to prepare for and go to a competition like Israel. Or there are those who are too busy to take the time. It’s an enormous investment for a very slim chance. And winning is no guarantee of very much. That is one of the reasons I started the Harp Festival of Philadelphia: To provide a forum in which harpists can present their art without competition and required repertoire (other than what I request).

    Participant
    emily-mitchell on #150704

    Hi Saul: Do you think a First Prize should always be given?

    Participant
    unknown-user on #150705

    In response to the statement: “a world class competition to stand behind its winner whom they believe
    is the unique, supremely special, creative individual who has that
    immediate connection with an audience.”
    Do you mean that the 2nd and 3rd prize winners might not posses such qualities? Labeling the first prize winners (only) as such is probably not the best idea because there are many legends in the harp world who received Second and Third Prizes in Israel – Susan McDonald, Catherine Michel, Jana Bouskova, Xavier DeMaistre and other amazing harpists – and they have proved to us again and again that they too are most certainly “unique, supremely special, creative individual who has that
    immediate connection with an audience”.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #150706

    I agree with you that there is all too much emphasis on the first prize winner and that is true in all musical competitions. Did you know for example that when Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovski competition and received so much worldwide publicity as the first American to win that competition, that the second prize winner was also American? His name is Daniel Pollack, and there was a lot of controversy over that decision because many Russians thought Pollack should have won. He ended up having a big career in Russia, but is virtually unknown in the United States. But back to this thread: that is why I’m interested in the top three prize winners, not just the first prize.

    I think there may be two possible reasons why a very fine musician does not take first prize. One is that the jury may feel that the person being considered is not yet at their full potential and so should wait and mature more before being given a prize intended to launch a career. This happens a lot in voice competitions. And many people who never got a first prize go on to have important careers. The second reason is much simpler, and that is that, on that particular day, the person in question just didn’t play that well. The pressure is enormous in any competition, and the jury can only judge based on what they hear. They can’t take into consideration illness, injury, jet lag, emotional distress, or anything else that is going to throw someone off their game. It all comes down to who plays the best at that particular moment.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #150707

    I just googled Daniel Pollack and his web site explains how he is a superstar in Russia. It’s worth reading.

    Participant
    emily-mitchell on #150708

    Most competitions are set up so that the First Prize Winner takes all. This is the nature of the beast. That’s why so much emphases is placed on the First Prize Winner being the best performer to emerge from the group at that time and moment who will represent the competition as her or his potential is expected. If you’ve ever been on a competition’s jury you would understand that usually one person emerges as the top performer. This is what the jury is looking to find. In my participation on competition juries, the First Prize Winner usually has that something extra, sometimes heads above the 2nd and 3rd place winners at that time and moment. All the performers are good and have good credentials. It’s a cold process at this top level of performance. There is no room for generalities.

    When a jury doesn’t choose a First Prize Winner it’s usually because there isn’t that one person who excels above the rest.

    The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition does a great service to its 2nd and 3rd place winners by providing a concert schedule for those winners as well as its First Prize. Harp competitions have not yet reached this platform.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #150709

    That is a tough question, Emily. Certainly it will seem unfair to contestants and perhaps observers. I think one would have to look at how the contestants are chosen, and that perhaps the flaw is in that part of the process. If the same jury chose the contestants as well as the winners, would they be more likely to always award the first prize? I might think so. People don’t realize that contestants are chosen by the people who run the competition, in this case, mostly harpists, I believe, and in some competitions, they are not even musicians.

    I think another part of the problem is with the repertoire, and who is drawn by it and who is repelled. It seems to me that the broader the choices, the better. I don’t think the top prize should be given if no one is truly ready to fulfill its demands, but that should be a very rare circumstance, hopefully. However, the promised engagements should go to somebody and not be wasted, so the previous winner should perhaps receive them. It seems to me that the contestants should be more carefully chosen to seek maturity rather than youth. I think the age limit should either be raised or done away with altogether. So many harpists start later, in their teens, and they are ready for competition at

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