It has been a wry observation that many of the top talents spotted from previous editions of the competition do not go on to progress in subsequent competitions. Many simply disappear from sight. What were the reasons of this attrition? Was it burnout, a lost of interest, a lack of consistent continuing musical education, enlistment into National Slavery (for the guys), or beckoning careers in medicine and law (for those who actually obey their parents), who knows? As it is, the plateau in playing standard as one transcended from the Intermediate to Senior categories was a dramatic one this year. Where were the shining starlets from 2005?
At any rate, there was a feeling that the young pianists are slowly but surely beginning to find themselves, choosing their own programmes (no matter how misguided), and parting company from their teachers. Here were some highlights from the semi-finals:
Thomas Ang Yong He (No.15)
His view of Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses got better and better as the notes piled up, seeming to thrive when the music was most outwardly virtuosic. Generated a big sound, which was impressive in large part, but it was telling that his Scarlatti Sonata in B flat major (K.545) sounded aggressive and lacked charm.
Royce Lee Guan Hui (No.18)
Jin Yujia (No.20)
This year’s competition could have done with fewer poor performances if there had been a pre-screening round. Obvious technically deficient performers should have been eliminated before facing the international panel of judges. The opportunity of impressing the jury with the quality of the participants was lost; in its place the drudgery of viewing a succession of many poor performers.
The only hitches: Who forms the pre-screening panel of judges? Do we rely on local judges or foreign judges? Is technical ability or interpretive prowess being judged? Does a technically perfect but totally soulless performance pass muster? The regulations in place require the recommendation of a teacher, but since when have all teachers been objective about their student’s abilities?
Another quibble about the venue of the piano competition. The AGF Auditorium of Alliance Francaise is saddled with a less than adequate Yamaha grand piano. Its sound is hard and percussive, with the upper registers not always in tune. Coupled with an unsympathetic and dry acoustic, performances were heavy going and often an outright pain. By contrast, the violin competition was held at the spanking and acoustically superior Esplanade Recital Studio, and the ultimate irony was this: the accompanists for the violinists had the luxury of playing on a new Steinway grand!
Nobody said that life as a pianist was fair!