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2018.12.26 Official Report

【Official】 Interview with Noriko OGAWA, Chairperson of the Jury

I want it to be said of the Hamamatsu Competition "you'll gain something valuable in Hamamatsu, even if you don't get a prize."

*This is an email-based interview that took place after the competition.




- First of all, please tell us why the music of Can CAKMUR, winner of the first prize, was evaluated so highly. Before the opening of the competition, you mentioned that the time has come for the Hamamatsu Competition to send pianists directly into the world; what is your perspective on that point now the competition has finished?

The thinking of the jury as a whole about why Mr. Cakmur won First Prize remains unknown to me, because I haven't discussed it at all with other jury members even after the competition. I have not seen any of the voting papers cast by other members, and I can't even identify any voting trends within the jury.

As far as my own opinion is concerned, I can only say that Mr. Cakmur's overall score was what led to him being awarded First Prize. I found out retrospectively that Mr. Cakmur was the pianist who left the biggest impression on me during the preliminary screening via DVD. I clearly remember that in that video he played his music freely, manipulating the keyboard completely as though it were part of himself.

From my perspective, Mr. Cakmur won the 10th competition for the following three reasons:

(1) He clearly recognizes what music he wants to convey; his performance made me forget it was a competition setting. He took up the challenge of presenting his own interpretation of a familiar work, which was surprisingly new but convincing to me.

(2) He has the performance skills that can support his musical vision.

(3) It comes naturally to him to perform on stage; he can build good relationships with other performers for chamber music/concerto, and he has good manners.

The third point was especially important for me as Chairperson of the Jury, because I wanted the pianists to begin their performance activities immediately after the competition.

I had a conversation about administrative matters with Mr. Cakmur on the morning of the prizewinners' concert. He is fluent in English and German and seemed to have a good understanding of many different things. He was also very responsive about the administrative arrangements for a CD recording. We are helping Mr. Cakmur take off as a musician; after the successful launch, I hope he will continue to fly on his own.



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The winners of the 10th competition also include unique pianists such as USHIDA Tomoharu who already has rich experience in performance and LEE Hyuk who is a new brand of pianist. Please tell me your impressions of each of these prizewinners.

It was sort of a surprise for me to encounter Mr. Ushida, who is a well-known pianist in Japan, in this competition. I think it was very courageous of him to participate in this event, and he maintained his high spirits right to the end of the competition. He has such a high level of attainment and he is accustomed to the solo stage; he is a wonderful professional performer. For me, his second-stage performance was particularly impressive.

Mr. Lee is indeed a new brand of pianist...I felt as though I was in a theatre when I was listening to his Nutcracker in the semi-final. He seems to refer to many types of music. I firmly hope he will further develop himself and go on into the world keeping his own characteristics.

I'd like to call IMADA Atsushi, MUKAWA Keigo, and YASUNAMI Takashi the Samurai trio; I strongly resonated with and was impressed by their straightforward, sincere attitude and dedication toward their music. These three pianists received a lot of attention this time, and I hope they will make the most of their opportunities and actively pursue their performance activities moving forward. That will make the Hamamatsu Competition even more attractive in the future. I truly wish them success along the road.


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- It left an impression on me that each time you announced the results, you stated, "I would like to announce the names of the competitors whom we would like to invite to perform in the next stage of the competition..."; was there any particular reason for your expressing it in that way?

Thank you for recognizing that point! I myself received results as a competitor on various occasions in the past...sometimes I didn't pass the first stage, sometimes I ended up somewhere in the middle, and sometimes I won a prize, so I wanted to avoid creating an atmosphere like, "Mr./Ms. X will move on to the next stage; if you are not called, it's the end of the world for you." Sometimes you know why you didn't make it but that's not always the case. Indeed, many competitors did win some votes and were very close to moving on to the next stage.

This time, during the feedback session, I talked proactively to competitors and encouraged them to participate in local concerts scheduled in Hamamatsu. I used that particular expression when announcing the results in the hope that competitors would realize that moving on to the next stage is not the only way to go.


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- This time, the jury invited Paul HUGHES from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, who has a different viewpoint from that of pianists, and the age and nationality of jury members were wide-ranging. Meanwhile, neither competitors' backgrounds nor their teachers were mentioned. What kind of impact do you think these elements had on the result of the review?

I am confident to say the Hamamatsu Competition is the largest and most impactful international competition held in Asia. Therefore, we tried to gather jury members with various backgrounds from around the world; I selected each jury member only after much consideration. And it was sheer good luck that the 11 jury members got along so well; we made good friends with each other, we laughed all the time, and even wished we could stay together all the time. Thanks to the close relationships, even if we had different opinions in the jury room, we simply deepened our respect for each other.

The standard of the 10th Competition was so high and the competitors' scores were sometimes very close through all the stages from the first to the final. But every jury member kept calm, made careful decisions and kept voting according to the rules, which was really wonderful. We didn't have any discussions about the performances, and that has remained the case until now. Therefore, you can be assured that the assessment was based on the subjective viewpoint of each of the 11 jury members.

As for the decision not to mention the competitors' backgrounds and teachers' names in the program, that was largely on the basis of the worldwide trend. I became one of the directors of the World Federation of International Music Competitions in September. I am the first Japanese director of the Federation and am in a position to recognize the latest trends in international competitions. I also have a strong connection to AAF (the Alink-Argerich Foundation) and receive a lot of valuable advice from there. I agree profoundly with the viewpoint that listening to a competitor's performance without any prejudice is important considering the current international competitions, thus I placed an importance on the practice in the Hamamatsu Competition this time.


