There is little so passé as yesterday’s competition. So, apart from a passing “congratulations” to the big winners (Amber Quartet from China who won a handful, including the top prize, Orava Quartet who won the Musica Viva Prize, and the Lyrebird Trio who won the piano trio competition) there is little point in reviewing the finals. Except perhaps to say that, like many finals of many contests in all sorts of sports, the performances at the Asia Pacific Chamber Music Competition finals this year were not, by any stretch, the most exciting of the competition. This being the case, your correspondent has determined to write a brief wrap up covering two elements of the week. First, a little piece on why he attends live performances, with reference to a handful of performances at the competition. And then a few thoughts about what could be done better next time, which of course means for the international competition coming up in 2015.
Like many writers, your correspondent is not averse to a bit of plagiarism. The title of this post is a direct take from the title of the famous “Knight Report” on USA Orchestras, a seminal study undertaken in the 1990s. “The Search for Shining Eyes” should mark the live performance embarkation point for musicians, ensembles, orchestras and bands of all sorts. A digital file or CD may deliver close to perfection, but can never bring that special high that an outstanding live performance can bring to an audience, individually or collectively. It is not just a question of high quality performance. To experience memorable performances the live audience member has to kiss a lot of frogs (if you’ll excuse the fairytale metaphor) and invest in a lot of concert tickets. There is never any certainty. It is not sufficient just to attend performances by the likes of the Brentano, the Emerson, Isserlis, Hough or Berlin Philharmonic. Often it is lesser beings that make the skin tingle, and bring a shine to the eye, through a tear, perhaps, or sheer joy. But when it happens, the emotion is both great and memorable.
There were a few such moments during the Asia Pacific Chamber Music Competition last week. They were your correspondent’s personal moments, personal highs, almost certainly different from those of other audience members. In a week of fine performances by all contestants, these are the ones which will remain in the memory: Shostakovich String Quartet No 8 by the Orava Quartet, an intensely emotional journey; the Japanese ARC Trio’s Brahms Trio No 1 in the second round, a wonderful romantic journey; and China’s Amber Quartet’s performance of Zhang Zhou’s First String Quartet, “Totem”, more than a remarkable cross cultural experience.
Are three special experiences from a week of chamber music enough? Absolutely. There was plenty of enjoyment in all the rest, just not the ecstasy of those highlight performances.
On a more prosaic note, what organisational lessons might Chamber Music Australia have learned from this competition? The Asia Pacific is a broad region. Surely it is possible to attract six of the best from each ensemble genre. The reason given this year for a smaller competitor number was an apparent quality gap, in the DVD selection process, between the top four and the rest. Maybe. Or maybe it was a failure to market the competition well in the region. Certainly the lack of a New Zealand competitor was a surprise. The Iwaki Auditorium had positives and negatives. Audience facilities are rather poor, and the nearby palette of restaurants and coffee shops is pale when compared to South Melbourne Town Hall (Australian National Academy of Music). The post performance interview process worked extremely well at the Iwaki, with interviews audible throughout the auditorium. This was underscored by the finals commentaries, at the Melbourne Recital Centre, which were virtually inaudible to any other than the radio audience. The opening recital by the T’ang Quartet was a rather drab affair and, like many of the early rounds, rather poorly attended. This may again have been a marketing failure, an afterthought or too much competition elsewhere. An opening event needs a bit of glamour (and a glass of wine). What’s more, the Australasian music presented deserved a higher profile event. Artistically it was a fine start to an Asia Pacific event. More work needs to be done on marketing in social media. This year there was too little, too late.
So the recommendation to Chamber Music Australia must be: move the early rounds back to South Melbourne and ANAM. There must be great value for that institution to be associated with the two major competitions presented by Chamber Music Australia. Perhaps, even, ANAM could become the presenter, a shift not dissimilar to the London String Quartet Competition’s change to become the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition.
Now the shouting has died, all there is to do is wait for the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition in July 2015. And continue the search for shining eyes.