Judges of the ASTA Solo Competition share the view from their seats

By Karen Peterson

Judges of the ASTA Solo Competition share the view from their seats

As the six laureate finalists in the ASTA 2015 National Solo Competition prepare for their March 20 performance, the judges do the same. It’s not easy judging fine players, as cellist and competition chair Jeffrey Solow, violist Leslie Harlow, cellist Thomas Landschoot, violinist Eduard Schmieder, and bassist DaXun Zhang told Strings. As Schmieder indicated, judging musicians who are competing on different instruments “is extremely difficult.”

Still, that’s the assignment, and each is approaching the task with an open mind and heart, the latter playing a prominent role: Technical skills, while foremost on any musical judging scale, shares billing with, notes Harlow, “how well the player can reach the audience emotionally.”

 

Cellist Jeffrey Solow, chair of the 2015 ASTA National Solo Competition

Jeffrey Solow copy 2

Recitalist, soloist, chamber musician, educator, recording artist, and writer Jeffrey Solow has performed throughout the world with orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Japan Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the American Symphony (with whom he also recorded).  He is professor of cello and chamber music at Temple University’s Esther Boyer College of Music and Dance, has served as president of ASTA, and is the president of the Violoncello Society, Inc.

1. What are the challenges that you face as a judge?

In addition to the usual judging challenge of balancing technical excellence with interpretation, musical communication, and individual personality, the final round of this competition has violin, viola, cello, and harp so the judges have to make a decision among apples and oranges, so to speak.

2. What do you look for in a great competition performance?

Judges look for technical excellence, beautiful tone, intelligent and informed interpretative decisions, plus personality and communication.

3. In what way do competitions benefit all participants, not just the winners?

Competition in the world of professional music, as it is in many aspects of life, is an unavoidable fact. The live round of the competition provides experience for the laureate finalists in putting their musical message across even under intense pressure. Those entrants who were not selected to perform in the live finals received invaluable comments and constructive feedback from our distinguished online judges.

4. Any thoughts, tips in general that you can offer for players facing upcoming competitions?

Play the music the way you think it should go, not the way you think that the judges want to hear it. Prepare! Play through your repertoire for experienced older musicians and for your friends and student colleagues. No matter how much you practice, you can gain performance experience only by performing.

Violist Leslie Harlow

Leslie Harlow

Recording artist and solo and chamber-music performer Harlow is founder of the Beethoven Festival in Park City, Utah, and the Park City Film Music Festival.  She is a graduate of Juilliard and has taught viola and coached chamber music at Brigham Young University, Weber State University, and Utah Valley University; served as director for the University of Utah’s Virtuoso Series; was principal violist with Ballet West for 12 years; and performed full-time with the Utah Symphony for four years.

1. What are the challenges that you face as a judge?

As judges, we will each be bringing opinions on what we feel makes for a quality performance. That is why we are chosen as judges. Still, I want to be as open-minded as possible on interpretation and style, so that I will be fair to all the artists. We will be looking for technical skill and beautiful sound, for sure. The challenge for me in comparing the competing artists’ performances will be focusing on remembering the actual sound and technical abilities of each player as we are presented with performance after performance.

2. What do you look for in a great competition performance? 

Technical ability and sound are a given. The most important criteria for me are effective phrasing and timing—how well the player can reach the audience emotionally.

3. In what way do competitions benefit all participants, not just the winners?

There is nothing like preparing a work for competition or recording. Once you have conquered the technical difficulties and that concern is out of the way, there is so much more freedom to be enjoyed when you get to perform the work for a live audience. Competitions give us the opportunity to prepare with every aspect of the performance in mind.

4. Any thoughts, tips in general that you can offer for players facing upcoming competitions?

Early on, begin by recording yourself in order to get a true perspective of how your passages are coming off. Also, perform often for others throughout your preparation, so you become comfortable performing for anyone, anytime. It is good, even after you know a work quite well, to practice the entire work half tempo to solidify and reconfirm each fingering and shift, as well as any other technical and interpretive plans you want to present.

