TheToronto Piano Competition – another fix

TheToronto Piano Competition – another fix


norman lebrecht

November 10, 2014

We have been alerted to the true results:
1st prize Yang Liu, a student of Yocheved Kaplinsky (Jury chair),

2nd, Rodolfo Leone  a student of Fabio Bidini ( member of jury ),

3rd Rachel Kudo ( Kaplinsky ),

4th Hye Jin  Kim ( Bidini ),

5th Wenting She ( Kaplinsky ).

Like televised wrestling, is anyone fooled by the results of these phony contests?

yang liu


  • Carlos says:

    Surprised, huh? Have you bothered to take a look at orchestra auditions as well? You’d be (not) surprised.

    • JJC says:

      Your remark is not only cynical, it is essentially incorrect. In my orchestra, and, I am quite confident, in every other North American orchestra, the procedure is rigorously designed for impartiality and extraordinary efforts are made to ensure this. That is the reality today. You are spouting nonsense.

      • Svete says:

        JJC, you’re probably not aware of the Canadian Opera’s last few hires. In the last associate 1st violin leader audition there was credible talk someone played their own cadenza for a Mozart concerto, in a screened round no less. And that a bottle of sparkling wine was awaiting the person(s) involved in the final round. Again, only credible speculation. Why is it a surprise? Canada isn’t a particularly arts minded country or even a country where fairness reigns supreme. One must only look at the city of Toronto’s municipal politics to garner a small view of how things run there. Nonetheless, the photo above shows a smiling child who is blissfully unaware and “Maestro” Kerry Stratton, a notorious hack and disc jockey who spews pap and drivel over the airwaves with a list of “notable prizes” on his resumé.

        • IMOGEN says:

          This comment by Svete is bang on. Not only did the winner for second chair play their own cadenza for a Mozart concerto, they were the only person playing Mendelssohn as their romantic concerto selection. Who plays Mendelssohn but a good pupil? These auditions in North America are a disgrace and ultimately a big sham.

      • Carlos says:

        Dear JJC,

        I’d appreciate you not insulting me. I am not cynical, nor spouting nonsense. I myself have experience AND evidence of what I am talking about. At least here in Europe. EVERYONE knows it is happening, even more in these creepy times. So, I am NOT incorrect.
        Behave and respect yourself and your fellow profesional musicians like myself.

        • JJC says:

          Carlos, no personal disrespect intended. But your allegations, to those of us who scrupulously look after every detail to create and maintain a fair and incorruptible system of auditions, do not sit well, they rankle. And we, I’m sure, are the majority, not the exception.

          • Carlos says:

            Ok, JJC. In any case, as I said, I am talking about my experience, about things that I, as a musician doing auditions, have seen and suffered. Maybe I should change continents.

  • A Tin Teardrop says:

    Regrettable, but in the longer term none of the star pianists winning the hundreds of piano competitions staged per year are likely to find anything more than temp work at a youth music college or driving a taxi. The only feasible explanation for the bacteria-like proliferation of these events is that they are staged for the benefit of the organizers and jurors. Someone must be creaming off a nice profit, otherwise the competitions wouldn’t be staged in the first place.

  • Geoff says:
    This is the organization responsible for the competition. There is speculation that some Chinese cultural groups are supported and abetted by the Government of China. Perhaps some one with more knowledge could clarify.

  • V.Lind says:

    There were five other jurors. Were they just following orders or taking inducements?

    The word “fix” is very flammable. Possibly actionable.

  • Ilya Grinberg says:

    Then, please explain how an auditioning musician in every North American orchestra, playing behind the screen, gets 10 votes out of 10, and the same musician in the next round gets only two when playing with his face shown?

    Yoheved Kaplinsky, while a majorly mediocre musician, has managed to become a major mafiosa of the piano pedagogy world. Negative selection? Mediocrity wins by whatever means possible? The one who can’t fly can crawl into any place?

