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The topic of 'judging'/'evaluating' pianists' playing

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by Vcpianoman, Feb 7, 2011.

  1. Vcpianoman

    Vcpianoman New Member

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    Hello all,

    Not sure if this is the right thread, but I was having a discussion about performing and judges and whatnot. One of my non-pianist friends asked me pointedly, "What is it that judges look for when a pianist plays a piece?"...and this being a very open question, continued, "Like, if there is a piece by say, Chopin, then, do they judge based on just if it's played well, or just what do they look for?"

    Earlier, I was talking about how there are differences in music score editions and I was saying that some pianists may be purists ("playing by the notes and what the composer wrote exactly") while others can be just by interpretation (I use the score as a guide, but play with more emotion, adding certain elements not written in here and there to reflect it). I was saying (someone correct me if I'm wrong, as I'm still learning about these things, as the notion of the type of score you have is someone of an issue while I was in undergrad, as I'm trying to become a piano professor soon...) that there are many editions floating around nowadays and that a student may have a cheap Schirmer (sp?) edition while another has a Paderweski or Urtext edition of a Chopin work and that they may differ in certain markings or even sometimes notes. There are editions where there are editors and they add things that the performer may or may not do in their own performance. My point being, that as much as we would like to perform the work as close to what (say) Chopin wrote, we can't really, as we don't have the original score that was written reproduced for us. (Or maybe we do, and I am thinking of another composer who's works have been lost/deteriorated/not complete) Anyway, it's as if there is no way to know how Chopin or the composer would have performed a work unless they were alive today and we were to hear them or ask them, for them to approve of one's performance of their work (s). I know that there are Urtext editions that try to get as close to the manuscript exactly, but we, as performers today, can never know for sure what the composer intended...all we can do is perform what how we think it should sound...

    If that makes sense, then I am asking this: really, what do judges look for, and can it be summed up into parts? (40% accuracy of notes/going by the edition-yet editions differ!?? 20% style..etc. ) I'm guessing it 1) depends on the competition (how strict they are on criteria, i. e. The Van Cliburn vs. a local talent show with instrumentalists) and 2) other factors...

    One example I have from personal experience is one where I competed in a local competition, with dancers, instrumentalists, and actors. The judges were also divided in their own disciplines, yet they combined their opinions to get an overall score in each category. In the keyboard category, I played Mozart's Fantasia in d minor, while another contestant played a short piece by Gurlitt (a late elementary piece...I will get the title later, but know that it is something one would study before even attempting something like the musical Mozart...) To make a long story short, the results came back that she won first place and I got runner up. I was curious to know why, as I was thinking that since I played a more difficult piece, I would've gotten the higher rank. I was given the judges comments back and there weren't any negatives about my performance...only positives and general praise. Later on, I found out from my teacher that the only reason I was given second to her was because I wasn't wearing a tie or dressed up enough (I wore dress pants and a button down long sleeved shirt...not like I was in jeans...?!) and my competitor wore a sparkly blue dress that evening.
    Perhaps I answered my own question, but does appearance play that big of a factor in judging as well? Or maybe since they all weren't piano/pianists judges, they were just going by what they liked?

    Eager to learn, I've watched the documentaries on the Van Cliburn and one of the panelists had been quoted as saying (and repeating 3 times) "don't play for the judges!" ...meaning, I am guessing, to not try to please them. Play for the audience, play for your own pleasure/personal satisfaction... But yet, isn't that the point of a (piano) competition??

    I am curious to anyone else's opinion on this matter or if there is a right answer at all. I've heard that some judges just like a pianist b/c they 'would like to hear them play again'..others are sticklers for the right notes and technically flawlessness..others like the cute prodigy that is so young, yet playing the same piece the older kids are and they give the top prize to them. I've heard some pianists play technically well,with no musicality, and yet win out over the performer who plays with such expression. Even, some judges may be having a sour day and write the certain performance off, just based on their mood. So, how can these methods be fair?

