A competitor confronts the jury at Lang Lang Competition

We have received the following report from Antonio Pompa-Baldi, professor of piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and we publish it with the specific consent of Lang Lang. You will rarely read so candid a report from a competition juror:

 

Something very sad happened this morning in Shenzhen, at the Lang Lang Shenzhen Futian International Piano Competition. I have known the young pianist Shuan Hern Lee for many years. I first heard him at the San Jose International Piano Competition when he was 8 years old, I think. I have met him again while judging the E-Competition in Minneapolis in 2017, and recently I listened to his preliminary round for the Junior Cliburn Competition. Shuan Hern was the winner in San Jose and Minneapolis, and he passed the preliminary round of the Cliburn. I voted for him every time, because he is extremely talented, and very proficient on stage. Several of my colleagues here also knew him from other competitions, and all praised him for his playing.

In Shenzhen, he passed the first round with a very high score, and was positioned well to have a good chance at winning first prize. Then, something very strange, and very sad, happened.

After the first round, we decided to take not 6 finalists, but 10. It’s a much higher number, but the jury unanimously felt it was necessary. There were several contestants tied, all with high scores, and we wanted to give them all a chance to showcase their talent one more time, in the final round of the competition.

The festival here has to try and keep on schedule, because aside from the competition there are other events such as masterclasses and lectures. We needed to try and finish the competition as close as possible to the original time. The only way to accomplish that was to ask every contestant to play two pieces, instead of three. The two pieces were a Concerto (the winners will play with orchestra in the final gala), and a piece by a Chinese composer (for which there is a special prize). Last night, after announcing the finalists, every one of them was asked to leave out the third piece, which was a freely chosen work. Everybody accepted without problems.

In the case of Shuan Hern Lee, he immediately wrote back in belligerent tones that he did not want to do that. He had prepared three pieces, and he wanted to play all three. While that may be a legitimate point of view, it is worth noting that in any competition the committee has the right to modify rules and requirements as needed, provided that the fairness of the competition is not affected. Having heard nothing further, we thought that Shuan Hern begrudgingly accepted this request.

Today, when it was his turn to perform, he started with the Chinese piece. Then, instead of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, he started playing the Prokofiev Toccata. We were very surprised. The Director of Operations, upon instruction from jury members, started ringing a little bell to stop him. Shuan Hern did not stop. The bell kept ringing, but he kept ignoring it. Our President of the Jury, Mrs. Zhu Yafen, grabbed a microphone and asked him to please stop, and play the Concerto. He ignored her, too, and continued to play Prokofiev. At that point, the audience decided to help the jury. Maybe they thought Shuan Hern did not understand that he needed to stop. The audience clapped and shouted in the middle of the Prokofiev Toccata, but still Shuan Hern continued. It was very evident at that point that he was just doing it on purpose to create an embarrassing situation. He was on a mission to show every one that he was in charge, he was the boss. I have never seen anything like that before. It was surreal.

We had no choice but to disqualify him. He finished the Prokofiev Toccata, and we did not allow him to play the Rachmaninoff Concerto. Every other contestant before and after him complied with the request to drop one piece from their program, so why should he be any different? Had we allowed him to play his entire original program, this would have been unfair to the other finalists.

What is most shocking and saddening, is the fact that he decided to absolutely ignore the directions of the jury, and showed an aggressive and disrespectful behavior toward the organizing committee and the jury, as well as his fellow contestants and the audience. This disrespect continued afterwards on social media, where he started spewing venom about how this was a sort of conspiracy to deprive him of the chance to win. This is not true at all. In fact, he had a great shot at winning, had he simply complied with the new repertoire limits. None of us had anything at all against him, and what is more, we all liked his playing very much.

I am writing this post on behalf of the whole jury and the organizing committee of the Lang Lang Shenzhen Futian International Piano Competition. We felt it was necessary to share what happened, since Shuan Hern is writing things that are not true. We wish that Shuan Hern would see and understand the absurdity of his behavior. The fact that he threw away a likely first prize win is not the most important thing, here. I think what young people like Shuan Hern need to always remember is that talent and ability should go hand in hand with humility and kindness. If an injustice is perpetrated, then one has the right to stand up for him/herself, but in this case there was no injustice. There was a simple request made to all contestants, equally and fairly, and the regular unfolding of the contest was never in any danger.

We do wish Shuan Hern Lee all the best, but firmly state that his behavior today, during and after the competition, is not acceptable.

 

UPDATE: Shuan replies

 

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  • Suzanne says:

    In my view it’s simply unprofessional to increase the number of finalists from 6 to 10 – this is not normal or common behaviour of competitions belong to the World Federation of International Music Competitions. It adds insult to injury that the pianists were all then expected to give up the freely chosen work. I frankly don’t find this letter to be a convincing exoneration of this Jury or this Competition and would be interested to know what the WFIMC has to say.

    • “unprofessional”?

      There is a “professional” standard for dealing with ties in piano competitions?

      • Suzanne says:

        Indeed. If after a semi-final round there are several players with identical scores / rankings the highest score (s) is/are allowed through, let’s say in this example 1 – 3. If the next 5 competitors all have the same score the statutes of the competition could allow that each jury member votes secretly on which three of those five to allow through. The 3 with the most votes would be included in the final. This is one example. Another possible solution: the Competition would have FROM THE BEGINNING stated that 6 – 8 or 4 -6, i.e. a fixed range of finalists would be permitted. The Competition would have been organised so that even if the maximum number of finalists were allowed there would be enough time planned for each to perform the full final. A professionally run competition makes these decisions ahead of time, publishes them online, informs its jury members of these guidelines and ensures that the jury members adhere to the published rules.

    • Alan says:

      Strange. I find it completely convincing. If all the other competitors got on with it this person should have done the same. Disrespectful in the extreme

    • Stuart L. says:

      I’m with Shuarn Huern Lee on this.

      He was asked to prepare three pieces and that’s what he did. I daresay that his preparation was done with meticulous care so to be confronted with a last-minute change of rules such as this was undoubtedly severely discombobulating. No wonder he did what he did; I should like to think that I would have done the same in similar circumstances; I thoroughly accept his behaviour.

