This is a belated post.
Last Thursday I went to most of the first day of this year’s Sydney International Piano Competition. Having been delayed by torrential downpours, already too late for the first competitor, I also missed the second. There was only one computer at the box office, manned by box-office personnel from the Opera House (to which the competition has outsourced its ticketing for this competition).
How it was that I hadn’t booked tickets earlier is another story. Suffice to say that an unwieldy computer booking system, SOH box office staff who weren’t entirely familiar with what they were selling and the notably more expensive tickets for this year each played a part.
Still, that left 6 more players at 20 minutes each in the first session, and another 8 in the evening.
That is almost too much piano music for me to sit and watch in one go (or, I suppose, two goes), though once you get into the rhythm of it, it has a certain Zen.
I now regret that I missed the gala concert the night before as this would have been a great opportunity to hear the active pianists amongst the jurors.
The competition is being live-streamed with visual as well as the audio which, as in previous years, is produced by ABC “Classic” FM. Someone has now put up the streaming of the gala concert and the first two rounds of the competition on Youtube. [See afterword below: it was evidently unauthorised and has now all been taken down.] It’s not really a substitute for being there because recordings do not give a true record of how the instrument sounds in the hall. This also varies according to where you are seated but the main thing which the recording doesn’t capture is that the hall is quite resonant. Sound is clearest up the back upstairs where the jury sits. My feeling is that it took a while for some competitors to make the necessary adjustments to speed and pedalling, though the recordings may not show that.
I had to miss day 2 and all of the second round, held from Saturday to Monday, though I caught some of the broadcast.
When the semi-finalists are announced there is always some disappointment – this year sharpened by the omission of an intermediary “Quarterfinals” round. The main disappointment is, as ever, the omission of some interesting pianists as the verdict of the jury converges on potential “hero” concert pianists.
With one exception, all the semi-finalists are either from successor states to the former Soviet Union or of (in Australian terms) “Asian” background. Only one woman made the cut.
The three pianists I heard in the flesh whom I was sorry to see eliminated were Daniel Lebhhardt, Alyosha Jurinic and Martin Malmgren.
It seems the competitors were asked to give a little statement about what they feel about the competition. The compilers of the printed program then extracted a sentence or two which is reproduced as part of the blurb about each. Some of these are cringe-makingly politic (wonderful to play before such a distinguished jury; competition very prestigious etc).
I consider this event to be just as much a festival as a competition, celebrating diversity in repertoire and performing styles. For the unprejudiced listener, there will be much to be discovered.
Unfortunately, we won’t be hearing some of Malmgren’s more interesting choices for following rounds, including the Medtner concerto, but we did hear his choice of Australian work for the first two rounds, Brett Dean’s Equality. It starts at about 16:30 here. Words are by Michael Leunig, by the way.
Afterword: Friday: the Youtube links in this post are now all defunct. Presumably they were all unauthorised rips from the livestreaming. The dead hand of intellectual property has struck again. I think it would have been worth leaving them up for at least the duration of the competition but obviously somebody has thought otherwise. Perhaps the jurors took exception to the gala concert being put up – unlike the competitors, I doubt if they had signed all their rights away to the competition.