2018.12.06 Official Report

【Official】Interview with Ronan O'HORA, member of the jury

Sometimes you need to keep pursuing your career in a situation where nobody values your work. What's important during such times is your deep love for music.


- What is your impression about the Hamamatsu Competition?

Wonderful. I have served as a jury member for many different competitions, but I don't know any other competition where high-caliber audience members fill the seats from the first day of the first stage of the competition onward. They all quietly focused and took great pleasure in listening to the music. The most important factor for musicians when they perform is this kind of audience. I'd say nowadays the Hamamatsu Competition is one of the first things that comes to mind when people around the world hear the word "Hamamatsu".

Meanwhile, I feel it was a meaningful competition not only for those who obtained a good result but also for those who didn't. A significant aspect of the Hamamatsu Competition is that those who don't get through to the next stage are also cared for, and this constitutes an important part of the competition's identity.

A competition is not merely a forum for deciding a winner. It should be a platform for young musicians where their performances are listened to and they build experience. So, I found the feedback session was important. Competitors who didn't pass the first stage of the competition must be disappointed, but meanwhile they must have gained useful experience in preparing a good repertoire and have met new people here. The friendships made here may last the next 50 years. It is important for them to learn and get inspiration from each other.

- How did you feel about the standard of the competitors?

I think they were splendid. There were many talented pianists, and thus it was difficult to review them.

Because of the wide-ranging backgrounds of the jury members, there were different opinions, and sometimes we reacted differently to the same performance. Rather than trying to make a judgment about whose expression is better than whose, we jury members exercised our duty by reacting honestly to the music based on our experience. Therefore, whoever the winner is, it's merely an outcome of the generalization of our different opinions that came out of our various situations. None of us has exactly the same opinion. That would be impossible in the world of music and is unnatural given the nature of human beings.

In this competition, we jury members did not enter into any discussion. In other competitions, some jury members prefer to talk to the other jury members, but I don't think it is good if some push their opinions while others don't. A general principle should be agreed upon, but I think not discussing the result of each jury member's review is good practice. The moment when a result emerges could be described as the moment the neutral opinion that jury members have arrived at is revealed.


- As you review the competitors, what kind of pianist did you want to get through to the next stage?

What matters is whether the pianist has something to say through his or her music. All those who passed the preliminary screening can play well; the question is therefore whether they convey a message through their music, and whether that message is interesting. In order to continue performing for a long time and constantly sustain the interest of the audience, your music must contain a message; and it is most important to express that message clearly.

If I could add another critical point in a competition, it's how you put together a program. You need good judgment to make the best choice out of a vast repertoire. In a way, it is like the ability to present your charm through your camera lens.

Since the competitors were given a free choice of repertoire, it was a great opportunity for them to showcase what they can do; conversely, if they don't make an appropriate judgment, they reveal what they can't. Of course, jury members do not make their final judgment based on repertoire alone. But the program does give us a sense of whether the pianist has a good imagination and whether the program is based on his or her well-thought-out decision. I think a program is like a meal menu. You can't place two main courses in a menu; meanwhile there should be a climax within the menu.

In a competition setting, a pianist's ability is reviewed from a variety of perspectives in this way. The ability to put together an appropriate performance program is critical for professional pianists.

-They can't develop a good program if they don't have things they want to do or musical ideas at the beginning. If they don't, they may end up being a pianist who only ever performs programs suggested by concert organizers.

Exactly. Some pianists cannot build a career because they don't know who they are. No pianist in the world can perform any genre of music perfectly. To master the entire repertoire of piano music, you would need ten lifetimes. That's why you need to have an objective viewpoint, and sometimes a critical spirit about yourself. I don't mean you should criticize yourself all the time. On the other hand, you shouldn't think that you are wonderful at everything. What's needed is that you make an accurate judgment about what you are definitely good at and through which you can express yourself in the best way possible.

If you feel you lack ideas or are not sure what you are good at and what you are poor at, it means you have missed a very important point.


- We live in an age in which winning a competition doesn't guarantee a professional career; what should young pianists be aware of under the circumstances?

