Some questions of bias at the Indy Violin contest

It was brave of the judges at the International Indianapolis Violin Competition to pick an all-women final line-up.

Braver still to agree that five of the six finalists should be Korean.

Heroic, when half of them are students of one of the judges, Miriam Fried (who must have recused herself from the selection).

cho_jinjoo

Now, if these stats look a tad unbalanced, please note that 27 of the 40 selected entrants originated from South Korea, China, Japan or Taiwan.

How did that happen? Are we to believe that almost 70 percent of the best young violinists are now bred in the Far East? Or is it that teachers in Korea, China and Japan have learned to work the system, grooming their candidates to pass the entry level? Are any of the entrants, for instance, receiving state or corporate subsidies that are not available to European or North American contenders?

The imbalance is so blatant at Indy 2014 that official clarification is required.

zhulla_areta

One who missed the cut: Areta Zhulla (Greece)

UPDATE: Here’s a dose of clarity from Laurie Niles. It doesn’t do much to bolster confidence in  the Indy process.

SECOND UPDATE: It’s unfair, says Aaron Rosand.

 

 

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  • Fabio Luisi says:

    Asians mostly work harder. This is a fact. And there are truly wonderful musicians among them. Music is not matter of race!

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Music is not a matter of race, Fabio. But selection can be warped. When the imbalance is this great, we need to examine criteria and conditions in order to ensure a level playing-field for all entrants, no?

    • Anon says:

      Just a question: if there is truly something inherent in Asian culture that makes a good musician, shouldn’t we be seeing Asians from all socio-economic levels excel in the classical music world?

      Are we seeing any low income Koreans out there winning competitions? No. These are almost without exception children of very well-to-do Asian families who have unlimited amounts of money to spend on the best education, best instruments, transportation to competitions, and more so that their children will succeed.

      These are competitors who don’t have to work a day job to make ends meet. They are rich. Children of privilege. THAT is the unequalizing factor here. THAT is why we are seeing such a disproportiate no.of Asians in competitions. Because they are among the few who can afford to compete.

      Being a successful classical musician requires money and these Asian families are able to provide that so that their children will succeed. Competitions are a very expensive endeavor. We are seeing those who can AFFORD to compete, not those who might be best qualified to compete. Or to win.

      • Lydia Leong says:

        You could say the same thing about competitors of any race or nationality. With the exception of those that come from countries with strong government-sponsored feeder schools that provide free education and training to children with exceptional musical talents, the only people who can afford the time, effort, and money needed to raise youngsters to be exceptionally accomplished musicians are either in the upper middle class or make substantial sacrifices. In this, as with many other things, privileged childhoods are incredibly useful.

  • Fabio Luisi says:

    Norman, the imbalance was great also when we had 150 caucasians and 15 asians. The fact is now that China, Japan and Korea have outstanding teachers, most of them trained in Europe or in the US, and those teachers have a lot of hart working kids, many of them highly skilled. Of course we have to ask ourselves whether in competitions the rules have been respected, but what I can see form orchestra auditions, the percentage of asian musicians is rising exponentially. Family values, like considering hard work as a crucial component of human life (and therefor also of the educational segment of life) play an important role in this development, open borders do the rest.
    For my part, I never ask myself “where is this musician coming from”, but I just want to hire the best one for my orchestra, no matter if girl or boy, black, white or asian, christian, jew or muslim.
    The famous quote “this music has been written by white males for white audiences, and should be played by white male musicians” is sign of a disgusting attitude towards arts and humanity.
    This is the reason why I am fighting for auditions for orchestra musicians behind the curtain in all rounds (unfortunately finding no much understanding by some orchestras).

    • John MacDonald says:

      Would you call it biased if there were 27 contestants hailing from America and Europe and 13 from China, Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea? Or if the finals consist of 5 Americans and 1 Asian?

    • Joe Patrych says:

      Bravo, Fabio! Agree with all you say; blind auditions are the only fair way, and should be a standard component of ALL auditions and competitions. Blind pre-screening of tapes should also be the standard.

      • Max Grimm says:

        Blind pre-screenings and auditions are all good and well but it might prove difficult to play out your one or two years on trial behind a screen…

    • Anon says:

      With all respect to Maestro Luisi, there is a big difference between players who do well at competitions and those who play well in orchestras. Would you really want a top competition winner, although that person might be the “best” player, in the middle of
      your 2nd violin section?