      Mr Antonio Pompa-Baldi and his fellow jurors should consider very carefully whether or not they share a good proportion of the blame for this outcome.

      • Petros LInardos says:

        Pianists prepare pieces their whole lives. Time spent learning a piece is not wasted. Even he felt unfairly treated, he should have complied with the jury’s requirements and protested later in a more civil way. Or he could have resigned from the competition.

        • Nick says:

          Hey Petros, you said it all: “Pianists prepare pieces their whole lives.” This is exactly THE PROBLEM with competitions. These pianists prepare 8-9 pieces and play time in all competitions all their lives, thus they have NO CAREERS, because they are not artists and not musicians, there are competitors!!
          Competitions in Music are ridiculous and should be abandoned!

    • BC says:

      Lang Lang and the panel of judges (many of whom have competed in numerous competitions and teach at prestigious institutions) likely have a better idea of what is and isn’t ‘professional’ than you do.

      When you hold the International Disgruntled Commenter Piano Competition, you can allow the entrants to do whatever you like.

    • IntBaritone says:

      I have taken part in many competitions through the years. In almost every situation, it is in most people’s best interest for more people to be invited to each round. In the best circumstances, you are better than them, and that will show in greater number. In the worst case, you wouldn’t have made it when there were fewer people invited, and now you have.

      If what they did was unprofessional, what he did was just as bad. We don’t fight bad behavior with bad behavior. Well, actually, I guess in this society we do. But I wasn’t raised to do so. He could have protested and sent a public letter saying as much, and stepped down from the competition. He could have played the pieces and not accepted an award.
      He could have done any number of things.

      When you enter a competition, you are offering yourself up to be judged. You are at the jury’s mercy, and not the other way around. If you think differently, you have too high an opinion of yourself.

    • viola fan says:

      Do you also find it unprofessional for a competitor to keep playing when asked to stop? That is a career ending move in my opinion.

    • I think that it was unfair to the pianists to change the process during the competition. No matter how the others behaved, this was still a bait-and-switch that had to be distressing to all of them. They should have continued with the original rules that all had agreed to and made changes to the process for the following year.

    • Rob says:

      The Lang Lang Shenzhen Futian International Piano Competition should not be confused with the Shenzhen International Piano Concerto Competition. The second is a member of the WFIMC, where the first is not.

    • bratschegirl says:

      I agree. At the very least, it provides ample reason for someone to conclude that the number of finalists was expanded in order to make sure that a particular candidate made it into the finals, who would not have advanced had the original limit of 6 prevailed. It may well be that this was done with no ill motivation whatsoever, but the optics are pretty awful.

    • This competition is not a member of the WFIMC.

      • Nick2 says:

        In that case, given the disasters of the current competition and the cavalier attitude of the jury and the organisers, it should be banned from any future membership of the WFIMC.

  • Suzanne says:

    From the Guidelines of the World Federation – 8.1. says it all, this competition sadly disqualified itself.
    8– ADJUDICATION
    8.1 The adjudication process may not be changed during the duration of the competition.
    8.2 A non-musical consideration may not be a part of the adjudication process.
    8.3 All stages of a competition, except for the pre-selection stage, should be adjudicated by the same jury members.
    8.4 Any jury member who is a relative or teacher of a competitor may not vote for nor discuss that competitor with other members of the jury.
    8.5 All discussions by the jury must be strictly confidential.
    8.6 Any decision of the jury must be final.

  • Jorge says:

    Just a prove how ridiculous competitions are.

  • Cleve Orch Fan says:

    Presumably Shuan Hern Lee wants to become a professional pianist. While I find the jury’s behavior puzzling, this young man’s response to it is unprofessional at best, definitely immature, and possibly a sign of a deeper problem. Part of being a touring musician is dealing with the unexpected, and Shuan Hern Lee failed at this test. Further, his behavior at the competition and his social media posts have likely precluded him having a career in music. I have noticed that many of those with “artistic” temperaments are seldom true artists, just prima-donnas.

    Also, Pompa-Baldi is a mediocre pianist. Even with the overabundance of piano competitions, his presence on a jury is baffling.

    • B Zhang says:

      Pompa-baldi mediocre? Have you never listened his Scriabin sonata 4 before?

    • Carlos says:

      Pompa-Baldi is not a “mediocre pianist”. He is a very sensitive and impeccable artist(his Mozart sonata KV 332 is IMHO unsurpassed).

      • Pianodao says:

        Perhaps not a very nice man though? Here’s a 44-year-old professional attacking the character of a 16-year-old boy on the internet.
        Whatever happened to “duty of care”?

  • John Kelly says:

    Wile E Coyote..

  • Robert Roy says:

    The stushi he has created will probably do him more good than harm in today’s media obsessed climate. There’s a bit of me that says ‘Good for you’ in giving a finger to the jury and I’m glad he didn’t stop when the jury rang their silly bell. Don’t these jury members LIKE music?

  • JMW says:

    I find it admirable that the committee decided to give opportunity and exposure to all those they deemed deserving. Competitions should be about finding the best talent and increasing the slate of finalists is surely a sign of the good intentions of the jury. Shaun Lee’s behavior is inexcusable and he was sanctioned for it. May he learn from this experience.

  • MusicBear88 says:

    If the competition doesn’t stick to their own rules, why should the competitors feel obliged to stick to them either? That said, in this situation I would have complied with the request but I’m not quite as unsympathetic as the writer of this post. Changes like this can be extremely unsettling to a seasoned professional, let alone a younger artist.

  • Christian says:

    No hard feelings! It is my hope and my intuition that Shuan Hern Lee is going to win 1st prize at a more serious internantional piano competition some day in the future. Personally, I am looking forward to hear him play.

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    ” always remember is that talent and ability should go hand in hand with humility and kindness.”

    Except in those many instances chronicled here when they don’t and it doesn’t matter.

  • Cyril says:

    Hopefully this won’t ruin his chances for a performance career, if that’s what he desires. Almost everyone does something stupid (and without forethought) when young and it shouldn’t mark us forever.

