Sergei BABAYAN, Jury

2015.11.27|Interview

True "competition" begins
at the end of the competition


─How do you feel about returning to Hamamatsu, as a jury member this time, after winning first prize at the first Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in 1991?

I feel much better now (laughs). Back when I was a contestant, I had no time at all to explore the city or to meet people. All I remember is the journey by plane and the feeling of jet lag.

I was already performing on stages at that time, and I came to Hamamatsu directly following a recital in Vancouver. Due to a schedule conflict, I was unable to attend the draw for order of appearance, and instead I was assigned to perform on the day after my arrival in Hamamatsu. I think it was because performing on the last day was considered advantageous. So, I practiced my program for several hours after arrival, slept for only two hours, and appeared on stage the following day. But, in fact, that was my best performance of all the stages of the competition. Perhaps I was physically too tired and had no energy left to get nervous (laughs). I had time to prepare for the second stage competition, but I was unable to perform to my satisfaction.

Even if you are in perfect condition, have time for yoga and exercise, and do whatever else... say, eating something good for your brain - fish for example, before appearing on the stage, you may not be able to perform well. So sometimes there is no relationship between the condition you are currently in and the result of your performance.

Here is another memory I have. It was when I was a student at the Moscow Conservatory. On the night before an important audition, I was unable to sleep at all because my dormitory roommate was drunk. The following morning, without having had a wink of sleep, I ironed my shirt, and went to the audition. But I believe my performance on that day was one of my best in my life. After all, things go well all the more for your struggle in life, while they don't necessarily go well when life treats you well.

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─Reading this article, contestants may decide to stay awake on the night before their performance (laughs).

Oh no, it is definitely better to have a good night sleep before your performance, for sure! (laughs) I just wanted to say you will be all right even if you happen to be in poor condition. But you can't generate a good result if you stay awake all the time.

─We are in the middle of the first stage competition; what is your impression listening to performances so far?

I am delighted when I find a pianist whose performance makes me feel great joy. On the other hand, I am not happy with those who are just worrying about the appearance of their performance, who have poor taste in repertoire, or who give an empty performance and are just showing off their technique.

We jury members are all searching for a true artist, although some people may think we are just trying to spot errors in contestants' performances...Of course too many mis-touches are not good, but who cares about a few mistakes if the music conveys a particular message?

What I am looking for is a pianist who is creative and independent, and who can perform music born in that particular moment based on the given conditions, the piano and the acoustics.

Unfortunately, it is rare to find such a pianist. Conversely speaking, however, I would not fully appreciate encountering such a pianist if that opportunity wasn't rare. It is simply natural that splendid pianists such as Glenn Gould and Martha Argerich are rare; it is not possible for all pianists to be like them.

─These days, winning a competition does not guarantee success as a pianist.

That's true. Well, I won the Hamamatsu competition. I toured around Japan, and wherever I went I was given a wonderful piano and a hall to perform in. I thought Japan was "heaven for the pianist"...Anyway, back to the topic, I realized after that tour, and once I had reached the age limit for participating in competitions, that if I did not perform for several years because I was in poor condition or for whatever reason, any glory that had come from winning the competition would soon fade.

Some young pianists might dream that once they win a certain competition, a miracle will happen and that lots of concert managers will contact them, saying the famous conductor in their orchestra cannot wait to perform with them. But that will not happen in reality.

A pianist must have the strength to keep going and must have an important message to deliver as a musician. Being depressed or inactive is not an option. Only those who are dedicated musicians and can keep practicing under any conditions can survive as a pianist.

Some young pianists succumb to superficial rivalry and choose fast, showy pieces in order to try to win over others. When I encounter a performance that reflects this, I am disappointed and wonder what the pianist is going to achieve. Even if the work is by Bach, Beethoven, Schubert or Chopin and has profound content, it has no meaning unless the pianist can convey a message to the audience through the work. I can easily tell which contestant is just trying to win the competition and which truly loves the music. The prize money in musical competitions does not compare with that given in major sports events, so it does not mean much for a musician's life.

I think true "competition" begins at the end of the competition. It is in their everyday living that musicians are tested as to whether or not they are a true artist and able to create music which can touch the audience's hearts.

Text : Haruka Kosaka

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