    Perhaps I'm analyzing the issue too much? I just know that if you are a competing pianist, you can't win them all...and life and making music isn't all about winning. I personally believe this and also learned this from reading one of Lang Lang's biography books (imo, didn't really like all of it, but know you shouldn't be spoiled into thinking you should win every single competition you enter!!)

    I've kept most, if not all of my judges sheets and comments and there are some where they offer no constructive criticism, only praise, yet I can't understand why I didn't advance or what was wrong with the performance itself. So, like a little thing such as not wearing a tie makes a huge difference?

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks,
    Vcp
     
  2. felipesarro

    felipesarro New Member

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    not sure either. I think the best forum would be Repertoire.

    The Chopin editions are a whole different thing from other composers' scores. Chopin himself has several versions of his pieces, and all of the published editions are wrong, according to Angela Lear. For example, etudes nos. 1 and 8 don't have any FORTE indication in the manuscripts, and no. 5 has no tempo indication. All the "mezzo forte" indications in all his pieces are misinterpretation of the "mezzo voice" from the manuscripts, etc.
    One should always have the edition closer possible to the manuscript or the original edition. Any editor's addition (like phrasings, dynamics and pedalling) is confusing and worthless.

    well... asks Monica! she can give you tips about the dressing thing! :lol:

    I think this is the more important worry in your message. This is my opinion: there is no "two kinds of pianists" as you mentioned above. Even for the "purists" as you said, the score doesn't say a lot of things that should be done anyway. For example, the score doesn't say if the melody is on the right or the left hand, and which hand is more important so it should be louder. This is the kind of thing that you extract from an analysis of the piece. The analysis help you clarify, for example, what notes you should bring off (very often there are motivs transformations hidden into the accompaniment). So when the pianist shows lots of these structural things that are in the score (but not too explicitly marked), I wouldn't say he took liberties. In fact, he did what should be done, and any intelligent musician would do so. And the listener would usually enjoy this performance better, because it makes more sense than a flat one.
    However, doing that may sacrify other aspects of the piece. If you are bringing of motivs in the left hand, in a piano passage, you'll have to play it louder (so it's not piano any more?). "Sacrifying" is not a good word, because no one knows exactly how loud a pianissimo really are, or how fast an allegro is. There is NO definitive answer for these, so one can't really say this pianist is not purist and is taking liberties, you know.

    About the emotion and the subjective thing... yes, it's very important. It's the most important thing. But it's something we never talk about becuase it is... SUBJECTIVE! There will always be people who enjoy flat performances (yet super fast or technically flawless) and say there are lots of emotion there, while you don't feel anything. It's a discussion that goes nowhere. Let it for the psychologists (if one day they decide to study it...)

    If we are about to discuss these "emotional" things, we'd better rationalize them and convert them into musical speech of the piece. For example... instead of saying "There should be more passion in this passage", I'd say "I do think we should play this passage louder, because the whole piece has a dynamic range between piano and meezo forte. Only in the climax there is indication of forte, so if we don't play it forte enough, people can't clearly notice it".
     
  3. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    I think there are two levels of learning, at least there were for me. One is were editions of music doesn't even matter, the other is for a more academic approach were scholarship matters. If you get to the second level, then what is important is the interest and investigation, i.e., that you have worked to a considered reason for what you are playing. (Once I was playing form a Schirmer "Urtext" edition of the Beethoven sonatas (Op.81a to be precise) when I came upon a passage that I was sure was missing a note. When I checked in the G. Henle Verlag edition, there it was. That day I bought the G. Henle, and the rest, as they say was history.) The manuscripts are not automatically the "Bibile" because it was common practice for every score to be reviewed by the composer for approval prior to running. This is why 1st editions have some weight. Soon I will submit the 3rd scherzo of Chopin to this forum, and for academic purposes will detail every "change" I make to the Paderewski score (I promise you'll be surprised) and explain the substantiation for each. Regarding judges, I think we can't make generalizations. Hopefully, commanding execution is assumed (even if marred by an occasional blemish/slip). I think what is most important is to find the performer that "has a voice" that is genuine, and not just more of the same factory-made technician. I once heard of some young pianists (ethnicity will go unidentified) who made a game of seeing how many times they could each play the Liszt Concerto No.1 in a row without a single slip. Stupid! I would rather see how they can play a solemn Bach fugue!
     
