Alexander Tutunov on the Int’l Competition
Recently, we asked artist, and former president of the jury his thoughts on the Seattle International Piano Competition. We thank Dr. Tutunov for his thoughts and insights:
I feel incredibly fortunate to be involved, in various capacities with the wonderful SIPF and its creators, continuously since the First edition and now, in the Ninth! The highest level of integrity in the way it is run is a biggest factor. Attention to detail, clock-work perfect, precision work in communication, logistics, advertising but, most of all, making sure everyone involved, on both sides, feels taken good care of and special.
I often brag about SIPF to other musicians in the field by highlighting the unique features that attracted me to this great event and that will continue to attract many aspiring pianists, of all ages. Those are, in my opinion:
1) the perfect blend of complete anonymity to the jurors, as in truly “blind auditions”, as the judges are seated behind the curtain and have no access to any information about the performers, and at the same time, completely open, live, real-time availability to an audience of the above performance. In fact, the audience gets to choose the favorite performer, too! And often, the jury and the audience are in agreement.
2) the organizers went an extra step, many times, to ensure the anonymity (which is synonymous with the objectivity!): one of my favorite examples was when a runner-rug was put between the entrance to the stage and the piano, so that the judges could not hear what kind of shoes the performers wore!
2) There’s no discussion between the jurors until the voting is completed, which I find very helpful in making the most objective decision.
3) The format of the Final round is compact and agile – the performers don’t have to spend days or even long hours to find out the names of the laureates. Everything happens on the same day, for each category.
4) One of the first competitions in the industry, the SIPF had a great idea to offer a free, 15-minute program, leaving the choices to the participants. I personally see this as a fantastic opportunity for each contestant to demonstrate their ability to present them in the most favorable light and to demonstrate their respective strengths fully. In current times, where a lot of people play at an amazingly high level, this is the perfect chance to prove that you are not just a stellar pianist, but the complete performer, artist, musician, entrepreneur, promoter of your talent and of your favorite music. Please, do not return to more stringent structure, there are already enough of those kind of competitions!
5) Extra prizes! For the most observant applicants, there’s a bonus (or three): each edition will typically offer a number of special prizes (for example, one year there was a Karol Maciej Szymanowski award, or the Best Chopin interpretation, best Baroque work (not just Bach!), or the Tatiana Shebanova Award, honoring an outstanding musician, pianist and pedagogue. What beautiful way to broaden and promote select repertoire or a pianistic school.
6) Home stays.
7) Very supportive atmosphere – it feels more like a festival than a competition, which cuts off some unnecessary pressure. The artists, musicians included, are faced with more rejections in the course of one year than most “regular” people receive during their whole lifetime. Often, it is damaging and can easily hinder a developing master-in-the-making. I never felt even a hint of this feeling in the air at SIPF. People feel they come to the right place for the right reason – to share their passion for music and piano!
Question: Many judges still want to hear some contrasts in styles in the audio presentations: what is your advice to future applicants?
Answer: it is already in the very nature of the event with the “free repertoire” component: plan very smart! As a contestant, you will want to show your ability to be versatile and at home with various styles; to be an educator, or promoter of the music that you feel you are the champion of; to demonstrate your strength and ability to control your technique (i.e. tone production, legato, hearing the silences, shaping expressive phrases, etc) in the course of a short performance. To be memorable, to leave the bright impression, to show off your charisma, to prove you are the next leader in the profession. Plan, plan, plan – in the smartest ways, and plan strategically!
I am very confident that, with the astonishing speed of technological advances, the SIPF will continue to thrive and find the new, even more accessible, democratic and exciting forms of extending its beautiful, heartfelt welcome to more and more people across the globe, without borders and limitations. I wish you all many happy future editions and many, many more exciting and inspired participants. You have never failed to inspire everyone involved, every and each edition. Bravo tutti!