      The high quality of Asian born musicians which we are seeing dominate international competitions are NOT necessarily going to be the best players for your orchestra. The best orchestra players often don’t make the final competition cuts, because they are team players, not soloists.

  • Daniel Auner says:

    Music is no matter of race. This is very true. Every society that has access to classical music will find its individuals that are talented in making music. And that there is a very strong tradition for discipline and training in Asia everyone knows as well. So it is clear why these Violinists that are likely to play more perfectly in tune, reach every note safely and play even the most complex pieces by heart are studying and practicing the whole day. If a musician is interesting to listen to still might not be defined by his perfectionism. But this is then the audience to decide, not a jury of Beckmessers, like you too often find in Competitions today. Still, I have most amazing musician friends from Asia that I really would try to avoid meeting in a competition as they have both; perfectionism and true born musicality.

  • Susan B says:

    Norman, perhaps you haven’t noticed, but it’s very unusual these days to find an orchestra on the international stage that doesn’t have east Asian players. And so what? It’s globalization. Remember, it’s been 35 years since Isaac Stern’s series of concerts and master classes in China. That’s nearly two generations worth of musicians!

  • LF says:

    many of these violinists, including Jinjoo (pictured), have studied in the US since they were preteens..

  • CDH says:

    These kids are getting music from schooldays, in some cases in schools, in others with private lessons. Whether this is because of ambitious parents or other cultural/social objectives, there is a massive exposure to music and instrument-playing for a large number of kids, some of whom are bound to develop as talented.

    From what I know in Canada and what I hear about the US and the UK, music in schools is shrinking faster than polyester in the rain, radio barely plays classical music so kids are barely exposed to it, the Baby Boom generation, now parents and grandparents, rejected “all that” decades ago and raised their kids on popular music from the Beatles to punk to hip-hop but couldn’t identify a bassoon in a bus queue. Where are the masses of young talents coming from in these societies?

    And, from living in Asia for a while showed me, as I tripped over studying kids everywhere, I do believe that Asian kids work harder. it is dinned into them. An awful lot of the kids I know here are as idle as they can get away with, living in, with and through their smart phones to the point that actual human activity is a diminishing part of their lives. Not consistent with daily violin or piano practice.

  • bratschegirl says:

    It’s never going to be possible to create a significant international competition where there is no previous teaching or coaching relationship between any entrant and any juror. Jurors are, and must be given the realities of scheduling, invited years in advance, long before anyone knows who will even enter a given year’s competition. Unless the jury can only be composed of those who have been retired from teaching for a good 10-15 years, or those who do not have the credentials to teach students on the international competition level, or unless all students of a given juror are barred from entering, which would be manifestly unfair to the competitors, especially in the case of a quadrennial competition like Indianapolis, these kinds of ties are simply unavoidable. The judging system in use, barring jurors from voting on behalf of their own students, is the best available solution.

  • Mary Brown says:

    Norman, can you also do some investigating to see why the Kreisler Violin Competition which is going on right now, selected only three Non-Asian males for the finals with orchestra? Although this is not so unusual in Vienna, it is 2014! While you’re at it please also help us figure out why Amoyal strikes again-as the head of the jury at the Enescu Violin Competition which is currently taking place in Bucharest-and where three of the six semi-finalists are his current students and another is a student of another jury member (Martin)? As you have noted before, this is the way violin competitions are operating! If you are a young violinist, do not to go in cold. You will often be cut. If you are especially wonderful, you will be cut in the first round! You can enter to try your luck, but it is expensive and exhausting. By the way, why weren’t there more complaints after the first cut at the Indianapolis? There were a number of violinists who played as well technically and musically as the ones chosen for the second round.

    One must not take these events so seriously. Managers and promoters must promote musical quality over fame, as challenging as this may be. It is impossible to judge art. At best, the results would be accurate only for that one performance in the life of a musician. Another day, another performance, another result. It happens all the time, especially when one is at the top of his or her game. Violin playing at the competitive level sometimes is dangerous and complicated. Luck, above all, is an underestimated factor. Congratulations to these young ladies who are as good as any of the finalists in the past, and who all happen to have luck on their side!