Everyone says it was better in the past, but I think it has always been hard to develop a career (laughs), although the reasons for that have varied according to the different eras.

Anyway, a competition is not a magic gate. It doesn't make sense to believe everything will turn out right if you win a competition. A competition is an indispensable forum for young pianists to build their experience and be exposed to the world of music. It is just the beginning of the journey, not the end. Some may only be concerned about the competition ranking, but it isn't the Olympic games. The purpose is not to decide on a ranking or who is better than who. Rather, it is to recognize the true value of the competitors through an overall decision made by all jury members and to hope for their success in the future.

It is critical for young pianists to know what they need to take away from a competition. In order to develop a career, they don't need to compare themselves with others but need to know themselves and to continue to identify who they really are.

All successful performers know their own identity. If you think you are good if you can play the 10 most popular piano works as defined by others, you will not be able to develop your career as a genuine pianist. You need to be able to perform modern works, too, like the one in the compulsory repertoire for this competition, while also being good at performing chamber music. All top-notch performers are good at chamber music; even if they don't perform it in concerts, in many cases they present it in some setting or another.

Another thing you need to develop a career is to be a professional. Giving performances is both artistic work and professional work. You need to be able to communicate well with your co-performers, conductor, managers, and promoters. You also need to be considered a trustworthy person by them. There are those who cannot build their career despite being talented because they are not trusted as professionals.

Having said that, I don't mean you need to be perfect all the time and that no failure is allowed. We are human and we are not always perfect. Still, we need to be people of integrity.


If you worry too much about making mistakes, you cannot develop your creativity. But excellent performers have a certain stability. Wonderful pianists such as Schiff and Perahia are all professionals. They arrive on time (laughs). Young people may not fully understand this, but there is no contradiction between being an artist and being a professional.

To be a good performer, creativity, imagination, professionalism, and perseverance are needed. A life as a musician lasts a long time.

The time they graduate from music school may pose the biggest difficulty in their life. Those who have received good grades are all of a sudden exposed to reality. Under the circumstance, you need to confirm daily if your love for music is genuine. It is neither love of receiving applause nor love of being praised as talented. Well, you might survive in your 20's on that kind of love, but you won't after you turn 50.

The capacity to take a longer view is also needed. You may win one competition but not others. If your talent is genuine, however, some day you will be recognized somewhere. The world of music is always crowded, but there is always space for new entrants, who are talented, passionate, responsible, and blessed with abundant creativity.

I'm not saying it's wrong to be motivated by the desire to be praised or receive attention, but you need something more than that. Here is a quote from a great pianist of the twentieth century, Emil Gilels: "There are many Saturday nights in life, but there are just as many Monday mornings". It's fine to enjoy being praised on your journey as a pianist, but you also need to be fine without such moments. Sometimes you need to keep pursuing your career in a situation in which nobody values your work. What's important during such times is your deep love for music. If you have that, a wonderful life with music is waiting for you.

Text by Haruka KOSAKA

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Hamamatsu International Piano Competition


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  • Hamamatsu Cultural Foundation

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Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agency for Cultural Affairs, Shizuoka Prefectural Government, Japan Federation of Musicians, Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC), Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities, The Piano Teachers’ National Association of Japan(PTNA), Hamamatsu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, JAPAN PIANO TEACHERS ASSOCIATION, Jiji Press, Ltd., Sankei Shimbun, Inc., Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Inc., The Mainichi Newspapers, The Yomiuri Shimbun, The Asahi Shimbun・Shizuoka General Bureau, Shizuoka Shimbun and Shizuoka Broadcasting System, The Chunichi Shimbun, Tokai Headquarters, Japan Broadcasting Corporation Shizuoka Station, Shizuoka Asahi Television Co., Ltd., Shizuoka Daiichi Television Corporation, Shizuoka Telecasting Co., Ltd., Ongaku no Tomo Sha Corp., CHOPIN Magazines, Shizuoka FM Broadcasting Co., Ltd., Hamamatsu FM Broadcasting Co., Ltd., Hamamatsu Cable Television, Kawai Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co., Ltd., The Piano Gallery, Ltd., Roland Corporation, Yamaha Corporation

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