Alexander Sokolov: “The main criterion for a member of the jury is whether you want to listen to this composer again”
We are interviewing a member of the Malta International Music Competition jury, the Rector of the Moscow Conservatory named after Tchaikovsky, the famous musicologist, Professor Alexander Sokolov. This outstanding worker of culture made a great contribution into modern music. He is a tutor who was teaching many famous performers and who is acknowledged in Russia and abroad. Alexander Sokolov is an Honoured Artist of Russia, in 2004-2008 he held the post of Minister of Culture and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation.
– Alexander Sergeevich, what can you say about the idea of eleven piano competitions held all over the world with the final round in Malta? Have you ever seen such structure of international competitions during your rich cultural experience?
– This idea was the decisive factor for my participation in the Malta Competition. I never came across such competition format. For example, the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition, where students of the Moscow Conservatory traditionally take place, also includes preliminary selection, but it is absolutely unprecedented when this selection is based on eleven full-scale competitions followed by a final round judged by an international jury.
– What do you think, what national colour does each country bring to the Malta International Music Competition?
– National peculiarities depend on the programme selected by pianists, and it should always meet certain requirements. If composers are commissioned music for a competition, then the national specifics will be reflected most vividly. I myself prefer to listen to a French musician performing French music, although this barrier is not insurmountable.
– Countries presented in the eleven competitions have different history of piano art development. There are the oldest schools and relatively young ones. How wide is the gap between them in terms of skills?
– Definitely, there are globally recognized great piano schools in Germany, France, Italy, Russia… Due to world integration processes and musicians’ mobility, when they can have a contract in any country, traditions of piano schools from specific countries are smoothed out nowadays. Currently we talk more often about the old European piano school and the young Asian, more specifically Chinese, school, which, by the way, adapts the recognized results of the American and European schools. And Russia, in contrast, demonstrates stability of its piano traditions. Partly this can be explained by the fact that foreign professionals do not work in the country. But the main reason is that we have distinct continuity: it is always known who was the teacher of a pianist, who was the teacher of his teacher, and so on.
– How would you describe the level of competitors at the Malta International Music Competition? How will they develop professionally after participation in this competition?
– The technical skills of strong performers are approximately the same, so it is hard to surprise with your technique, but it is possible to surprise with your interpretation and your attitude to what you do. For me the main evaluation criterion is “I have never heard anything like that”. And you understand that, in view of our experience, we seldom say that.
The point of every competition is in what happens afterwards; it is a possibility to receive prize money, PR, a contract with some famous concert promoter…
– Is there a recipe for conquering members of the jury? How do jury members from different countries coordinate their work?
– The most difficult thing in the work of the jury is lack of a unified assessment scale and clear criteria. Members of the jury are human; they may like something and dislike other things. There is even an unspoken competition between members of the jury. In my opinion, the system of voting should eliminate all interpretations, a phrase like “he did not convince me” cannot be even allowed in the language of judges. The most reliable voting system is “yes/no”; if you want to listen to this musician for the second time, then you need to choose “yes” and allow him to take part in the next round.
– Who among young pianists made a vivid impression on you recently and why?
– It is unethical to praise students of your own music school (laughs). Can you imagine, we have representatives of four elite piano schools teaching at the Moscow Conservatory! That is why the results are so impressive.
– The prize fund of the final competition in Malta is quite substantial – 200 thousand euro. In your opinion, how will young musicians spend their prize money?
– Here everything will depend on the conditions they live in, whether their parents or sponsors support them financially, or maybe they already have a contract. We should not forget domestic problems. Maybe, someone will prefer to use the prize money for buying a good instrument. Also, in the conditions of an open world getting prize money means having a possibility to attend international master-classes and gain valuable experience.
– What do you expect from the final round the Malta International Music Competition?
– I expect establishment of a new musical tradition. This year we are going to have a test for reaction from competitors themselves, members of the jury, and the audience. If all goes well and the Forum becomes regular, it will be the major success. We need to get accustomed to this event; it should become an inseparable and important part of musical life.