    I also think changing the finalists from 6 to 10 was a bit of an unfair curveball. Never change the competition rules midstream. It always looks bad.

    • Sammy J says:

      I don’t see why it is unfair if they were all of the standard expected of a finalist . What would be unfair would be eliminating contestants deserving of a place in the final purely to fit the numbers . It has happened in many competitions of all kinds that more than one winner or in this case 6 finalists are announced . I know in gymnastics of 3 girls tying for the gold medal and in swimming 2 golds being awarded for a dead heat . Should some of those people not have been awarded their medals for their achievements?

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Oh dear; a tantrum from a musician who is behaving like a spoilt child!! He’s been brought up to believe he’s a little emperor and is beginning to find out that was a lie. Welcome to the world of 1 child families and INCREDIBLE expectations!

  • raro2019 says:

    Despite the unorthodox approach of the contestant — he was correct! This strange and unexplainable change in the process of the competition should not have been tolerated. Usually (think Warsaw) when the number of competitors passed through to a particular stage of a competition dramatically increases, it advantages a contestant who did not merit advancing…

  • Wai Kit Leung says:

    Why change the rule in the last minute? That’s just not acceptable. I find it hard to believe 10 instead of 6 had to be admitted to the final. 7, perhaps, but 10?!

  • Schwalde says:

    A jury who cannot limit itself to six finalists:

    UNPROFESSIONAL.

    In a normal (and professional) world, Pompa-Baldi would confront the young pianist in private. Why this need to use hundreds of word to tell the world what has happened?

    • MWnyc says:

      Because the young pianist had already gone public.

      • Pianodao says:

        Nevertheless, the competition organisers should have reconciled the situation amicably before the child was sent home. And just because the 16-year-old behaved like the 16-year-old does not mean the 44-year-old juror should also behave like a 16-year-old and take to the internet to spin the story his way. Disgraceful.

  • Anon E. Mouse says:

    Not the hero we need right now, but the hero we deserve…

  • fflambeau says:

    Gee, he got disqualified for acting like a normal human being.

  • Derek says:

    I cannot think of any normal competition or exam that the rules can be changed midway. Contestants tailor their preparation exactly to the rules. Changing format midway throw all contestants off course.

    Any time rules are changed it will always favour certain contestants over others. In this case they play two pieces instead of three, it would favour those who play the two pieces better than the third, those with less playing stamina, and those less adaptable to playing different style. How the juror could think rules can be changed without affecting fairness is mind boggling. It’s simply impossible. Try telling students that today’s exam will be two hours instead of three and the essay question is removed and you only have multiple choice, see how well that goes.

    The contestant wrote to the jury “he did not want to do that” and “Having heard nothing further, we thought that Shuan Hern begrudgingly accepted this request.” The juror simply lives in fantasyland!

  • Nick2 says:

    I do not attend competitions and have never taken part in one. I can only make a judgement through talking with colleagues and what I have seen written above. In the first place, I do think if the regulations say there will be six finalists, that should be final. It is then up to the jury members to whittle them down to that number. That is their job, even if they believe ten are all virtually worthy of a place in the final. So the jury was totally wrong in my view, irrespective of the regulations giving them virtual carte blanche.

    Secondly, if a musician has spent a great deal of time preparing three difficult works, it is wrong to ask them to reduce these to two. Again the jury was at fault. In both these cases, the jury should not be in a position to dictate the shortening of a programme, the more so when it was its inability to whittle the finalists to six that created this latter necessity. And why did the competition itself have to suffer when masterclasses and lectures could surely have been cancelled instead. If the time allocated to a competition has to be limited solely because of other ancillary events, something is very wrong with its planning and organisation.

    Lastly, I wonder what on earth Mr. Lee thought he was doing by going against the jury decisions, however wrong these were. There are ways of registering complaints, even if they are ultimately unsuccessful. But by being seen to be so dreadfully stubborn, the more so by continuing with the Prokofiev even with both jury and audience against him, did he not realise that he has diminished his own chances of finding an agent and being engaged for concerti, recitals and recordings?

    No one comes out of this with any credit whatever in my book. The competition is clearly badly organised, the jury made two wrong decisions, but it is Mr. Lee who is likely to suffer in future.

    • Jonathan Z says:

      Nick 2 is absolutely right. Reference was made to competitors being tied. That is why you have a Chair of the Jury whose job it is to make a final decision if the Jury can’t agree on which competitors should go through.

      However the faulty decision to admit 10 and reduce the repertoire was made and so Lee had to conform, just like everyone else.

      • John says:

        All jury members should enter the lotto. There are better chances of winning then all these so called ties everywhere.

        Unless of course – there is collusion. Which there always is.

    • Tweettweet says:

      In Mr Lee’s defence: I think it is very difficult to think clearly during a competition. It is quite an unnatural phenomena, a music contest. So I can fully understand that he did not understand the consequences of his actions. And who knows what other factors might have influenced his thoughts and actions. I wish him all the best in his future career.

    • Nick 2 is right – however – Mr. Lee has not been given the opportunity to present his side of the argument. I hope this website will give him the opportunity.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Good for him!

  • Psychiatrist says:

    This is a staggering display of misuse of power, arrogance and insensitivity. The jury, not the unfortunate competitor is at fault. The rules were laid out, the competitors worked to the requirements and then, on a whim, the jury changes the plan. Suddenly the competition is tilted in favour of the more flexible, adaptable, dare I say “humble” competitors. Fine pianists are often more fragile than their glorious moments on stage suggest and Shaun Hern has had his equilibrium upset in the hothouse of a very public competition. He had the temerity to complain. The jury, in public, dishes the dirt “in the nicest possible way”. Unprofessional and nauseating. I wish Mr. Hern well and look forward hearing him play.

  • YSL says:

    They have no right to bell him after he played only 7 mins as he was not over time and he played the pieces he was told to play. The other competitors were also belled out. It is unjust to change rule when the competition is on the way.

