Why competitions must get rid of teachers

I have written a piece in the Spectator today exposing the rottenness of most music competitions. Extract:

You can count on one hand those that are fair, honest and transparent. They include the BBC, the Chopin in Warsaw and, latterly, the Tchaikovsky in Moscow. You can imagine the jurors’ conversations elsewhere — you vote for my pupil, I’ll vote for yours. Like Fifa’s World Cup ballot, this business is largely controlled by a bunch of time servers, in this case professors at major conservatories.

Read on here.


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  • It shouldn’t be hard: No juror should have a current or former student in the competition. End of story. Most likely not every competition has the luxury of inviting only past winners, but that’s one way. Maybe another is to have jurors who play a different instrument; who says a cellist or clarinetist can’t judge a pianist?

    Hopefully we’ll get to a point where there are reputable competitions, and the others will die off.

    • And that has already begun, e.g., reforms at Sydney and Cincinnati. The article linked is really old news. I have prints of articles re troubles at Sydney from 2000, Van Cliburn in 2013, the Tchaikovsky scandals go back a long way indeed, and there have been others along the way. Zakhon Bron has been dealt with so often I fear it may have simply turned him into a celebrity, for a drop of scandal never hurts there. Best ignored, along with the competitions he fixes. Nothing in this is news to anyone in the music world, and the non-musical are hardly likely to care. But those of us who do must be very pleased that there are competitions that have recognized and dealt with the issues.

  • Those competitions you mention… I’ve always regarded them as the only worthwhile ones anyway. Thanks for confirming my own bias.

    • I should not like your bias, or the many of NL, to deter people from paying attention to, e.g., the Leeds, Queen Elisabeth (of the Belgians), Clara Haskil, Gina Bachauer, to name a few especially notable among those of true quality and untainted by scandal.

      I should not like your bias, or those of NL, to deter people from paying attention to, e.g., the Leeds, Clara Haskil, Gina Bachauer, Queen Elisabeth (of the Belgians), to name a few especially notable among those of true quality and untainted by scandal.

  • I’ve severed on my share of nonprofit boards (orchestras, university-related musical trusts, etc.) and all have very strict conflict-of-interest policies. The policies avoid operational/legal/fiduciary problems and maintains public trust in the organization. Moverer, in New Mexico a good non-profit conflict-of-interest policy keeps the the Attorney General’s Office, the Taxation and Revenue Department, and the Secretary of State’s Office very happy. Let’s not forget the smile on Internal Revenue Service 501(c)3’s face.
    Working in medical education, with required yearly compliance training, it is sobering to note that violations of medical conflict-of-interest policies may lead to substantial fines, dismissal, or even incarceration.
    Sadly, some organizations just have to learn the hard way.

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