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-Being involved in the Hamamatsu Competition as Chairperson of the Jury, did you find out anything new about competitions, such as their significance and limitations?

The piano is a musical instrument that's always played in a closed room. The pianist is alone during a practice, and during a lesson. There are not many opportunities for a pianist to get to know other people, and this is the aspect that is completely different from the situation for string and wind instrument musicians. To put it in an extreme way, a situation could well exist in which a genius pianist is never known to anybody.

Competitions, I think, are the "quickest way" for those pianists who are making a lot of effort behind closed doors to play on stage on an equal footing, to be listened to by many people, and to be recognized, even if they don't know any influencers in the musical world, such as music offices, orchestra offices, broadcasting companies, recording companies, music journalists, critics, concert halls, and organizers of music festivals. That is the most significant point of any competition.

And from a competitor's point of view, the pianist is likely to be committed to bringing his/her technical and musical abilities to perfection during the preparation time, which will surely lead to improvement. That is another important aspect of a competition.

The limitation is that participating in a competition is not an obligation; therefore, nobody knows what talent is hidden, and where and when such a talent might be found.

Currently, there are several hundreds of international competitions, and around 800 competitions including small-scale ones, for piano only. Therefore, I think it is important to choose competitions that match your situation.


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- During interviews with jury members, they often talked about the importance of developing a good program. Some competitors did well while others didn't, but what is your opinion about the programs for the 10th Hamamatsu Competition?

You won't do well if you include a difficult work that you don't really like but have forced yourself to include so that you will be recognized in a competition setting. I hope the competitors have now understood that through their experience.

Particularly in Japan, it is considered a good attitude to "try hard to overcome your weak points"; however, as far as the piano is concerned, it is better to "focus on only what you are good at". There are others who are good at works you are not good at, so let them play those works; there is no need for you to master works you don't like.

The Hamamatsu Competition allows free choice of repertoire to a considerable extent, so we want the Hamamatsu competitors to challenge themselves with works that they love and are good at, or that resonate with them.


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Many jury members also talked about the importance of not only musicality but also of personality and communication skills. Nowadays winning a competition does not guarantee the winner's future, what should young pianists keep in mind in order to continue performing for a long period of time?

I'd say the life of a musician has never been guaranteed regardless of the era. In my childhood, I often witnessed senior students consulting their teachers about their concerns about various aspects of life as a pianist.

To earn a living as a pianist, the most important point is being able to give a decent performance. At the same time, I think another requisite is that you are complete as a person with a set of skills in communication and administrative matters along with physical and mental stamina. For example, you respond to work-related emails promptly; gladly accept an invitation to give a concert; proactively participate in developing a program; and have new ideas and projects of your own. It is also important to give others the impression that you are a pleasant person to be with in a concert tour. You may not receive a subsequent invitation if you are perceived as a difficult person to travel with.

A music office in the United Kingdom has said to me the following over and over again: "Around 100 pianists apply for one recital slot. In that situation, selecting a pianist is like choosing an item from an expensive chocolate box; you open the box, look at the beautiful pieces and think which would suit your mood best, and you just pick one." So, you need to be strong and keep going, even if you are not selected for a concert you particularly wanted to take part in.

Meanwhile, outside Japan, a pianist will have no one to exclusively take care of him/her. You need to carry heavy baggage, book airplanes, take trains and get to the destination all by yourself; that requires an adventurous mind and independence. You also need to be aware that the relationship between a music office and a musician is very business-like outside Japan, which is totally different from the case in Japan where a music office takes very good care of the musician.

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- At the press conference, you talked about the long-lasting friendships competitors build during a competition, in association with the novel Mitsubachi to Enrai (Honey Bees and Distant Thunder). How do you want each competitor to leverage the experience they have had here at the Hamamatsu Competition in the coming years?

Everyone who has experienced a big international competition will certainly be engaged in piano in one way or another.

It has been as many as 30 years since I participated in the Leeds International Piano Competition, but I still encounter fellow competitors from that time in various work situations; I just recently had that experience again. In the moment of encounter with those with whom I shared that intense time, I feel truly moved. To that extent, the stories I found in the novel deeply resonated with me. In a competition, behind the magnificent stage performances, lots of vibrant stories of young pianists are unfolding in parallel. Looking at the brisk faces of prizewinners of the 10th Hamamatsu Competition, I sincerely hoped that they will have similar experiences in the future; that's why I made that comment during the press conference.

I'm sure those who visited the concert hall thought a variety of things as they experienced the pianists' leading-edge performances and musicality on stage as well as their daily lives off stage, walking around town with a backpack.

This time, many of those who did not obtain a prize remained in Hamamatsu and gave concerts, and I hear that accordingly they obtained lots of fans outside the competition. In the world of music, you never know who is listening to you where; for example, I had a personal experience. I was playing at a small concert venue in a village, and at that time, the secretary general of a famous music festival who was on vacation was there by coincidence.

I want the competitors to leverage the experience and friendships they obtained in Hamamatsu for their musical activities in the coming years. And if they say, "you'll gain something valuable in Hamamatsu, even if you don't get a prize," to their pianist friends, that might be the biggest prize for me.


Text by Haruka KOSAKA

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