  • Christopher Storey says:

    I agree with Pompo Baldi that this was disgraceful behaviour…. on the part of the Jurors. It is completely unacceptable to move the goalposts halfway through the game . It is fair to say that I am wholly against competitions, but this takes their unattractive qualities to completely new limits. Not a single one of these jurors should ever serve on a jury again. Good luck to the courageous young man who had the good sense to stand up for what is right

  • Patrick says:

    “talent and ability should go hand in hand with humility and kindness.“

    Absolutely.

  • Anonymus says:

    Would have liked to see the comments if the post would have said:
    “After the first round, we decided to take not 6 finalists, but 2. It’s not so much, but the jury unanimously felt the others were not good enough”
    Anybody to still find that normal or legitimate ?

    (the rest is not my point here. One contestant freaked out. It is understandable. May be he will not get a career but this farce will have hard time to be recognised by the World Federation of International Music Competitions)

    • DJ says:

      It is a second rate competion held and hosted in China (Lung Lung is grossly over rated) it dosn’t need to be ‘recognised’ by any international body. It will still be an absolute commercial success!

  • Guest says:

    No sympathy for him. What an a$$!

  • James says:

    Sounds like members of the jury were not equipped, prepared, or brave enough to make the tough decisions and everything else flowed from their evasion of responsibility.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    Feel free to laugh, but his name is much hotter on Google today, I’d bet.
    We’re spending more time talking about Shuan Hern Lee than we’ll ever talk about the actual winner…so his name is out there, and he’s getting all the publicity he wants. He’ll be more memorable simply because he risked it all to protest. …social media generation

  • M McAlpine says:

    Mr Lee should learn the fact that ‘life is not fair, so get over it!’ Makes me tired to hear of this sort of behaviour.

  • George IV says:

    [Readacted: defamation] I am not here to judge whether Mr Lee’s behaviors was appropriated or not I just have one question for Antonio, is it really that necessary to posting out story like this to the world?

  • El Grillo says:

    It’s not even surprising that the jury the “competition” and the pianist all get more attention than Prokofiev’s Tocatta, which I’m surprised no one has dissed in again taking sides, as if this is a competition as to who can be the most just and logical about what should have happened.

    What if the audience all decided they had something to share on the piano, and stormed the stage after this “belligerence,” was over, all getting the so many moments of fame, or not? Or the pianist had improvised something so mesmerizing that the whole jury went into a trance, along with the audience, and time was suspended? What if the pianist was sumarily shot? What if it turned into the first massing shooting at a piano competition, and would that be a disgruntled jury member, audience member, pianist, or someone else?

    WOW! A whole list of comments all going on about everything but that Prokofiev was involved. And is THAT the right interpretation of him?

    Here are a few interpretations:

    Which one wouldn’t have been interrupted?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGlXRW7GLsY&fmt=22 (

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6AhHBu_A_U&fmt=22

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVpnr8dI_50&fmt=22

  • timpanitroll says:

    lmao, this is like if an orchestral player taking an audition got mad and started playing every excerpt on the list because the committee asked for only a few specific ones.

    • John says:

      Not the same thing. An orchestra player prepares well in advance to play everything in any order.

      • Sammy J says:

        Not necessarily the case . I sit on panels for auditions and it is almost always the case that not all excerpts will be requested in the first round or even the 2nd round . Nevertheless the person has to be prepared to play any of them at anytime .

    • Bill says:

      Glad I’m not the only one who had such a thought. And the life of a concert artist is full of such unpleasant surprises. It’s not like they said “we’re running short of time, the last 3 competitors only get to play 2 pieces” — they applied the change to everyone. Yeah, maybe the eliminated piece was the one where he can really shine. Isn’t that likely to be true of the big concerto that most competitors don’t get to play because they were knocked out in an earlier round?

  • esfir ross says:

    A. Pampa-Baldi an excellent pianist-not mediocre called by some. But he’s not person of high integrity. What happen to artist that serve too much as juror. It can affect his musicianship, career. Cudos to couragest young pianist.

  • JYZ says:

    I heard that they changed the starting time from 9:30am to half an hour earlier, and they belled Shaun Hern Lee only 7 minutes after he started playing. When security got involved because the belling and a microphone didn’t work, three were sent to call a sixteen year old PIANIST to come down (how is one not enough?) And to wonder, why are these not written in Mr. Pompa-Baldi’s post?

  • Tweettweet says:

    Shuan Hern Lee…is he really just 16 (!!) years old? Then it is an extremely big shame of Mr Pompa-Baldi to submit such an article about a minor. Very childish behaviour of the jury! https://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/news/shuan-hern-lee-to-represent-australia-at-the-cliburn/

  • Robert Groen says:

    Two points:
    1. The jury’s decision to alter the rules of the competition was ill-advised, however well-intended it may have been.
    2. The young pianist acted like a spoiled brat and for that reason alone did not deserve to win or even stay in the competition.
    And a question: did anyone sound out the other 9 finalists about their feelings? If not, why not?

  • Yoon Sen Lee says:

    I guess you are all really happy now that you have commented on this post. I would like to reiterate that the competitors were not aware that their time has been cut short and that they are only to perform two pieces. One of the organisers behind the stage told Shuan Hern to perform whichever order and to perform all his three pieces just before he went on stage. This is the truth and if you want to continue to blame and talk about egos and hurting words, there is no one to stop you all! I just want to say that I was telling him that if he gets the bell, he continues to play. That was only a joking comment, as he will not be over time and so there will not be any bell anyway. The organisers already said to perform the pieces and only bell when they go over time. So if you want to blame, please do not hurt the teenager! Just blame it on me and my bad joke on telling him to ignore the bell! You may think that I am stupid and ridiculous! Fine then just keep bombarding me! For me, to change the competition rules in the finals is ridiculous and to change to having competitors being belled out in the finals is ridiculous. They never ensure that all competitors get the message that they only play two pieces, or whatever other changes, is ridiculous. Did Zhu Ya Fen or Baldi give us the message about the change? NO! We did not receive in writing because we cannot speak to them and we observed that rule. The other competitors could testify to this. No organizers told us about the rule change. The only problem Shuan Hern had, was to defy the bell when he performed only a few minutes out of the given 25 minutes. Would any proper competition do this? His performance was not so poor that requires a bell and in any case, professionally, jury listens to the entire 25 minutes even if the performance was poor. The main goal of competition is to allow these artists to perform and have an opportunity to share their music with the world. It is never about stopping them just because you want to change the rule in the final. The bell goes only for overtime as stated in the rule and also with all international competitions. If you change rules in the midst of the competition, then this is not fair at all! All finalist could testify to this too. Jury said they informed us but we were not told and we asked the other competitors and they were also not told too! Please understand the true situation! So if you want to blame and keep hurling your arrows! Come at me guys! I was the one who started him on the piano and I was the one preparing him for competitions and I was the one who told a stupid joke to continue playing even when the bell goes, because I never believe the bell will go since we are observing all rules! In all competitions, Shuan Hern has never been given the bell ever, because we never went overtime! So now blame me for my joke to defy the bell which should never have been and it unfairly went on! The time limit was 25 minutes and he was only 7 to 8 minutes into the performance when it went on! I beg you all to stop hurting a young artist who wants to follow rules, perform the music for the jury members and the audience and just be a true musician. He is not an arrogant, nasty person who is as bad as you have commented. Perhaps the only mistake was that he could have played the pieces in a different order and that would help. But the organiser did not inform us of the change and in any case, back to the same issue, how could a competition change rule DURING THE COMPETITION. This shows that we should not have spent time preparing for all the 25 mins repertoire but which was the original rule of the competition. Why waste our time in preparing the pieces and then stop us during our performance? I think this is again ridiculous! I wish the competition all the best and continue to change rules when you need to in the midst of the competition and hopefully you will continue to grow which I believe all Chinese will continue to take part. Perhaps they are used to adapting to rules change with immediate effect even when was not told! Perhaps there is no rule in the first place and that is the rule! The rule is what changes there is during the course and that is the rule to observe. Sorry we have not encountered such a competition rule in our life and now we learn the hard way! Perhaps all other competitions around the world should always change rules when they want to. So for heaven’s sake, inform us all and making sure all finalists or participants know and have received your message officially about the change of rule, whatever your rule and at whichever stage of the competition! For now, continue to blame me for the defying of the bell and don’t hurt the young pianist anymore! Thank you very much for reading this honest and painful message!

  • Shuan Hern Lee says:

    Letter from Shuan Hern Lee:
    Dear Maestro Pompa Baldi,
    I’m very upset for what happened in ShenZhen.
    I found it deeply saddening to read your article on Slippeddisc, especially when its from someone I truly respect. It was only after reading this article, that I have fully understood what has happened. Unfortunately, for us all there was a huge amount of miscommunication and misleading information from the committee.
    To be very honest, I entered this competition only because I believe in and trust the professional opinion of you, as well as a few other international jurys’ reputation. Therefore, we trusted its higher and more reliable level of fairness, thus, deciding to enter my first international competition in China. It was totally unbeknownst to me, that such things would actually happen, from the committee and organisation. I have heard and experienced last minute rule changes in the past, on the scene of international contests, but this was not only a simple rule changing problem. None of this would have happened if we were told that before the final round, we were only allowed to play 2 pieces.
    You are probably extremely surprised to find me acting this way in this week’s competition, and you may think of me as a very arrogant person because I seemingly did not want to leave out the third piece. I am very sorry if I have offended you and the other jury members in this way, as I have never intended to break things up like this. I sincerely apologise solely to you and to the jury members for any disrespect caused. However please understand, that all this could have been avoided, if it were not for the committee’s heavy lack of clear clarification of rule changes.
    Personally, I do not support the idea of last minute changes in rules. I believe that the majority of competitors are like me, studying the rules and regulations very thoroughly, before deciding whether or not to enter, and what repertoire to choose. This is because competitors prepare for months and years, just to compete in less than a handful of international competitions. Changing of rules at the last minute can sometimes be very unfair for certain competitors, as each competitor uses different tactics or strategies in every different competition they enter. If a last minute rule change, unmentioned in the original regulations, applies to all competitors, it may still cause certain competitors’ strategies to be disadvantaged.
    However, my frustration with this competition, does not lie within the fact that the rule changed at the last minute. If the rule changes had been clearly stated to me, even at the last minute, I would most definitely have obeyed. Even if you have been told, or think that what I state in this letter is untrue, the things that you have heard from the people around you and the organisation, may not be the same as what the committee have informed me. I really do not know if you have been told false accusations, from the organisation and committee or from other parties, but i can fully assure you, that we have not spoken a single ‘untrue’ word within this whole issue.
    First of all, we were not informed that every competitor will be playing only the concerto and the chinese piece, and that the third piece will be definitely excluded, in the final round. Below, for proof, is the entire conversation screenshotted from WeChat, that the committee and my mother had. (It will be better if you could find a few chinese people who have good English translation skills, who are not from the organisation, or have anything to

    do with the competition, to translate this.) What you will see, is the last conversation we ever had via message, with the committee.
    I agree to what you said about this being strange, sad and seemingly absurd, and I am honestly sorry that we all feel that way. But please read the clear reasons behind why I behaved like that. ____________________________________________________________
    This is the translation of the conversation:
    29th of April 2019
    6:54 pm
    Committee: Tomorrow’s junior group arrangement:
    The competition starts at 9:00 in the morning. Tomorrow morning, please gather at the North Gate at 8:15 and sign in at 8:30.
    Performer playing order
    First: Concerto
    Second: Chinese works
    If there is enough time, you can play more
    7:08 pm
    Us: Do we have to follow the order? We would like to play the chinese piece first, and then concerto? Is the remaining time still included for our 25 minutes performance? Or is it because of too many competitors so you cut the time short?
    8:11 pm