  • Most competitions are rigged these days. This should come as no surprise. Even still, the majority of classical musicians happen to be mostly woman, and mostly from Asia. There is no bias here, it’s just that the US and Europe are not producing as many talented classical players (men or woman) as it had before. If anything we should be applauding these young woman for playing at such a high level! They are, of course, the future of the craft.

  • Fabio Luisi says:

    Don’t put teachers or professors in the jury. Put people who can support a young career: conductors, orchestras’ managers, journalists.

  • Fabio Luisi says:

    I forgot: agents.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      Its best to avoid conflict of interest but it is still necessary to have expertise on the panel. I see agents, who are involved primarily in marketing, as more attuned to the eye than the ear these days. A few conductors are great musicians, e.g, a James Levine. But why would they come to the competition and sit there for several days? The only alternative is to have accomplished musicians, not only violinists, and great violinists who do not have a history with the competitors on the panel.

      • Max Grimm says:

        “I see agents, who are involved primarily in marketing, as more attuned to the eye than the ear these days.”

        Isn’t that where it’s headed – particularly with soloists – these days?

      • Fabio Luisi says:

        With the due respect, I am not a violinist, but I can judge violinists.
        And I can decide whether to invite them or not.
        Son can orchestras’ managers, who invite soloists all the time.
        And journalists can write about them – good or less good.
        And agents can promote them (or not).
        They build a career, not the teachers – they teach (and many of them do that good)

        • Anon says:

          This is the wisest thing I’ve seen written in this whole conversation. We, the public – have much more influence in making or breaking classical music careers than we give ourselves credit for.

  • Gary says:

    What’s really surprising here is that Lee Youjin didn’t make the final. I’ve had the pleasure over the last few years of hearing her perform at the Colburn School and she is a terrific musician with wonderful tone.

  • Sarah S says:

    You’ll do anything for attention. Seriously. Have you even listened, Norman?? All 6 finalists are highly credentialed. This site is tabloid rubbish.

  • Violinist says:

    Norman, when I was in Juilliard decades ago, the violin class (and the piano class, and the cello class, and…) was about 80% Asian.

    My understanding is that this has been true of all the top US music schools for several decades.

    So if 70% of the top violin students in the country are of Asian heritage, why wouldn’t 70% of the finalists in the Indianapolis competition be of Asian heritage?

    I have no idea whether or not the process is rigged, but to use the contestants’ race as “proof” that it’s not is not only unfounded, but ignorant, given the prevalence of Asians in the top music schools, and indeed, in the violin sections of major orchestras. Have you noticed the percentage of Asians in the violin section of the Chicago Symphony? Do you think those auditions are rigged?

    And no, I am not Asian. I do, however, teach–and my hardest-working students are all Asian.

  • milka says:

    One can assume competitions have been corrupt since the day they began.
    The Erick Friedman, Oistrakh saga
    with Heifetz warning Friedman not to
    go as the Russians will torpedo him ,
    which Oistrakh managed to do. Julian Lloyd Webber now that he has left the field tells all .Check some of the European competitions read the list
    of so called judges and their pupils
    its an eye opener .Music is a matter of race however subtly the game is played out .Asians are courted for the
    $$ they bring to most conservatories
    they are given prizes and whatever else to keep the front doors open,one
    famous conservatory relies on the
    Asians which number more than half
    the student population , without the Asians they would have to shut down
    or go back to being yet another small
    music school .Asians use the art-craft
    as a means to better their social position and standing just as the
    Russian Jewish population did under
    czarist times , nothing new …….. some
    are fairly good, many are just technicians.
    To audition behind curtains is just
    game playing . it may look fair to the uninformed but means nothing …the
    back room deals that go on in getting
    into a symphony orchestra would amaze and shame the UN.

  • Gruppensprecher says:

    We need definitely more “white trash” in classical music world. The foreigners are going to steal everything!—-Seriously, what is the problem here?
    Young musicians working very hard for the music, how bad can that be? ah, yes: bad asians stealing “our” music, music of the white man.
    Thank god for Putin, if he wasn´t there, the “yellow” people might be the real public enemy!

