We had a much needed day off in Prague on Saturday. Like Venice it’s one of those places that you can walk and walk until your feet fall off and after all that sitting and judging the competition it was great to get out and take the air, but not before all the judges spent some hours in the morning talking to many of the participants who had not passed to the semi-final. This was, in the odd case, tricky but mostly lovely. One person apparently posted some silly things on his Facebook page about the competition, which made them look very stupid when the standard is so high. But they soon thought better of it and took them down, apparently.

It was great to meet these great young musicians face to face and give them a few points to work on and some honest feedback about how they came across. The tricky ones were people who simply don’t understand how well they did to get there, that the difference between going through or not is fractional and amounts mostly to very minor things, but somehow we have to judge and separate them.

Then yesterday we sat down with a good crowd of audience to listen to the 12 people that we had chosen for the semi-final. They played an excellent newly-commissioned work from Lukáš Sommer, then choices from 2 lists that included Berio’s Sequenza, Britten Temporal Variations, Isang Yun’s masterpiece, Piri, and some less known but very good Czech music. The standard of performance from the very first note to the last, 12-plus hours later, was wonderfully encouraging and there were some stand-out performances. Although it’s true that some fine musicians, for whatever reason, didn’t make it through the first cut from over 180 from their CDs, these ones that did certainly say to me that the future of our instrument, that requires so much explaining at airports, is in wonderfully safe hands, and a few players seem to be taking things to a new level, certainly in terms of ease and control.

Us 7 judges, after 12 hours of listening, voted as before, out of 25, and people had to get 21 or above to get through. There is an average taken and the top 4 go through. I didn’t exactly get the result I wanted but the judges got the results they voted for as a whole. That is how it works. The 4 finalists are, however, absolutely terrific players and I know they will be wonderful tomorrow when they play 2 concertos each in 2 concerts at 4 and 8 Czech time. You can see it live on Tuesday 13 May at 16.00 Central European time at the following site, I’m pretty sure it’s sound and vision. http://www.rozhlas.cz/klasika/english/

The finalists are: Ricardo Barbosa Pereira from Brazil, Johannes Grosso, Marc Lachat and Perrine Philibert all from France. I wish them all luck.

We did give two special awards (without prize money) to Andrey Godik from Russia for his wonderfully theatrical performance, superbly controlled and with a huge dynamic and coloristic range, and to Andrew Kawaii from Australia, who played even the newly commissioned work from memory alongside Heinz Holliger’s solo sonata and the Duttileux Sonata. He’s a superbly gifted young man, and, given the right guidance and support, he could be a game-changingly good oboist. Arguably he already is. In fact his special mention was for his performance in the first round of the first of the Schumann Romances, which most of the judges reported being moved to tears by. Speaking for myself he hit a nerve that’s hard to explain, but I wept.

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