Confessions of a piano competition judge

Confessions of a piano competition judge


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2017

The pianist Israela Margalit has published an account of her experiences as a juror at piano competitions.


The first jury I served on, I was determined that only the best would win. I suggested to my fellow jurors that we select somebody who could shine at Carnegie Hall rather than play like a well-schooled student. Everybody agreed. We all ranked each pianist and tabulated the results not once, but twice. The pianist who got the most points won. Nevertheless the outcome was disheartening. …

There are also unimpeachable motives that propel judges to vote for average performers. What’s pedestrian to my ear may be enthralling to another’s. One judge may disapprove of an interpretation he deems unfaithful to the composer’s intentions, while I may view it as original and fresh. I once served as an observer at a famous competition. Six of the jury members rejected flair, preferring a strict adherence to tradition, while the other six celebrated virtuosity, imagination, and personality. In the end the scores of each group offset those of the other, and the most lackluster pianist, who hadn’t offended either camp, was declared the winner…

Read the full essay here.



  • Robert Hairgrove says:

    Glad to see someone say what everyone knows already, but nobody else wants to admit:

    “(…) I give the Transatlantic contestant high marks, but not so high as to stick out and get discarded. Then I identify the pianist who poses the biggest threat to the Transatlantic contestant’s standing, and I give him consistently low marks. Multiply me by five, and his chances of winning are null, while my guy may just sneak up to the podium.”

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Competitions are for horses

  • Saul Davis Zlatkovski says:

    My esteemed teacher always said, the way to present performers, to weigh talent, is to present them in a festival format, where each can rise or fall on their own merits. Competition is a killer of art. Those who do well are basically, at most, orchestral-type players, not soloists. A solo artist, with a persona and sensitivity, will not flourish performing for a cold jury.
    Moreover, winners can be predetermined by who is selected to compete or advance to final level, as I personally experienced on more than one occasion. I even had one competition lie, from the director on down, that my submitted tape was blank in order to disqualify me. In another, the jury that screened applicants blocked me because they could tell who my teacher was by my playing and repertoire, and to block any of her students from entering, while the ones they admitted, truly mediocre, did win.
    For that reason, I created HarpMusicFest: the International Harp Festival of Philadelphia, and presented in festival format, solo recitals by distinguished mature artists of the harp, whom do not get opportunities to perform, young artists in concert and in master classes. We got one news article in the Philadelphia Inquirer in four years of presenting 40-some programs, and NOT ONE review, even though the paper had more than two critics! Our only reviews were in, and those were selective.

  • Ava says:

    What I observed …. which was excessive flirtation by a certain Russian female pianist with a certain unamed and prestigious judge via social media and then also during the competition when on “breaks”, and yes he walked her to her hotel after it was all over. How do I know all this? Haha because I was “with” him and he showed me the private messages etc.

    If he was doing it; and god knows how often he does; you know, it’s been done again and again by many.