Pianos, Bows, Violins and the Language of Performance

I have been listening to the Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia on ABC Classic FM.

The Competition started on 4 July and goes through to 21 July. It is open to pianists of any nationality who are over 17 and under 31 on 4 July 2012.

Thirty-six competitors were chosen to participate in the competition. At present 20 competitors remaining in the Competition (the Quarter Finalists) after Stages I and II are aiming to be in the next selection phase of 12 competitors (Semi Final).

In the Quarter Final the competitors were required to perform a 40 minute recital that comprised:

  • One sonata by Haydn, or Clementi or Mozart.
  • One commissioned work by an Australian composer (either Carl Vine’s Toccatissimo or Anne Boyd’s Kabarli Meditation (Dawn)).
  • The remainder of the program will be own choice of works by one or more composers other than the composer of the sonata chosen.

Performances are being judged by an international jury of nine members chaired by Warren Thomson.

I thought it was interesting that the Competition is 17 days in length and it prompted me to think about the parallels between a sport Olympiad and a Piano Olympiad. Listening to ABC Classic FM’s commentators discussing each performance encouraged me to think about the language of performance in music and sport. I wondered how both addressed Claude Debussy’s observation that “music is the space between the notes”.

My thinking about the language of performance was stimulated further by a reading of a chapter (The Stingl Arrives) from Thad Carhart‘s book The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier.

At half time in the day’s competition I caught a delightful podcast in Radio National’s Top of the Pods. In it the Made in Ireland program on Noel Burke and Michiel de Hoog was broadcast. Noel is a bow maker from Carlow and was trained in Paris to be a French bow maker. He makes handcrafted bows using delicate tools that shape South American Pernambuco, a wood so rare that it is on an endangered list. Michiel makes violins in the Design Centre in Dublin. He combines a remarkable range of woods and other materials to produce bespoke instruments.

I was fascinated by the way in which Noel and Michiel spoke about their crafts. I wondered if we had a language in sport to describe athletes and coaches that was akin to knowing about the performance characteristics of materials when they were combined.

Noel and Michiel work in a field whose standards were set in a golden age by the Gasparo da Salò, Giovanni Paolo Maggini, Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati families from the 16th to the 18th century in Brescia and Cremona.

Photo Credits

Piano

Violin 77/365

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