Far from the splendor of the stage, 13 jurors watch and listen to every note of every performance of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
This year, big changes are coming to how those jurors score performances. John Giordano, longtime chairman of the jury, gives us a glimpse into how the 13 judges will whittle down the pool from 30 competitors to, eventually, one gold medalist.
How will this year’s judging differ from previous years?
Giordano: No ties will be permitted. [Laughs.] If we have to sit in this room until Sept. 1, then we will not leave until the tie is broken.
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Why is a tie a bad thing?
It waters down the prize. If we are going to have a competition, we decided there should not be a tie. We should have one gold medalist.
So, how will scoring work?
We will move to what is essentially a pass-fail system. In previous years, each juror [assigned] a numerical value, 1-25, to each competitor’s performance. Then a sophisticated and complicated computer program produced scores that decided who would advance. Because we were frequently dealing with decimals, numerous opportunities existed for ties. How can you differentiate between two-hundredths of a point? You cannot.
This year, jurors will give one of three grades: pass, fail or maybe.
After the first round, each juror will select 12 competitors he or she wants to “pass” or advance, while naming three as “maybes.” The rest will “fail.” The scores will be totaled, with 12 competitors advancing to the semifinals. In the next round, each juror will select six competitors to “pass” and name one “maybe.”
In the finals, jurors will select gold and silver medalists and crystal [award winner] as usual.
After all of this, what if there is still a tie?
As jury chairman, I will not vote to break the tie.
What are other benefits of the new system?
Our previous system was superb, but assigning numerical values to artistic performances is difficult. Also, non-English speakers had a hard time understanding the system. The new system is very straightforward and is used in a number of international piano competitions.
How difficult is judging this sort of competition?
Extremely. The level of talent and technical prowess all over the world are astonishing. These young people do not have any technical limitations. It’s a phenomenon, I think, that can be attributed in part to the age of technology. You can listen to recordings of performances that are pitch perfect and learn to turn out the same thing.
When you get to the level of play we are talking about, the judgment becomes more and more subjective. We must look and listen for the little things.
The Cliburn jurors
John Giordano, United States
Giordano has served as chairman of the jury since 1973. He worked as music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for 28 seasons and is now director emeritus. He is an associate professor of music at Texas Christian University, founder of the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra and a published composer.
Dmitri Alexeev, Russia
A Moscow native and graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, Alexeev was unanimously awarded the first prize at the 1975 Leeds International Piano Competition. As a soloist and collaborator, he has toured extensively and performed in some of the world’s finest venues. Alexeev has served on numerous juries, including the 2009 Cliburn, Leeds, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven competitions.
Michel Beroff, France
A graduate of the Conservatoire de Paris, Beroff won the top prize at the first Olivier Messiaen International Piano Competition, in 1967. Since then, he has performed with the world’s most prestigious orchestras and conductors. Beroff has made more than 50 recordings and currently teaches at his alma mater. He served as a Cliburn juror in 2009.
Andrea Bonatta, Italy
Bonatta has traveled extensively, performing and conducting across Europe and Asia. He served as artistic adviser and jury chairman for the International “F. Busoni” Piano Competition, as well as on juries for the Bolzano, Ettlingen, Moscow and Cleveland competitions. Bonatta was vice president of the World Federation of International Music Competitions.
Richard Dyer, United States
For 33 years, Dyer worked as chief music critic for The Boston Globe, where he published more than 12,000 pieces, including interviews with leading pianists of the past three decades. Dyer, a former lecturer at Harvard University, served on Cliburn juries in 2001, 2005 and 2009.
Joseph Kalichstein, Israel
Born in Tel Aviv, Kalichstein won the 1969 Leventritt Award and has since worked as an orchestral soloist, recitalist and chamber musician with a notably diverse repertoire. He is the chamber music adviser to the Kennedy Center and the chamber music chair at The Juilliard School. He served as a Cliburn juror in 2005 and 2009.
Yoheved Kaplinsky, Israel
Kaplinsky is chair of the Piano Department at The Juilliard School and professor of piano at Texas Christian University. She has served on faculties of the Peabody Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music and on numerous juries for international competitions. This will be Kaplinsky’s fourth time to judge the Cliburn.
Liu Shih Kun, China
Kun won third prize at the Liszt Competition in 1956 and second prize at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958. After a six-year incarceration during China’s Cultural Revolution, Kun went on to become one of the country’s leading and legendary pianists. He has served as a representative of the National People’s Congress and deputy chief of the Art Council of China’s Cultural Department.
Minoru Nojima, Japan
One of Japan’s most internationally respected pianists, Nojima won the silver medal at the 1969 Cliburn competition. He is president of the Tokyo School of Music and has served as chairperson for the Sendai International Music Competition since its inception. He served as a Cliburn juror in 1981, 1985 and 1989. In 2006, a piano competition for gifted young Japanese pianists was established in his name.
Menahem Pressler, United States
Pressler is one of the world’s most esteemed musicians and has toured extensively since winning the Debussy Competition at age 17. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and has received the highest cultural and civilian honors from France and Germany. Pressler served on five previous Cliburn juries — in 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2009.
Blanca Uribe, Colombia
Uribe is the 1966 Cliburn bronze medalist and a graduate of the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in Vienna and The Juilliard School in New York. She enjoys a busy performance schedule and has served on juries of the Gina Bachauer, Honens, Beethoven, Busoni and Cleveland competitions, among others.
Arie Vardi, Israel
Vardi has received international acclaim as one of his country’s foremost pianists, and he teaches at universities in Hanover, Germany and Tel Aviv. More than 30 of his students have won top prizes in international competitions. He is the artistic adviser and chairman of the jury for the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition.
Xian Zhang, China
Zhang is music director of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi and artistic director of the NJO/Dutch Orchestra and Ensemble Academy. She previously worked as associate conductor for the New York Philharmonic and has conducted the National, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh symphony orchestras.
Source: The Cliburn Foundation