  • Sergei says:

    What is clear is that the old pre-eminence of Russian-Ucranian-Jewish violin players, and Slavs contests winners is gone for now. Maybe for ever.

    • Bob says:

      Sergei, let’s not get carried away – Russia doesn’t have a large Jewish community anymore, but if we look at the younger generation of violinists – Bell, Shaham, Vengerov, Gluzman etc. I have yet to hear an Asian player who reaches that level. Yes, they are disciplined and hard-working, but there is much more to music than just technique. Not all aspects of Western civilization can be learned by imitation.

  • Oliver says:

    My theory as to why so many Asians do well in classical music is that Asian people actually respect you if you’re good at a classical instrument. There’s that societal encouragement that is so sorely lacking in the states. I assume many who read this blog have not grown up in the US public school education system in the past twenty years. Peer pressure to just quit classical music because it is “uncool” is absolutely immense in this system! When I look back on the past decade, I am proud of myself not just for the progress I have made, but just for the fact that I have not quit. The American mainstream is ridiculously judgmental on what one chooses to do with their lives.

  • Anon says:

    Regarding the predominance of Asian, particularly South Korean players, in competitions, it also happened at the Carl Nielsen Flute Competition, currently underway. Of the 28 candidates selected to participate, 9 were South Koreans. That’s 1/3. 6 more were Asian: Japanese, Taiwanese, etc.

    So less than 1/2 of the candidates were representing non-Asian countries: 15 candidates representing Asian countries, and 13 representing the rest of the world which includes Europe, US, South America, Australia & New Zealand, etc.

    This type of ratio was understandable at the Kobe Japan Flute Competition last year (the other big international flute competition) given its geographical proximity to the other Asian nations, but since the Nielsen takes place in Europe, in Denmark, the over-representation of Korean players was surprising.

    It was so startling a statistic, especially for an international flute competition, with the instrument’s strong European – esp. French – tradition, that the Competition organizers published an article justifying it. http://www.dr.dk/Temaer/Carlnielsen2014eng/2014/09/16/164506.htm

    It has also been a disappointment in flute competitions in general that besides the decline in the participation of French candidates, that UK participants, despite a very strong school of flute playing, with some of the finest players and teachers in the world, have simply dropped off the map entirely in international competitions.

    I am all for racial fairness and allowing the best players to compete but I also feel that in an international competition, pre-screening judges and competition organizers should try to achieve a more healthy representation of players and their styles from around the world.

    To lose the element of the French school of flute playing or the English in any international competition is a travesty. Yes, many of the top Asian players are well-qualified AND they apparently have the disposable income to buy the 50,000 $ gold flutes, pay the travel to Europe and the luxury of time to prepare flawless auditions & so on, but for a competition to weigh so heavily in representing this type of player is wrong, IMHO.

    The Nielsen Competition organizers are doing a tremendous job presenting and publicizing the event, and wonderful at meeting the concerns of the international flute community. The fact that this is the 1st major flute competition to be streamed internationally is ground-breaking. Bravo I say to the organizers!

    There has, however been criticism of the Nielsen jury from day one. It is the jury which decided on this lopsided representation of international players. This could be because the jury itself is lopsided. All 9 jurors are white, middle-aged MALES. With the exception of the Canadian Robert Langevin, they are also all European. Not one female on the jury. Competition organizers have acknowledged the oversight, vowing to correct it in the future, but once it was announced the jury had to stand as it is.

    I believe that in any international competition, judges and organizers should strive to represent a wide range of styles and nationalities. It appears to me that many of the Korean players are good at preparing for competitions, not necessarily at being great individual artists. I hope that in the future judges will consider DIVERSITY as a priority
    for selecting candidates for international competitions.

    And we also hope that competition organizers will remember the importance of DIVERSITY as well in deciding on juries. No more all male, middle-aged panels, please!

    • ANON2 says:

      “To lose the element of the French school of flute playing or the English in any international competition is a travesty. Yes, many of the top Asian players are well-qualified AND they apparently have the disposable income to buy the 50,000 $ gold flutes, pay the travel to Europe and the luxury of time to prepare flawless auditions & so on, but for a competition to weigh so heavily in representing this type of player is wrong, IMHO.”