  4. Marik

    Marik New Member

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    Well, when I played that Sonata I felt I was missing fingers... to be precise, at least a couple on each hand :shock: . Unfortunately, Henle was not of much help in that respect :mrgreen: !

    I am looking forward to the recording... hopefully, it will be with your new recording toys.
    With Chopin it is much more complicated. He did not have the luxury of Xerox and did not use "Sibelius" (those glorious times!), so every time had to copy by hand to his numerous students. The deviations from original text were often quite substantial in every aspect--notation, embelishments, dynamics, articulation--and were affected not only individuality of the particular student the copy was going to, but also Chopin's rather improvisatory way of writing (unlike like for example, Beethoven, or Brahms, where every single note, or little detail had its own place).
    The performance practices also were very different and performers (at that time mostly also composers) had much more freedom in term of following the music text and notation.

    As such there is no really set in the stone version and to say "Urtext" edition would be rather strange in this respect. Paderewski, while is a very respected source (and has excellent foot notes), is of course, only one of them. Usually, for Chopin I check a few editions.

    Let me guess, they were... Russians :shock:

    Best, M
     
  5. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Nope! They would have used Rach 3! :D
     
  6. Marik

    Marik New Member

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    Makes sense :!:
     
  7. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant New Member Piano Society Artist

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    After years of trying to convince myself that in music, as in science or in the everyday emperical observations we routinely make, a measure of "objectivity" was not only possible, but essential.

    In my declining years I capitulated to musical "subjectivism," for want of a better term.

    Much depends on how you choose to define "objectivity" or, more broadly, "objectivism" and "subjectivity" and "subjectivism." Folks use these terms in wildly different senses. Discussion often leads nowhere, because the concepts that underlie the various senses in which the terms are used (and thus what people mean by them) are inconsistent and even incompatible.

    The question you put, "Can the evaluation of a musical performance be objective?" is (for me at least) in a few small ways partly answerable, or answerable in a paripheral way. (And the question and its answer ARE important!!!)

    Obviously the quest for the "authentic" score is important. You may dispute what that is in any given case; but answers, indeed, objective answers, exist to these questions. "Objective" doesn't mean "absolutely true." It just means an account of what Chopin or Bach wrote, on or about the score, for which there is good evidence.

    A theory of the score is just a starting point, of course. Performers MAKE music; they do not merely interpret it in a literal sense. (That would be pretty boring.) So, yes, of course, there may be or will be deviations from what is explicitly given to us by the composer on an authentic score. But that is not a bad thing. What is "bad," is not having a reasonably good idea of WHAT you are deviating from. First, find out what the composer intended. Second, interpret.

    The first is the objective part. The second, in my view, is entirely subjective; yet it is certainly the latter that gets attention at competitions. So it is, I suppose, a crap shoot in that respect!!!!

    JG
     
  8. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    This is a major problem with piano competitions. There are no clear standards. Each judge just does whatever they feel like.

    If you look at serious sporting competitions involving judges, such as gymnastics, diving, figure skating, you'll see that each judge has to show a number for each performance. The public can see what each individual judge is doing, so they're responsible for their actions. But in piano competitions, any scoring or voting happens behind closed doors, so when someone gets a below-average score you don't know whether it's because one or two judges particularly hated them and gave very low scores, or whether all the judges agreed they were just sort of average.

    Really the judges should be assessing some combination of musicality, technique and presentation. But it's impossible to put exact numbers on it. And people often behave eccentrically.

