It keeps producing uninteresting winners. Now why is that?
John Marks has some thoughts:
The problem is, violin competitions give prizes to violinists who play like violin-competition winners. At least in musical terms, that is not always a good thing. Most of the people I associate with, pretty much know what “playing like a violin-competition winner” means. If any of you general readers are in doubt, let me take a stab at a definition:
Playing like violin-competition winner means playing with amazing facility and (usually) fluidity, but too often in a reductionistic way that reduces great music to a series of technical challenges, empty gestures, or opportunities for showing off.
How about: Hyper-fast playing, to the point of an unnatural lack of musicality; a hard-edged, relentlessly brilliant sound (think of your flat screen TV’s “Enhanced Edge Definition”); exaggerated articulation (ditto); playing loudly and with a lack of dynamic nuance; a lack of emotional engagement and range (which is not made up for by the usual constant and exaggerated facial expressions); in some cases, a tendency to play slightly sharp (in order to “stand out”); in some cases, a generalized lack of musical good taste; and a dead-serious earnestness, to the point of missing musical jokes, parodies, and satire.
The bottom line: Your usual Competition Winner can be relied upon to have weapons-grade bowing and a stupefyingly agile left-hand technique in the service of music-making that is often uninvolving and ultimately forgettable.