Pianistic Robots are Created by Competitions. Many aspiring pianists have competed in competitions. So what is it about competitions that can turn piano players in robots? I like to quote David Dubal. One of my favorite books is his Reflections from the Keyboard. He interviews quite a group of great pianists in compiling the book.
David Dubal (born Cleveland, Ohio) is an American pianist, teacher, author, lecturer, broadcaster, and painter.[1 Dubal has given piano recitals and master classes worldwide. He has also judged international piano competitions. Included are the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition).
Dubal’s interview with Jorge Bolet is particularly enlightening. Bolet was born in Havana. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Later he taught at Curtis from 1939 to 1942. His teachers included Leopold Godowsky, Josef Hofmann, David Saperton, Moriz Rosenthal and Fritz Reiner.
He relates the three most important factors of any concert: Composer, performer and the paying audience. Competitions only have the 1st two. Competitions have done away with the public audience. Incidentally, so has recording and playing on youtube. Mechanical adjustments, corrections and the artifial assembly of many takes are possible. Now I will quote Bolet:
How Pianistic Robots are Created
“A young pianist enters a big international competition.There are 15 judges, roughly. The pianists have to get 15 votes. At least that is their aim. They cannot play anything that is going to antagonize any of these 15 people in any way. They cannot do anything that could be considered controversial by any one of them. They cannot do anything that could be considered a personal idea. So, as a result, you hear one, ten,thirty young pianists and they are all alike.They all have exactly the same approach. You never hear anything that you haven’t heard many times before.”
My own piano instructor was Mischa Kottler. He paid an unexpected visit to our family when he was reaching his mid-90’s. My wife and children will never forget the experience. He flew unaccompanied to Sarasota from Detroit. He had on a light blue, French beret. It was as if he had just gotten off the plane from Paris. He studied there in the 1920’s under Alfred Cortôt. Later he went to Vienna and studied with a pupil of Liszt- Emil von Sauer. When you listen to his version of the Minute Waltz, you’ll get an idea of his capabilities- even in his 90’s. He played this waltz for our family. Incidentally, I offer piano lessons in Sarasota.