    Often judges are afraid to give any negative feedback because they are afraid it will make them unpopular. So they don't say what they really think, which just makes life even more confusing!
     
  9. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Except for judges like La Martha, who walked out of a competition (I can't remember which one, but it's pretty well-known) when Pogorelich failed to win first prize....

    And she was right. (In my subjective opinion, that is.)

    JG

    postscript... here it is....

    He was eliminated in the third round of the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw in 1980!
     
  10. felipesarro

    felipesarro New Member

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    I believe there is no pure objectivity at all, because human beings are political animals. Everything is done with some ideology involved.
     
  11. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Let us not forget that aesthetics is a branch of philosophy. We are dealing with an art here, and the most abstract and immediately perishable of all the arts. Though it may invlove mathematics, it is not mathematics. It seems that knowing what is great and beautiful is subjective, though we can all agree when it is awful! :roll:
     
  12. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Except for mathematics, no?

    Hey Felipe, how about adding a location to your profile? I like to know where in the world everybody is. Thanks for signing with your actual name too.
     
  13. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Eddy, I think your campaign to get everyone to show their real name and location is funny. But not everyone wants to do that. Like me. I am not using an alias and it is easy to learn my name if one is so inclined. Even so, I feel a little more secure by not showing that information to complete strangers.
     
  14. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Monica, You mean you're not using your name (not alias). But how, looking at your post, is it easy to learn your name? Its "pianolady" for all to see. Well, on other forums I can see a flag of nationality for every user and it is so nice to know that I'm engaging (and being engaged) by people all over the world. That's all.
     
  15. johnlewisgrant

    johnlewisgrant New Member Piano Society Artist

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    More on "objectivity" in music evaluation: no doubt "pure" objectivity is impossible, but only God (metaphorically or literally speaking--take your pick) is capable of that. A useful definition of the word might be one that allows for something less than perfection or absolutism. Again, I think it is useful to notice that "objectivity," meaning here "an evidence-based attitude towards the search for truth," is actually possible in the history of music, music performance and musical interpretation in particular. Evaluation of the "aesthetic" (vs technical) merits of a piano performance seems, in contrast, to be something much more subjective. Not only is "pure" objectivity impossible in the aesthetic evaluation of a musical performance; perhaps any kind of objectivity is!


    JG
     
  16. felipesarro

    felipesarro New Member

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    I did my graduation in a mathematics institute. I'm no specialist in both philosophy or mathematics, but I'd say that not even maths skip.

    For example... it has been proved that it's not possible to build a whole mathematic theory based in axioms. No matter which axioms you set, there will always be some truth which is impossible to prove from them. So if this "truth" becomes an axiom, you will find another truth which is also impossible to prove, and so on.

    Given this, the decision of what is an axiom and what is not is not objective (it's political!).

    I didn't even know there is a function like that in the profile. Any way, it is in my bio page here in PS.

    How are you so sure this is my actual name? :D
     
  17. felipesarro

    felipesarro New Member

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    I think this "evidence-based..." is not purely objective.
    but objectiveness, though not completely possible, should be sought, as an ideal. (there are people who think "since this is not possible, I should not try at all". I don't mean this.)

    saying that God thing (not speaking religiously)... we will never know as much as God, or be as perfect as Him. but we must get as close as possible to this Ideal.
     
  18. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Said as a card-carrying philosophical sceptic! :wink:
     
  19. felipesarro

    felipesarro New Member

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    Yes! I said that as an skeptical, so that it would sound more rational and trusting! :D

    But I do believe in God, quite in the way of the quantum physicist Amit Goswami. Lots of religious beliefs from the past have been proved by the science of nowadays.
     
  20. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Yes and no. There is objectivity as to whether something is correct. But when you ask which parts of mathematics are beautiful or interesting, you will find a lot of disagreement amongst mathematicians.
     

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