  • Milka says:

    One thinks the Toronto Piano Farce.
    Since last commenting on how they will
    “put Canada and Toronto on the world map” forgetting in their arrogance they are the newcomers the results are now in, anyone surprised ???????
    Mr. Lebrechts’ comparison to pro wrestling is spot on except that one
    feels wrestling is more honest and
    that in itself is quite a stretch .
    Why so many lent themselves to this
    deplorable piano farce is the real
    question-One can perhaps understand
    the Royal Conservatory being caught up
    in this nonsense for the obvious reasons ,but the rest ????
    Poor Rolex………..

  • stopthemusic says:

    Well, who else was there? The fact is that no young pianist is unaware of Kaplinsky’s shameless, controlling behavior, so they simply didn’t bother to enter this competition. But 10 years from now, when these Kaplinsky students are staring at their trophies & medals as they lament their lack of a career, perhaps they’ll realize that they were exploited and duped, as the illusion of victory was in fact the path to obscurity. Competitions are won by piano-players, NOT artists. At best, Kaplinsky’s capabilities limit her to training mere piano players, who are simply not career material. Their playing is accurate, but not memorable.

  • LPCN says:

    A real shame. Fabio Bidini is an incredible pianist and a very good teacher, but politics always rules in competitions and institutions. What goes on behind the scenes is as important, if not more, than what happens on stage. I’m a pianist trained in the States, Canada, and Europe – and the prospect of not having a career because I and my teachers don’t play the politics game is sickening.

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    That competition’s result put Toronto on the map alright…

  • Hamish says:

    I am no expert on the piano, let alone piano competitions…but why don’t they let the audience and registered people watching online help to decide the winner? It would be better I think because it would engage everyone. You could still give 50% (say) of the vote to the experts in the jury. It always feels like a bit of an anti-climax when they announce the audience prize almost as an after-thought…

    • SVM says:

      Even if the average audience-member were a discerning connoisseur, cheapening a competition into a popularity contest would almost certainly result in the winner being decided on the basis of clothing or other arbitrary considerations. Add online voting, and it would degenerate into a competition of who can drum up the most friends/followers/acquaintances to vote for them. In short, it would no longer be a music competition, but a social media competition.

  • Boring Fileclerk says:

    All competitions are a scam. This much we know.

    • Glenn Hardy says:

      I certainly agree that competitions are essentially a scam, but I think the real scam, which continues to go unmentioned, is the complete takeover of classical music by the corporate academic industry way back in the last century. Musicians have always competed with one another, but the organized competitions of the type being discussed here are mainly extensions of the academic world’s obsession with hierarchy and credentials. You can’t just do art, even maybe great art; You must have an imprimatur and prizes. No one wants to deal with this, I get it, but we’re witnessing the fruitage of the complete corporate “professionalization” and domination of all the arts, especially music and writing. It has nothing to do with art, and everything to do with career.

  • Milka says:

    One wonders how many people will
    think twice about buying a Rolex.Does
    supporting this sort of nonsense reflect the way Rolex makes their product .
    For once I agree with Olaugh–everyone is laughing.Years ago people use to laugh at Toronto being called the good now it is this Chinese piano competition .

  • Michael says:

    Glenn, I agree 100% with your judgement.

    I live in Warsaw, attend major competitions and festivals and listen to literally hundreds of young pianists. I am a busy author but I keep a detailed blog of such events as I manage to attend.

    The leisure-time conversation I regularly overhear among young pianists is scarcely ever a passionate conversation about music, philosophy, art or culture. Their mind set is elsewhere.

    Obsessionally the topics concern who is studying where and with whom (Professor whatever in Hanover, in Moscow or at the Julliard), career possibilities, competitions and prizes. Waiting for concerts to begin I read long, fabulous CVs of glittering prizes won, performances with orchestras under famous conductors, recordings made that Josef Hofmann would have died for. But so often I have been utterly underwhelmed by the actual recital and emerge wondering if I am losing my musical judgement.