Cellist Thomas Landschoot

Thomas Landschoot

An international concert and recording artist and pedagogue, Landschoot is also an avid chamber musician, performing with the Takacs Quartet and members of the Cleveland, Vermeer, and Auduban quartets. He is a founding member of the Taman Trio in Europe, Chamber Ensemble Bloomington in Japan, and the Trio Du Soleil in Arizona, where he is also artistic director of the Sonoran Chamber Music Festival and the president of the Arizona Cello Society. Landschoot joined the faculty of Arizona State University in 2001 after having taught at the University of Michigan. He received the Herberger College of Fine Arts Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005, and has been on the faculty of Shieh Chien University in Taipei since 2008. 

1. What are the challenges that you face as a judge?

A competition is a one-time judgment, not an assessment for a longterm career. I try to listen with an open mind and follow my instinct.

2. What do you look for in a great competition performance?

I look for those special transformative moments that carry the audience away.

3. In what way do competitions benefit all participants, not just the winners?

The preparation for a competition is very intense and a great way to boost every participants’ performance abilities.

4. Any thoughts, tips in general that you can offer for players facing upcoming competitions?

Be free from your instrument—concentrate on the communicative power of music. But always remember: Preparation is key!

 

Violinist Eduard Schmieder

Eduard Schmieder

Schmieder is a Carnell Distinguished Professor of Violin and Artistic Director for Strings at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music in Philadelphia. He is music director/conductor of iPalpiti faculty, Mozarteum Summer Academy, in Salzburg, Germany. Schmieder has been a jury member of international competitions, including the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition of Belgium; the Premio Paganini International Violin Competition in Genoa, Italy; the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition in Finland; the Leopold Mozart International Violin Competition in Augsburg, Germany, and the Pablo Sarasate International Competition in Pamplona, Spain, among others.

1. What are the challenges that you face as a judge?

As a judge of numerous major international competitions over the years, I will point out at least two challenges: Music competitions are fashioned after athletic competitions, where it is easy to determine who is running faster, lifting heavier weights, or knocking down an opponent.

If we assume that all judges in music competitions are highly qualified individuals of integrity, the result still may be matter of opinion. Also, competition in which musicians compete on different instruments is extremely difficult to judge. Let’s imagine that in the same competition we would listen to Heifetz playing violin, Piatigorsky, cello, and Horowitz, piano. Whom would we prefer?

2. What do you look for in a great competition performance?

Most and first of all, I am looking for the individuality and vivid artistry supported by advanced technique. The performer has to have ideas, communicate passionately, and possess technique to deliver.

3. In what way do competitions benefit all participants, not just the winners?

Participants who are not successful in competition may benefit from vigorous preparation, experience in playing in front of judges, and listening to the  performances of  their peers.

4. Any thoughts, tips in general that you can offer for players facing upcoming competitions?

As a teacher of winners in international competitions, my advice is to prepare as well as possible; have a definite musical point of view; and perform as if you are doing so for an actual audience. It is rarely possible to please every judge. Continue to practice passionately regardless of outcome.

 

Double Bassist DaXun Zhang

DaXun Zhang

DaXun Zhang was the youngest artist to win the International Society of Bassists Solo Competition in 2001 and was the first double-bass player to win the Young Concert Artists International Auditions. In 2007, he was awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant. Zhang has appeared as a soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Lukes, the Tokyo Symphony, the Pacific Symphony, and the Orchestra of the Americas. He also makes frequent appearances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and has performed extensively with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Zhang studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

1. What are the challenges that you face as a judge?

It is difficult for me to put a number on music performance. Different players have different strengths and weaknesses. Someone might be technically perfect but lacks in musicality, or someone else might be very musical but plays out of tune sometimes.

2. What do you look for in a great competition performance?

Just like any other great performances, the ability to communicate with the audience.

3. In what way do competitions benefit all participants, not just the winners?

Preparing for a competition intensively will accelerate the speed of improvement for any serious participants. It creates very specific goals and adds pressure to the participants on their daily practice, and it forces them to better focus on the details.

4. Any thoughts, tips in general that you can offer for players facing upcoming competitions?

I would suggest practicing outside of the practice room. Find a hall or a big room to practice in, because most competitions will probably take place in a space of that size. It feels very different to play in a hall compared to a practice room. Participants may prepare very well in a practice room, but they may get intimidated when performing onstage in a bigger space, and it may cost them their hard work. So, get used to the feeling of performing in a big space. It might help with reducing stage fright for the competition.

Comments