Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Cliburn Report 15: The Yellow Rose of Texas

Twin Gabriels flanking the
entrance to Bass Hall
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It’s now the afternoon of my first day here in Fort Worth, Texas, for the finals of the Cliburn Competition. I haven’t heard a single note yet (the first final round concert isn’t until tonight), but it has already been an interesting experience.

It started with the party at the Fort Worth Zoo thrown by the Cliburn for visiting media, contestants, and local host families, backers, and other prominent folks. It was pure Texas—big, elaborate, and loud. We were picked up at the hotel by the kind of high-end party bus usually reserved for rock stars and the like, with comfy swivel chairs, a kitchen, and big-screen TVs (which I quickly figured out how to mute, to the relief of everyone in the bus) and whisked to the zoo, which as closed down for the party. There was an open bar, plenty of Texas-style food (jalapeno beans, mac and cheese, port sliders, hamburger-style sliders, and the like), a live country band and line dancers. Welcome to the Lone Star State, y’all.

Today there was a critics symposium hosted by Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News and featuring some of my fellow critics from the Music Critics Association of North America. Since most of the panelists were from the print media world, the discussion largely focused on the dilemma of print media in the digital age and the ways in which this was changing the role of the critic. It was suggested at one point that the very role of the critic might be an artifact of a time when it was possible to write longer pieces and take more time with them. I’m not so sure that’s true—we have no length limitations on what we write for KDHX’s on line presence, for example—but there’s no denying that the interweb tends to favor those who publish early and often vs. those who take time to consider.

There was general agreement that the role of the critic is changing, though, and that these days it often includes the role of arts advocate.

In a subsequent private meeting among the MCANA members, the discussion turned towards issues specific to musical competitions and their relevance (or lack of same) in the broader musical world. The consensus was that the career path for a concert pianist is not, perhaps, what it once was, and that in any event the judges at competitions like the Cliburn are no more capable of predicting the future than the rest of us. There were discussions of the pros and cons of open vs. pre-selected repertoire for contestants, the value of having a mandatory commissioned new work (as there was this season), and the degree to which the conductor can make or break contestants in the final concerto round.

I wouldn’t say there was widespread agreement on much of anything (this was, after all, a group of critics….) but the talk was lively and filled with amusing anecdotes from our resident Canadian, William Littler.

For now it’s on to a dinner at Reata courtesy of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, followed by concerto round 1 with the Fort Worth Symphony and Leonard Slatkin at Bass Hall.

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