Preludia - Unofficial website for Rafal Blechacz


Dec 21, 2010

Interview by Krystian Zimerman/ Andrzej Jasinski

Interview by Krystian Zimerman about the Chopin Competition of 2010, carried by Ongaku-no-tomo, a music magazine in Japan, December 2010 issue.
Interviewer: Shinichiro Okabe, Professor of Meiji University and music critic.

This article is nothing to do with Rafał Blechacz.  But for those who showed interest in the topic, I’m posting it.

It was late in October that Krystian Zimerman called me saying that he has something that he needs to talk about this year’s Chopin Competition.  It was just after the competition ended and the news of Julianna Avdeeva’s winning quickly got around the world.  Zimerman remained in Tokyo after completing his tour with Hagen Quartet to play pieces by Bacewicz and Schuman.  He was about to leave the next morning and I met him the previous day that he is returning to Europe.
Words began to pour from his lips as though a dam inside him had broken.  He has already organized the points.  This year no Japanese contestant was able to be qualified for the final and he said he wanted to refer to that, too.

Zimerman: Thank you for coming with such a short notice.  First let me say that this year’s competition, there was a situation that I must describe as quite complicated and abnormal.  During the competition, I kept contacts with some twenty people of various kinds: those who were at the Hall of the Competition and directly heard the performances, those reliable critics who have good ears, some close friends, and others who heard the Competition via TV and the Internet.  I was staying in Tokyo, watching carefully how it was in the Competition and I immediately noticed one thing;
“The sound that now I’m hearing via microphone is different from the sound of live performance in Warsaw".  I have a thorough knowledge of how the Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw sounds and how the piano on that stage sounds, because I played there many times.  You must express extremely clear in order to communicate your interpretation accurately to listeners.  For example, a small crescendo doesn’t make difference in that environment.  Sometimes you must use an exaggerated expression.  The performance, then, is broadcast.  Microphone captures each sound and the reverberation and other elements are adjusted.  The music thus conveyed through speaker systems becomes an “exaggerated” music.  So the music delivered to those who listen to the performances on TV or via the Internet becomes different from the live performances.  In reality, there were many who listened to the final stage of the Competition through broadcast felt that “it is not right.  The judgment is wrong”.  But those who were at the Hall to listen to the live performances didn’t understand why so many people were opposed to the verdict. “What’s the problem? “ they thought, believing that the verdict was reasonable. 

Then the controversy happened.  It’s natural.  The fact was that two different versions of the Competition were heard.  Those who heard the performances only with Net or TV didn’t notice it.  But for me it was clear.  The sound by broadcast is different from the raw sound at the hall.  The sound that performers created on the stage disappeared because artificial corrections were added.  Therefore, I won’t give any evaluation to the current competition, because what I was able to hear was only the “different version”.  I will therefore, avoid citing each contestant’s name.

However, when I see people criticize the result of the judgment while others endorsing it, the observation gave me a lot of materials to consider from many points of view.  It could be that those who heard performances only through media without exposed to the live performances came to make wrong evaluation, which I think is important point to consider.

---It could be safely said that Japanese audience is fortunate, although being very far from Warsaw, because in January there will be concerts here participated by this year’s laureates and they will be able to hear their performances directly.  You can make sure each performer and understand his/her music.

Zimerman: Secondly, how a competition should be, what kind of possibility it provides or how it should not be.  My belief is that a competition should not be a tool to decide future course of a pianist.  Any competition cannot play such a role.  Actually, the Chopin Competition in Warsaw shouldn’t pretend that they can accomplish the impossible.  Of course they don’t believe that they can do it.  Needless to say, all the judges are with excellent insights, pianists of exceptional talent, active in the first line.  Andrzej Jasinski is a man of integrity and there is no doubt about it. He clearly articulates what he believes in.He asserts what he thinks is right, never bending his principle if it may embarrass others.It is absolutely impossible to buy the award of the Chopin Competition by money.

--It is true.  It is very different from an international sports event that we’ve heard recently.  (laughing)

Zimerman:  Setting aside joking, as far as the Chopin Competition is concerned, I strongly believe that there is no room of such a wrongdoing.  But when I talked with him on the phone recently, he confessed that judging this year’s competition was extremely difficult.  Actually, all the finalists were talented to be qualified for winning the crown of victory.  Each talent differs, of course.  Their talents extend toward many different directions, but judges have to decide who comes first, then the second and third, etc, putting diversified talents onto the linear scale.  What they had to do was to forcefully plot three-dimensional dots of talents onto the one-dimensional order.  If you look at the awardees of special prizes, the Sonata Award went to the first placer, whereas the other awards for Mazurkas, Polonaise and Concerto were given to different contestants.  This is the evidence of how the finalists were equally matched in ability.  Of course the winner was recognized as a very excellent pianist.  But the other musicians of runner-ups and below were equally excellent and it was significantly difficult to tell who is best or better.  Therefore it entailed the very difficult problem.  They had to decide who is the first, second and the third. But I’m wondering if it was something that should not be done.  I would like to ask the question to many people.  Is it so important for you that a pianist is recognized in a competition as the first placer or second/third?  Is the ranking so important?

