Perfection or Artistry?

Most musicians can probably relate to Sébastian Jacot who, as posted by Slipped Disc yesterday, was eliminated from the Concours de Genève, one of the world’s leading international classical music competitions. Jacot, when asked how he played, said “The only problem was that in this competition they are looking for technical perfection with a bit a music and I played music with a bit of perfection”.

In all the competitions, auditions, and juried recitals I’ve ever taken, I don’t think as the adjudicated I was ever privy to how I was judged. Is technical skill worth 30%, 40% of my score? How important is musicality? Intonation? Are judges open to my interpretation if it is not what they have heard before, or do they want to hear it the way they have heard it in other performances/on other recordings? Or do they expect to only hear the rendition agreed by musicologists who have studied every measure, compares multiple scores and decided that in measure 50 that moment should absolutely be played sforzando at a tempo of quarter note equals 116?

Picking repertoire by historical period is also its own conundrum. Some of the most opinionated, frank advice I was ever given was to avoid playing baroque, particularly Bach, if it can be avoided in a competition – especially the Partita in a minor. The spectrum of opinions on how to the play this piece is wide and vast. Not knowing what the judges will expect to hear and playing one’s own interpretation is like gambling at the slots.

What I took away from this is that Sebastian is a baller musician. He played subjectively interpretative music, under pressure, on a wood flute whose functionality is subject to the whim of the environment, under pressure, from memory. Not only that, he played his heart out, and was unapologetic about it.

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