08. June 2013 · Comments Off on Can The Cliburn Competition Be Fair? · Categories: Cliburn Competition

Orchestra auditions try to be fair. Really. We have screens so the jury can’t see who is playing. Whether people know or not is another question. Some people are convinced they can name a player just by hearing him or her. I sat on a jury side once, many years ago, when I was librarian. The panel was rather devastated because they “knew” the player they were hoping for wasn’t the one they were going to choose. Lo and behold, when the winner was brought in it was the player they were hoping for. I liked this in some ways: they went with the best player rather than the one they wanted (even while, in reality, they turned out to be one and the same). I disliked it in others: that they were trying to figure out who was playing was troubling. I’m sure this goes on a lot, though. I can sometimes tell gender due to breathing (women, keep that breathing deeper … or maybe men breathe higher?). I want to be as fair as possible, and the most recent audition I participated in was one at which I can safely say I chose who I thought was best. Later I found out that another contestant had informed everyone that it was fixed. Sigh. (I even knew who it was that spread the information and it took great strength on my part to continue to have that person on the hire list, but I did manage to get past my anger. I wish I’d had the guts to talk to the person. Unfortunately I’m a major wimp!)

So now … I’m sitting here listening to the Cliburns and I wondered “Can they really be fair?” so I googled just that question.

When Fei-Fei Dong takes the Bass Hall stage tonight in the Cliburn semifinals, her teacher won’t be offstage to offer a last word of encouragement, or in the crowd watching anxiously during her chamber music performance. Yoheved “Veda” Kaplinsky, who has spent hours helping Dong perfect her Schumann piano quintet, will be sitting silently in the Cliburn’s jury box as her 12 fellow esteemed jurors assess every note.

Kaplinsky, chairwoman of the Juilliard School in New York, isn’t the only Cliburn juror who has a student in the semifinals. Two of juror Arie Vardi’s students, Claire Huangci and Beatrice Rana, performed Saturday. Jury member Dmitri Alexeev’s student Nikita Abrosimov played Saturday, too.

In all, nine of the 30 competitors who started the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition were current or former students of the individuals adjudicating it. Four of the jurors’ students advanced to the semifinal round, which started Saturday.


After listening I would say there is one finalist that doesn’t belong. Is that player in because of a teacher? I can’t help but wonder. I do hope not. I hope I’m just a bad judge of good pianists. I certainly am not a pianist, so what do I know?

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