    Committee: Juries decided.
    (At this stage, they did not directly answer any of our questions at all.)
    8:22 pm
    Us: But there will definitely be 25 mins for everyone’s performance right?
    Because when we first enrolled, We asked few times, and the rules said that the performance order is to be decided by ourselves. But for now order is not important. Will there definitely be 25 mins for us to play? They wont stop us before 25 mins right? Otherwise wouldn’t that be unnecessary to ask us to prepare the last piece in the first place? Please confirm this. Thank you.
    (We asked so many questions, because we needed to know whether or not to still practice Prokofiev toccata for the next day. If they did not state, ‘If there is enough time you can play more’, we wouldn’t ask all these questions.
    8:36 pm, we tried to call them, in order to clarify this issue, but nobody answered the call.
    Us: We are hoping that the committee will not change the rules at the last minute. (We were really hoping to communicate with them.)
    (After one hour we still did not know what to practice for the next morning.)
    9:45 pm Committee: We did not change the rule. It’s just that the Jury members had a meeting and decided. (What did they decided? They did not state.) Because the chinese piece and the concerto, is important for the prizewinning decision, therefore, we need to listen to it first. (They still did not say that the third piece is canceled.)
    9:50pm
    Us: Program order of the pieces won’t matter. But would like to know if we still can have 25 mins to perform? As long as they won’t stop us before we reach 25 mins.
    Committee: Whether or not the bell rings, is up to the chairman of the jury.
    (At this stage, they still have not answered our questions, and did not tell us that we were only allowed to play two pieces.)
    9:56pm
    Us: Did the rules state that(the jury could cut us off within the 25 mins)? (Quoted the repertoire section in the rules, that every performance was maximum 25 mins) So does that mean that you shortened the competitors performance time and changed the regulations? If you ring the bell after the 25 mins when the competitor is still playing, there is no problem. But we do not think it is very fair to ring the bell before 25 mins, because in your regulations, you stated that everyone had a amount of 25 mins to perform.
    (At this point, we asked all this questions because we did not know that everyone had to play ONLY 2 PIECES. We only thought that it was calculated by the jury chairman’s (one person) preferences. We also thought clearly that it was calculated by time, not by the sheer amount of pieces.)
    Committee: Competitor parent. You can contact the chairman of the jury personally and discuss this matter. We are only in charge of notifying the competitors. (This is a very unusual request. Although we do not understand why they want us to communicate with the chairman of the jury directly.)
    Us: Is it possible to communicate with her? (We try to follow the committee’s instructions to clarify the matter.)

    10:02 pm (We felt that this was becoming more confusing, and that we needed clarifications urgently. We needed to confirm this, so that we can mentally and physically prepare for tomorrow’s repertoire. Our competition was scheduled very early in the next morning, and it was already turning late by this point of our conversation.)(Please note, we are foreigners in China, and there is no access to pianos around us to practice in the early morning. Therefore, in the next morning, we only have 20 mins before we go on stage. We really needed to clarify this desperately so that we know what to practice beforehand.)
    Us: If so, please give her(the chairman of the jury panel) contact to me.
    We have entered more than 10 country’s competition. We have met with situations where organisers enter more finalists than the amount planned. But we have never met with situations where the organisation shortened finalist’s repertoire time, due to the extra numbers of finalists. Changing the time in such a last minute manner, is not fair, and not following regulations.
    Because competitors choose repertoire according to repertoire time. Whether it is 20 mins or 25 mins, will have totally different repertoire. We totally understand if you bell us to stop after 25 mins. But to stop us before 25 mins, is not right. We have entered 30+ international competitions. Including Tchaikovsky, Cleveland, etc, but to be this last minute, and to change the time limit, is our first time. “If there is enough time, you can play more” what does this mean? Do these kind of things only happen in China?
    No matter what happens to the results, if the committee does not follow even its own rules, it is very disappointing. (The reason we said this, is because if we knew in advance that we would be solely judged on the chinese piece and concerto, and not the third piece, we would have chosen a much harder chinese piece, instead of ‘Sunflower,’ a simple 2 minute piece. I think it is very normal for us to think that this change might affect the result. We became more asserting, because we really wanted a solid answer, and clarifications like ‘yes’ or ‘no’, which in the end, we never received.)
    10:08 pm
    Committee: The things that you say, we will pass on. However, we never said that we would cut short the time limit. Only that for this competition, these two pieces are the most important, and should be listened first. These few days, there have been many contestants that just played 20 mins. Sometimes, they even went over a bit, and we did not stop them. We are humans not robots.
    (This was one of the most misleading part of this conversation. It sounded to us as if, we were allowed to play all three pieces! If other contestants did not get stopped exceeding the time limit even by a bit, we should be fine! Because our repertoire is definitely under 25 minutes!)
    10:15 pm (However, by now, we still had a hunch that they were going to shorten the time, therefore, we really wanted to make sure that the hunch is either right or wrong, as they still did not directly clarify at all.)
    Us: Originally there was supposed to be only 6 people entering the finals. In the end, there was 10. We have no problem with that at all. But cutting the time limit, changing the rules, has a big problem. If we had known that there were only two pieces, we would have chosen another piece.(instead of sunflower) Competitor’s repertoire and choice of pieces will always be based on the time limit. The choice of pieces or repertoire will definitely affect the result. If we were stopped within our given 25 mins, we will definitely make a complaint. Hope you communicate with the jury chairman, before the finals begin, in order to avoid unfairness.