--True, in journalism, what is taken up first is who is the winner and what is the ranking.  Journalists have to writes in a limited space and this kind of attitude is often seen in the press.

Zimerman: Of course people in the business and managers who pay close attention to the result of the competition argue that the winner sells by far the better than the second/third placers.  If they invite a musician of second or third award, it cannot attract audience.  Listeners want to hear the winner’s performance, they say.  But it seems to me that everyone tries to shift the responsibility concerning the competition onto someone else.  Rather than that, we all must play our roles.  Managers should take more challenging way rather than contain themselves to secured path.  A good practice is shown in Japan where all the finalists are invited to play in one concert.

--In order to give an opportunity to all the players.

Zimerman: Yes, that’s correct.  And I also would like the audience to think about this.  Generally speaking, the difference between a pianist of the first prize, and second or third prize is very small.  It is so negligible that you cannot tell who is the best or this pianist is second.  Therefore, it could be said that the verdict done by judges of a competition may not be so important. 

--Actually, we’ve seen situations in which a winner of a prestigious competition ended up falling into obscurity whereas pianists of the second/third places have developed a very great career.  The list goes on and on. 

Zimerman: And each listener should go to concerts to listen directly to and make his/her own evaluation to each talent. 

(From here, Zimerman talks about why Japanese contestants were not able to be promoted to the third round.  He says that the Japanese didn’t understand for what purpose they were on the stage to play music.  Their mind was full of themselves.  They simply forgot to communicate with music to the listeners.  I’m not going into detail.)

Zimerman: …Those who didn’t reach the final stage are not losers.  We must not regard them as losers who reached that level and were able to be on the stage of the Chopin Competition…..Take for example, there are 100 participants in a competition.  As a result of verdict, one person is decided as winner.  But does this mean the remaining 99 pianists are losers?  Not limited to these 99.  Think about their families, teachers and friends. So many people could be made unhappy by the result when they stick to one point; I (he/she) was not able to win.

--If this is the case, the competition doesn’t make sense.

Zimerman; A competition must not be a tool to hurt someone.  But it is not reasonable to try to discontinue all the competitions.  Do you have an alternative?  After all the competitions are abolished, what do you think can fill the huge void?  First we must understand this problem before going into an extreme discussion, otherwise it is dangerous.  Because there is a competition, there are many young people making utmost effort to try to win.  I know a great many young musicians who make a leap frog of development in the three months period before the competition.  So what is important here is how we should deal with various issues in relation to a competition.
(To be continued to the next issue of Ongaku-no-tomo, which I’ve not yet read.)

Monthly Chopin, another music magazine carried in its December 2010 issue, a full-fledged special of this year’s Competition.  It includes detailed interviews with nine judges.  Naturally, they all make a statement to protect legitimacy of the result.  This is the initial part of the interview with Andrzey Jasinski.

--Are you satisfied with the result?
Yes, but let me say that all the judges had different opinions.  Please understand the majority’s opinion brought out the result. To the winner, seven judges put the first place and five judges put second place.  The way of reaching the verdict is democratic.

--How do you think about Avdeeva’s winning?
Of course I agree with the result which was decided by all the judges.  I have no intention to talk about my personal opinion here. She is a good pianist.  But let me say that if I look back the past experiences when Zimerman, Argerich and Blechacz won, this year’s winner does not reach that level. She showed various musical interpretations, and sometimes I felt she added too excessive interpretations in some rhythms such as tenuto and the way to decrease tempos…..She maintained a certain high level of performance in all the stages including the laureates’ concert and performance in front of the president.


  1. Thank you for posting these interviews and congratulations for this wonderful website.

  2. By the way, maybe you know it, but I have found something very interesting. In the following link you can still watch the video of Blechacz's recital in Verbier Festival 2008:

  3. I would like to pay respect to Zimerman's effort, albeit there is no answer that can satisfy everyone.

    As for the video, let me think about it for a while.
    Thank you, anyhow.

  4. Probably I'll use this info on FB. Thanks!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.