    I have watched the early burnt out of brilliant promising talents under the commercial pressure of managing agents. I have been deeply depressed by the ignoring even punishment of individuality and character in interpretation in competitions (Alexei Sultanov, Ivgeny Buzhanov in Warsaw at the International Chopin Competition). The academic mentality is fearful of rewarding anything that deviates creatively from a template of banality and standardization. Of course the teacher’s trajectory is also on the line as having a major prize-winner on your books does wonders for your own career. Why do too many teachers stifle the excitement of a creative, individual interpretation rich in personality? As Ignaz Friedman said ‘There are the notes but there is also what is between the notes’ or words to that effect.

    Committee decision making is always a compromise. Yet I have covered excellent and fair competitions such as the International Paderewski Competition in Bydgoszcz here in Poland which was fine experience on all levels. I spent the entire time with the distinguished jury and only witnessed altruism, encouragement of talent and dedication to the art of music. Music,the art of piano playing and the culture of Poland were the only topics over lunch and dinner, even breakfast, for two weeks. It was wonderful but increasingly rare. The performance of individual contestants was diplomatically avoided.

    As an author I am familiar with being passed over more than once after being short-listed for significant literary prizes. If you do not win the market ignores you. Your spirits fall like a stone in a dark pond. I deeply sympathize with so many brilliant young pianists who must face the bitter disappointment of the disease of ‘competition failure’ and head where afterwards? Hospitals do not treat such afflicted talents…

    The world of art as the world of sport is dancing around the golden calf. Much of the planet appears at present to have moved into the domain of the Old Testament.

    How far we have abandoned the profound thoughts on the art of piano playing, the art of music and life itself contained in such neglected books as “Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli As I Knew Him” by Lidia Kozubek, “The Art of Piano Playing” by Heinrich Neuhaus or “Leschetizky As I Knew Him” by Ethel Newcomb.

    Great art and great playing grows organically from within the soul cultivated long after ‘technique’ has been surpassed.

  • Geoff says:

    Many thanks for this. Looked up the three books that you mention, two are not cheap and the third, readily available and priced within my limited budget, is by Ethel not Eric, Newcomb. One out of three ain’t bad and I don’t even play the piano.

  • NYMike says:

    It’s so easy to allege corruption while tarnishing a teacher’s reputation. Many posters including the above title’s author are just salivating in their zeal to do just that.

    Now for the facts:
    1. As Chairperson, Kaplinsky asked the Toronto Competition management to assign numbers to the jurors so that she wouldn’t know how they voted, and also informed the jury that they could feel free to vote as they please. She did NOT vote at all after the semifinals and the finals.
    2. In the past few years her students have won prizes in China, Dublin, Leeds and Cleveland competitions where she was not even on the jury. In almost every concerto competition in Aspen in the past 10 years, her students were winners. She was not on any of the juries. Another of her students recently won the Concert Artists Guild auditions. She was not on the jury.
    3. Seven of Kaplinsky’s students are currently under international management, with many others on the concert circuit and in teaching positions in various universities.
    4. Considering the above, I have my doubts about someone who deigns to describe her a as mediocre musician. What are this person’s musical accomplishments?

    I suggest that before slandering someone, the author and other respondents check the facts.

    • YWL says:

      Two Toronto competitions. Two Kaplinsky 1st prize winners. And you think this is fair? You must be a Kaplinsky student yourself! Toronto is disgusted.

    • Benjamin says:

      Kaplinsky, in addition to being a fabulous teacher, is the head of the Piano department and Pre-college division of the most famous music school in the world. Getting into her studio is hyper-competitive.

      Is it all that surprising that her students regularly win competitions?

  • Warrior says:

    Televised wrestling is real. John Cena did not train with the referee either.

  • Milka says:

    It is not surprising that this so called
    piano competition would send out
    invites in Cantonese and Mandarin ,
    given the competition is sponsored and
    run by the Chinese Cultural Centre
    in Toronto , all monies etc. are
    handled by the CCC .

