Judging Music by the Rules of Sport: Can Competitions Identify New Talent?

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"Competitions are for horses, not musicians," Béla Bartók famously sneered. Many classical musicians would agree. But even the most high-minded of us find something compelling about these talent contests, which now number more than 700 worldwide.

The charges against competitions are familiar: they turn art into a sport; they are poor barometers of future potential; losing can damage morale and possibly even a career. And there is often least one verdict controversy − whether it's the audience disagreeing with the jurors, or the jurors disagreeing with one another.

And yet, competitions may have a newfound relevance in an era of televised talent contests like "American Idol" and the "X Factor."

As the 75th Queen Elisabeth Competition gets underway this week in Brussels, Naomi Lewin asks four guests whether competitions can help to identify talent in a crowded field, or if they are, as their critics argue, a weak measurement of artistry and potential.

Guests:

Jon Nakamatsu: the concert pianist and the gold medalist of the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition

Norman Lebrecht: the cultural commentator, Artsjournal.com blogger and author of several books on classical music, including The Life and Death of Classical Music and Why Mahler? 

Yoheved Kaplinsky: the chair of the piano department at the Juilliard School, who has sat on numerous competition juries including the Van Cliburn

Susan Elliott, the editor of MusicalAmerica.com, which has a new industry report out on competitions


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