    Whatever order of the piece, we do not mind. (As long as we get 25 mins to perform)
    Committee: Then you guys can follow the jury’s decision, and perform in order. Regarding to your concern, we will pass it on.
    (We have tried asking questions, probing answers, to no avail. Not even a single ‘yes’ or ‘no’ has been established at this point. What was the jury’s decision? It was never clearly stated. So by this stage in our conversation, we thought that we could play 3 pieces, just that they might cut us off at a shorter time limit than 25. However, unfortunately, we were heavily mislead by the committee and we guessed wrong.)
    Us: But the rules of a system or a game, cannot be changed on the spot. If a game is like that, who will dare to play it? Please pass the message on urgently before the finals.
    (We immediately quoted and sent the picture and from the rule no. 3.) “Competitiors should play from memory. Order of performance should be decided by competitors themselves.”
    Actually you have changed two rules, our chinese piece is only suitable to play as the first piece.
    (They did not reply whether if our statements and questions were correct or not. After this, we did not get any more messages from them, and nothing they had said, clearly stated that anything was confirmed.) ___________________________________________________________
    On the day of the performance, I still practiced the toccata,(3rd piece) in the morning. When we arrived there, and we asked one of the organisers in the front desk, “We actually have some concerns, about what is going to happen today. You know that we had a discussion last night about the repertoire. What was the final decision?”
    Very arrogantly, the chinese lady in the white dress, smirked and said “If you have any problems, you can talk to the jury now, while the jury is walking off during the 5 minutes break!”
    By entering so many international competitions before, we knew we are not supposed to talk to any jury members before the competition ends. So we did not approach the jury members, even if we were completely able to, and we followed competition rule no.5, which is normally the same rule in the majority of all international piano competitions. Until now, we still do not understand why the committee pushed us to talk to the jury members directly even before the competition ended rather than simply stating the change of new rules. (First in WeChat, and the second time in that instance.)
    As I went backstage, I immediately consulted a lady there who was listed as part of the committee members. (Whose name I do not want to reveal in public, although I would be more than happy to send you her name privately, from the back pages of the competition program, under the heading of ‘committee members’.) I asked her, if it was acceptable to perform the Sunflower first, Toccata second, and then the Rachmaninoff 3rd concerto. I wanted this order, so that the jury members, can hear all of the three pieces, and if there was not ‘enough time,’ in case, they could cut off the ending of my concerto, which I would much rather. At that time, I was only thinking that the time may be shortened, not knowing how much I was mislead.

    Please understand, that if I knew, that everyone could ONLY play 2 pieces, I would
    never have performed my Toccata, and I would never even ask the committee member this question. She answered, “Yes no problem. It’s fine. As you wish.” This was the first clear clarification I have ever received regarding this matter from the organisation.
    During my performance, after I finished the chinese piece, I was surprised to hear the bell only after few bars of my toccata. I thought, “I hadn’t even reached 4 mins of my performance, and they tried to stop me.” I hope you understand and can see from my point of view, that under that stress and confusion, left from the night before, I chose an extreme choice. I was completely not aware that they only wanted to hear the two set works; the concerto and the chinese piece, and that the third piece was completely unnecessary. However at that exact instance, I did not think it fair, to stop my performance only at 4 mins, so I continued and went on, and decided to successfully finish my toccata, then to stop. Maybe in another time, in another situation, I would have stopped straight away. But I must clarify one thing. At that time, my actions and choice not to stop, was purely out of confusion that was caused previously, and it had nothing to do with anything else, such as disrespect, arrogance, etc. I apologise if it was viewed as anything other than that.
    Previously, in many competitions, there will be bell rings, and that is completely normal, as long as it is stated from the beginning and in advance, in the rule. For example, I competed in Gina Bachauer, competition heats, and they wrote many months beforehand in the competition regulations, that in the heats, they would actually stop me with a bell ring, when they have heard enough. This, I have also experienced many times in other international auditions and competitions. All these years, I have followed these rules to the end. I can once again assure you, that my actions did not stem from arrogance or lack of humility.
    ———————————————————————————————
    We have fully expressed our concern to the committee the night before the finals. We do not think we have spoken or written aggressively. We do not believe that we were wrong to fully communicate and share our concerns with the committee. However, the committee ignored us in the end, and never clearly spoke about the new rule changes. I’m not sure what the committee told you about what they notified us. But there was certainly no sentence saying ‘we will only hear the two pieces and the third piece will not be needed’ at all. My point, is that what they had told us, was extremely vague, as you can see, and that it was never even close to coming to a clear conclusion.
    About “Having heard nothing further, we thought that Shuan Hern begrudgingly accepted this request” as you can see now, is not true from the evidence of our conversation. It would be more factual to say that the committee arrogantly disregarding our continuous spamming of questions and requests to clarify things. We were the ones sending the last message, requesting clarification, and not receiving any. We never even had any clear statement in detail about the new rules.
    Moreover, why did the organisation, on WeChat, post that my mother and I had ‘on multiple occasions tried to contact the jury members privately before the competition and broke rule no.5’? This is not true at all. Do they have any solid evidence? You are probably the only person that I’ve met most, (3 times in my life, all under strict competition circumstances) on the jury panel. The last time I even talked to you and Maestro Slutsky was in E-piano 2 years ago! Other than that, I have never said a single word to any other jury members on the panel before.

    As you may know, I have entered many international piano competitions, and few of which, the jury may change the rules, etc. But, the problem does not lie in that. The problem, lies in the confusion that the organisation and committee’s communication causes. If the new rules were clearly reinstated, we would not impose or question them of rule changes, because in that case, we would have known that the finals performance duration, is calculated by pieces and not by time limit, which will be quite fair for all competitors. In comparison to having the chairman of the jury solely choosing when to stop us during the performance, as we were clumsily explained to, by the committee.
    Regarding to, “This disrespect continued afterwards on social media, where he started spewing venom about how this was a sort of conspiracy to deprive him of the chance to win.” I would like to ask you if you can ask the committee to prove this from our WeChat posts? All we were saying was that we did not care about the prize, as we wanted the fairness and the respect, but that is because we did not know the new rule, until we read your letter, as we thought we were mistreated by the whole competition. There was absolutely nothing about depriving me of the chance to win, and would be more than interested if the committee would show us any evidence of this.
    In conclusion, I hope you understand, that I am not acting as an arrogant person, or an angry complainer. I had no idea that the jury members were told that all the competitors have already been notified to ‘play only two pieces’. After reading your letter in Slipped- disc, only then did I realised that this situation was nothing more than a victim of circumstances, or misleading information, which could have been easily avoided by the committee members. I meant absolutely no disrespect to the jury panel, and what I did on stage, was definitely not out of arrogance and disrespect, to you or the jury panel. Rather, it was out of confusion. I honestly did not hear the chairman or anyone’s voices, above noises of the audience and the piano. I apologies profoundly. Nevertheless, all that I am humbly and simply requesting now, that we clear this confusion up together.
    To be honest, It really hurts me in the heart to see such competitions like this, where people can see that the way the committee communicated with us, was in a very unclear and misleading way. I think that because of this, it is perfectly normal for the public to be suspicious of the committee.
    Moreover, I realise that I will be under a lot of media attack, from showing in this letter that the committee is wrong and questionable in their actions. However I just want to state, that in order to establish a fair, transparent and successful competition, the committee, has to be able to give the exact same, and extremely clear instructions, rules and regulations beforehand, especially for last minute changes, to both the jury, and to the competitors, in order to avoid miscommunications and confusions like this.
    Nonetheless, I strongly agree with what you said about talent and ability and should go hand in hand with humility and kindness, and I will continue to strive for this in life. However sometimes, things around you can take the matter out of your hands, and swirl and twist it too far, thus completely blotting out the real reasons behind your actions in the first place.
    This letter’s only motive, is to clarify this situation. I whole heartedly apologise solely to you and to the jury members, for reacting in an extreme way. Regretfully, I must strongly state, once again, that none of this would have happened, if it were not for the organisation and committee’s poor and incompetent communication skills.