      I find this comment incredibly dismissive of the hard work and artistry that has been exhibited by all the talented flautists at the Nielsen competition. First, although the players may have hailed from Asia, many of them studied in France or with French teachers. Some of them have studied with French teachers most of their lives. It is therefore incorrect to say that the current pool of applicants represents a “loss” of the French tradition of playing. The assumption, I suppose, is that only people from France can exhibit the French tradition of flute playing, which is as false as it is racist. If anything, there might be a bias in favour of the French school tradition, not a bias against it in this competition.

      In addition, while one cannot doubt that a musical education can be expensive (and doubly so when you are studying abroad) and resource-intensive, no amount of money can lead to success without hard work and musicality. The suggestion that these players somehow bought their place into the competition is insulting and facile. Although many of these players have gold flutes, you should consider that many people do not prefer the “gold flute sound”, that one of the players through the second round plays a wooden flute, and the fact that several people who have gold flutes were cut from the competition.

      As for the recommendation that there be “pre-screening” for a “more healthy representation”, what would be a “healthy representation” do you suggest? 20% whites? 25% whites? 10% Asians? The “healthiest” “pre-screening” process would be to select those who are most qualified based on merit.

    • ANON2 says:

      “To lose the element of the French school of flute playing or the English in any international competition is a travesty. Yes, many of the top Asian players are well-qualified AND they apparently have the disposable income to buy the 50,000 $ gold flutes, pay the travel to Europe and the luxury of time to prepare flawless auditions & so on, but for a competition to weigh so heavily in representing this type of player is wrong, IMHO.”

      I find this comment incredibly dismissive of the hard work and artistry that has been exhibited by all the talented flautists at the Nielsen competition. First, although the players may have hailed from Asia, many of them studied in France or with French teachers. Some of them have studied with French teachers most of their lives. It is therefore incorrect to say that the current pool of applicants represents a “loss” of the French tradition of playing. The assumption, I suppose, is that only people from France can exhibit the French tradition of flute playing, which is as false as it is racist. If anything, there might be a bias in favour of the French school tradition, not a bias against it in this competition.

      In addition, while one cannot doubt that a musical education can be expensive (and doubly so when you are studying abroad) and resource-intensive, no amount of money can lead to success without hard work and musicality. The suggestion that these players somehow bought their place into the competition is insulting and facile. Although many of these players have gold flutes, you should consider that many people do not prefer the “gold flute sound”, that one of the players through the second round plays a wooden flute, and the fact that several people who have gold flutes were cut from the competition.

      As for the recommendation that there be “pre-screening” for a “more healthy representation”, what “healthy representation” do you suggest? 20% whites? 25% whites? 10% Asians? The “healthiest” “pre-screening” process would be to select those who are most qualified based on merit.

      • Anon says:

        “As for the recommendation that there be “pre-screening” for a “more healthy representation”, what would be a “healthy representation” do you suggest? 20% whites? 25% whites? 10% Asians? The “healthiest” “pre-screening” process would be to select those who are most qualified based on merit”

        I don’t see from the comments here where you’ve taken the quote above, but it was not from my post,

        What I said is the following: “I believe that in any international competition, judges and organizers should strive to represent a wide range of styles and nationalities.” I continued: “I hope that in the future judges will consider DIVERSITY as a priority for selecting candidates for international competitions.”

        Diversity. This is what I fail to see when candidates from one country dominate any competition.

        Do you really believe that flautists trained in Venezuela’s El Sistema, for example, are less talented and hard-working than the many Korean flautists we are seeing in the Nielsen? Why aren’t these players better represented? I find YOUR comment incredibly dismissive of the hard work and artistry of these under-represented players.

        Diversity. It should be a priority. This is my opinion, and I stand by it.

  • Eric Zuber says:

    I’m truly disappointed with this post, and with this way of thinking in general. Anyone who has been even mildly involved with the great remaining music conservatories in the western world knows that this result is no surprise. If anything, we should be bowing our heads in thanks to the Asian people who have enough sense to try and educate their children in the arts and teach them the value of dedication. If every person of Asian descent pulled out of America’s conservatories simultaneously, the entire system would crumble. This post shows an incredible lack of appreciation and understanding of the current situation in classical music, not to mention a callous disregard and lack of respect for the finalists and their life-long efforts to achieve greatness. My heartfelt compliments to all of the finalists, and to all of the contestants who worked their whole life to accomplish something special.