    Is one surprised at the present and last
    winner ????????? then the moon is made of green cheese.

    It is deplorable how many bought into this nonsense , especially the Toronto
    musical institutions . Toronto
    is way past being a laughing stock,
    The last mayor and now this brings
    it to new heights of laughter.

  • Eliran Avni says:

    That the music world needs to be revolutionized, goes without say. That there is something intrinsically wrong with the way competition/colleges/juries go about their business is also a very serious matter.
    Unfortunately, this post has really nothing to do with either, and instead Mr. Lebrecht has chosen to lead everyone on what can only be described as a character assassination.
    For the protocol: I’m a proud Dr. Kaplinsky student. And no, I have not won any competitions while I was studying with her, in fact, I wasn’t allowed to enter a competition she was a judge on.
    I feel I can say honestly and without any hesitation that all your accusation are baseless and false. Having known Dr. Kaplinsky for 20 years I can personally attest to the following:
    1. She is a phenomenal piano teacher, bar none. Which is the reason why so many talented students from all over the world come to study with her.
    2. She is an expert in helping pianists with hand injuries, and has helped hundreds of people with severe hand pain to get back on track. Like in my case, she probably saw them day after day without any compensation just out of the kindness of her heart and the pure desire to be of help.
    3. She is an incredible musician and pianist. I heard her play both live and on recordings. Solo pieces, chamber music and concertos (Bartok Sonata for two pianos, is a personal favorite!) Her musical intelligence is superb and is really the secret to why so many of her students do so well. She has made a decision to teach and not to concertize, because she felt that was her calling. And thank God for that.
    4. She is one of the most honest people I have ever met. There is no way she would ever even dream of manipulating the results of a competition or a jury to help her students get a better score. Anyone who suggests that has never met her.
    5. She is probably one of the most kind and generous people I have ever met, as I have been there time after time to see her help students in need. Her door was always open to everyone.
    In Judaism, the act of slander (leshon h’ra) is considered “worse than the harm done by stealing or by cheating someone: money lost can be repaid, but the harm done by speech can never be repaid.”
    These accusations are baseless and false.

    • YWL says:

      Ah, another Kaplinsky victim. First of all you are disqualified from commenting on this – conflict of interest.

      It is a pity that even with the amount of money that Kaplinsky squeezed out of you you never got to benefit from it. It is okay if you aren’t talented, it is not your fault. You are a victim. She will manipulate you and now you honestly believe she is wonderful. Again I pity you. You are nothing but a victim.

      I have seen over the decades an incredible number of victims that Kaplinsky led to trust her and ended up paying her a fortune without any results. It is really quite unbelievable how those victims still think Kaplinsky is wonderful. I’ll tell you what: Kaplinsky and her students are the only ones in the world that Kaplinsky is great. And when her products come to world concert stage, they quickly disappear. They are not interesting at all, and if you are too involved in her world, you would damage your musical sense enough to believe that Kaplinsky is a great performer! By the way thanks for the laughs, I loved your joke about her playing.

  • Lloyd Arriola says:

    When the bloviators begin to talk about Yoheved Kaplinsky’s “shameless and controlling” behavior, I think that this particular competition watcher (whose screen name of “Stop the Music” is entirely apt since this person is clearly deaf) needs therapy with some Prozac and a polo mallet. They simply do not know whereof they speak. Kaplinsky knows music and art and disarms unnecessary drama with kindness. A bit of advice to “Stop the Music”–find another thing to complain about. There are plenty of injustices in the world to complain about, but the entirely unjust ad hominem attack is both comical and an utter lie. Do some muckraking about political conservatism ruining representative democracy–then maybe you will actually do a little research before you attack someone you clearly do not know well.

    • YWL says:

      You’ve got to be kidding me. And if you think Yang Liu deserved the first prize, you are deaf. Yoheved Kaplinsky is a corrupt person without anything to offer to music world except for some 2 year stars who will be quickly forgotten when she comes up with something else.