    Thank you very much for your time and understanding. Yours sincerely,
    Shuan Hern Lee

  • John says:

    The jury’s behavior was appalling.

    Not just changing the rules because they couldn’t do their job.

    But heckling the pianist while playing a 4 minute piece…

    I hear this Antonio Pompa-Baldi is a political animal. Never heard of him before today.

    I hope he has exposed for what he is.

    This letter is aimed to wound or destroy Shuan Hern Lee who is not yet an adult.

    SHAME SHAME SHAME

  • René says:

    I fear this young artist might be at the beginning of a severe mental illness. When nobody can understand why a person is behaving the way they are, that’s suspicious.

  • Emily says:

    Lesson for future competitors: don’t compete in China. Evidently the rules aren’t concrete, which indicates the competition is less likely to be judged objectively.

  • Rubens says:

    The boy is crazy like a fox. Now people will remember him.

  • MP says:

    “Something very sad happened today in Shenzhen”- yes, the saddest thing that happened is the fact that Mr. Pompa-Baldi decided to abuse his power as the chairman of the jury against a 16 year old contestant, AND he tried to destroy the teenage pianist by posting it on social media.
    No integrity whatsoever. Disgusting.

    • Carlos says:

      1. You obviously did not read the story at all. 2. Pompa-Baldi was not the “chairman of the jury” but rather Zhu Yafen, but because you didn’t read the story I can understand your comment

      • MP says:

        Oh, excuse me. But it doesn’t change the fact that he was abusing his power as a jury member and he went public, knowing full well how destructive it that could be. Are you familiar with competitions???

  • Zhao says:

    I’m just trying to imagine, a 16 year-old competitor playing his program on stage of the final round of an international competition, got the bell rang after 5 minutes and was confused for reasons, did not stop in the middle of his short second piece, got claps/shouts from audience who, after hearing the bell also tried to stop him in the middle of his short second piece…till 2 minutes later when he was done that short second piece, three security staff went up stage and forced the teenage pianist stop his performance, escort him off the stage … such a painful scene. no one for any reason deserves being treated this way.

  • Andrew James says:

    What a legend. Break the system! This is what the classical music world desperately needs.

  • Andrew says:

    What is really the sad thing here is that a composer’s work and a performance was cut short by a bell and a loudspeaker, and art was taken second place to bureaucracy by officials They should have let him finish the piece and then banned him from the competition altogether if he flouted the rules sure punish him but not to punish Prokofiev please!

  • Sarah Jonson says:

    It is a very sad and unfortunate situation. I am not surprised at all that it actually happened in China, where you can pay to get practically everything. Just recently a Chinese young woman was discovered to have paid 6.5 million U.S. dollars to an agent to get a place in Stanford University. An estimated 70% of Chinese students’ visas have to be cancelled due to their inability to continue in the Western educational systems.

    In contrast, the Chinese students who went to study overseas in the seventies, eighties and early nineties were mostly outstanding young people, who had to struggle to get scholarships and to be completely independent to make a new life. They are now in service of humanity in all continents.

    Competitions of all kinds have been commercialised and in many cases corrupted. I wonder how ethical the specific competition was, from the organisers, adjudicators to the sponsors. Why were the finalists increased from six to ten? Did someone pay too big a sum to be denied entry into the final?

    I took a specific interest in this case as I have a child of similar age who also has been learning piano. Personally I would never take my child to China for any competition. This is too traumatic for any young people to bea. Only God knows how much hard work and sacrifice this poor Lee child has gone through even to get to this place.

    Music is the language of the soul. It is a beautiful gift from heaven. Let’s all strive to keep it pure, uncontaminated by this world. I feel quite certain that the adjudicator who wrote the article is genuine and unaware of the complicated situation in China.

    I would also want to convey a message to Lang Lang. I have read your book many years ago and I cried for your circumstance, your perseverance and your attainment of success. You are one of our favourite family pianists and my child watched many of your Youtube videos for inspiration.

    What I want to express is: Please always remember where you came from and and the journey you have traversed. Fame and material abundance is not the purpose of our existence. Please remember that there are many little Lang Langs like you around the world, who cherish the same dream like you. For curiosity, I watched a few videos of Shuan Hern Lee, I am astonished at how similarly he performed like you in style. I would not be surprised that you are his role model.

    I would also like to convey a message to all who were involved in the competition. First of all, it was a great service that you have performed to create this opportunity for these talented people. However, for every action, there is a reaction. The universe is never static. At the end of our journey, we all have to face ourselves, our own conscience. Look within and your heart will tell you the truth.

    Finally, I would like to leave a few words with Shuan Hern Lee. No matter what happens, life goes on. You have great talent. Do not give up. If you are a star, you will always shine. No leaf and no cloud will be permanent to block out your light. Have faith, like the bird who knows that the dawn is coming, even though it is still dark all around you.

    Kind Regards to all who feel and think deeply,

    Sarah Jonson

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