  • 2nd violinist says:

    Mr Luisi speaks so much common sense. I’d also say that there are plenty of top instrumentalists out there who don’t teach, they should be the people who are on competition juries rather than this cozy coterie of professors who seem to pop up all the time.

    What about the idea that in the first round of competitions the participants perform behind a screen, so they are judged on their playing alone? It works for orchestral auditions…

  • Matt says:

    At the ARD competiton in Munich, they invited 67 cellists. 26 were asian, and not 1 of them passed to the 2nd round. Of the 16 that passed, all were European, and mostly men. To me, THAT was blatantly racist, and I don’t see you discussing that.

  • william osborne says:

    I’m happy to see a conductor of Fabio Luisi’s stature speaking out against racism in orchestras. He brings light to the world in more ways than one.

    We needn’t be surprised why Asian musicians excel. Their excellent educational systems and hard work brings results. For something mind-boggling, check out this video of the Kodaira Dairoku Junior High School Band:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyZnIzoqjfA

    Or the Joso Gakuin High School High School Band playing the “The Miraculous Mandarin.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGuE5ykVhwE&index=4&list=PLEC7FA77BBC201B7D

    Note all the girls on brass and especially low brass. Due to cultural differences, Asians never learned that girls aren’t supposed to play low brass – and especially not that well. And in the same way, Westerners never learned that women aren’t supposed to play the shakuhachi. We see how the gender-coding of instruments is culturally conditioned.

    • Max Grimm says:

      William,
      On a somewhat unrelated note, I was wondering if you knew what happened to Yuki Manuela Janke, 1st Concert Master of the Staatskapelle Dresden. Did she not pass her trial phase? I just noticed that she is no longer listed as being part of the orchestra and the Staatskapelle has recently listed a 1st Concert Master vacancy.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    The commentator who made the point that it is the Asian market which is supporting the conservatoire system and increasingly the professional music world is spot on.

    Some of them play OK with high technical standards but, as far as I’m concerned, when you’ve heard one Korean violinist/pianist, you’ve heard the lot.

  • Sergei says:

    Yes Mark; it seems that the basic concept for them is that you shouldn’t be different, and with a strong and individual personality. Those are things of the past. Guys like Horowitz or Vasa Prihoda should be isolated like dangerous plagues.

  • Lancelot says:

    Reading these comments about the many Asian candidates dominating competitions, I am thinking maybe just let it happen. Let Koreans take over all the competitions. Viewers from around the world will not be so interested (usually you like to cheer for someone from your own country!) and competitions will be exclusively Asian events. Who really cares who wins except other Koreans if a competition is down to only Korean finalists?

    Then let them dominate the classical music world. If they are truly the best, then I suppose we should only be seeing Korean soloists in concert halls. It would be just as boring if we said only Finnish soloists or only Ukrainian soloists. If “merit” is the only criteria, as people are saying here, then we shouldn’t bother listening to any else except Korean musicians, right?

    Then speaking of orchestra jobs, well, turn them loose on the orchestra profession, by all means! All Korean orchestras in every country? Why not? They’re the best, right?

    But it will be interesting, after dominating all of these fancy competitions and spending oodles of money preparing for a classical music career, how these Korean candidates, so determined to succeed, will fare in a profession where orchestras are going bankrupt.

    I think many other countries have perhaps realized that being a classical musician is not an easy or lucrative career. Winning international competitions is not a golden ticket to success. This is probably why you don’t see many Brits or even Americans or Germans competing any more. It’s not practical.

    Let these Asian competitors see for themselves what’s on the other side: economically challenged orchestras, and agents serving audiences who are most likely not too interested in a 100% Korean artist roster.

    So if “merit” is the only qualification at competitions, by all means, let it happen. Let the whole scenario play out fully just on the basis of “merit” and we’ll see how it plays out. . . . .

