In the next 3 days I will be hearing 62 candidates from 20 countries on 4 continents in the Prague Oboe competition. The next 10 days will be spent in Prague, which I adore, listening to these aspiring oboists.

A while back I blogged from a wonderful competition in Moscow and it proved rather interesting to people to have a judge’s insider view of a major competition (discretion assured-mostly!) so I thought I would start one now.

This year, 184 oboe candidates, a record number, sent in applications from 36 countries. Among them were applicants from countries as far away as Australia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Singapore. Based on an anonymous hearing of their recordings, a jury (not including me and I actually don’t know who they were at this moment – I will find out) invited a total of 62 contestants to participate.

Today is mostly a travel day but it’s a moment to pause and think about my responsibilities over the duration of the next 10 days. When I’m judging oboists I close my ears to national styles and look and listen for performers who sweep me off my feet and make me forget about the instrument and its difficulties, that convince me of their understanding of different styles, beguile me with the beauty of their sound and dazzle me with the colours and range of dynamics they can make.

Does the odd technical mistake matter? Not to me, but recurring flaws in technical production do worry me because of the reputation of the competition and because it distracts from a performer’s musicality. Having said that, some of the most compelling performances I’ve ever heard have had lapses in technique in them, and if the concentration, musicality and charisma are strong enough it’s soon forgotten about. I find that when I make a mistake it’s always good to play the next phrase so beautifully that even you forget about any errors!

My fellow judges are chaired by a musician I’ve long admired, Paul Dombrecht from Belgium, and then there is Jana Brožková, Czech Republic, from the Philharmonic and who I gave a first prize to in Zurich a million years ago, then Simon Fuchs, solo oboist of the Tonhalle in Switzerland, oboists Jean Christophe Gayot from France and Yeon-Hee Kwak, Germany/South Korea and finally Lib?na Séquardtová, oboist from Czech Republic. I look forward to meeting with them this evening.

You can read about the competition and follow the progress of the musicians at http://m.festival.cz/en/competition and you can follow them of Facebook by following the link on the site. I’m not sure they tweet!

ND

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