  • Cho-Liang Lin says:

    It is unfortunate and sad that we are talking about race and ethnicity in 2014. To imply that teachers in Asia know “how to work the system” is sheer ignorance. Do we think twice about turning on our LG flat-screen TV, using Samsung Galaxy smartphones or drive our Hyundai cars? Did anyone kick a fuss before or after Korea hosted the Olympics and FIFA World Cup because the hosts are Korean? Did the Korean lady golfers “worked the system” to enable 7 Koreans in the top 20 in the current LPGA ranking? Did the Berlin Philharmonic get worked over when two of their concertmasters come from Japan? Did the Chicago Symphony, Met Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra get hoodwinked into appointing Asian-American concertmasters? Music is the ultimate meritocracy. To suggest we need now a racial quota to define excellence is total falsehood and it’s a notion filled with racial prejudice.

    • william osborne says:

      I agree. The racist comments here are disgusting — a sad reminder of the mentalities that are still too common in the classical music world. We can only trust that anonymous Internet commentary brings out these racist people and that the views in the classical music community as a whole are not as bad.

  • Cho-Liang Lin says:

    For all those who are afraid the Koreans are taking over the music world, and for the writer who began this whole racially charged diatribe, let us have a look at where the 5 Indianapolis finalists from Korea are studying: Cleveland, Boston, Cologne, Berlin and Seoul. Only one of them currently studies and lives in Korea. Their current teachers come from Bolivia, Israel, Romania, Germany and Korea. That is truly international. We should celebrate and not berate this diversity.
    Would Mr. Lebrecht have so explicitly accused these “western’ teachers of “working the system?”

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Racially charged? What rubbish! I have been outspoken for years in my admiration for musical developments in South Korea. However, when a competition admits a preponderance of contestants from one nation and then whittles them down to five out of six finalists, one has to question every aspect of the selection process. Only a purblind lunatic would imagine that 84 percent of the world’s future violinists come from one small strip of land. Something was fixed in the selection.

      • Cho-Liang Lin says:

        How does “a purblind lunatic imagine that 84 percent of the world’s future violinists come from one small strip of land?” Check the UN? The World Bank? Should only a large country deserve to produce outstanding musicians? Would such a lunatic be less disturbed if some of the finalists are 2nd or 3rd generation Korean-Americans or Korean-Germans?
        By the way, would anyone care to challenge the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition and “question every aspect” when 5 of the top 10 prizes in the categories of piano, violin and voice went to, wait, Koreans!
        And how, at the same competition, did a Mongolian claim 2nd prize in voice while the lone Russian vocal prize winner took 3rd? And should one look more closely at the last Van Cliburn? 3 of the 6 finalists were Asian. Perhaps there should be questions raised at all these competitions because certain musicians from a particular country excelled? Only a person with purblind paranoia would imagine there is a conspiracy.

  • william osborne says:

    For decades French wind players have dominated international competitions, and still do. Solo competitions became a strong part of the French education system as far back as the 19th century. There is even a large body of literature written by French composers for these competitions that is still used. French students are specifically trained to win competitions. Maurice Andre, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and Michel Becquet are just a few of the players that have come out of this tradition. Since these competitions are so important to the French, they also sometimes stack the results when they can. People grumble, but no one has ever said much.

    American schools, by contrast, offer wind players very little solo training and focus on orchestral repertoire and style. I find the orchestral emphasis stifling. And not surprisingly, American wind players generally fair poorly in international competitions.

    I’m not surprised to see Asians taking a French approach to competitions. The Korean and Japanese Western classical music traditions are strongly driven. They are more-or-less taking the ideal of French wind competitions and applying it to strings.

    The other thing I have noticed is that Koreans and winning a lot of the positions in German opera houses. It has become a notable trend. If there’s any bias, it is against them, but they’re just better so they get the jobs. The preponderance of Asians at the Indy competition thus doesn’t look so odd to my eyes, since the same thing is happening in some areas of the German music world too where a positive bias is definitely not an issue.

  • AnotherAnon says:

    This notion that Asians are nurtured to musical excellence due to their rich financial status is total bullshit. People are only making excuses in order to not give Asians their wholly deserved merit. Asians do not flourish because they can financially afford to do so better than other races, they flourish because they work hard. That’s it. It’s that simple. Besides, if that reason of financial ability was true, than Americans should be excelling in classical music, not Asians. The USA has the highest average income and has one of the highest median income.

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