Five Glenn Gould School students have won the chance to perform full concertos with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra in the 2017/18 season. Linda Ruan, Charissa Vandikas, León Bernsdorf, Sae Yoon Chon and Jocelyn Fralick were chosen from the eight finalists who had advanced from the semi-final competition of 38 students.
In addition to excellent teaching and intensive practice, developing musicians need a chance to perform. Providing the venues, arranging the scheduling, and delivering an audience is not trivial, but there is simply no substitute for a collection of people paying close attention to a performer, and the more often a musician presents a piece from start to finish without stopping in front of a group, the better.
The Glenn Gould School provides as many opportunities as possible for their students to have this experience. The Annual Glenn Gould Concerto Competition is one of those opportunities. After the competitors play in semi-finals in front of a group of judges and others, the finalists get the chance to play on the stage of Koerner Hall, in front of the same judges plus the public.
On this occasion, the finalists do not perform their concerto accompanied by a full orchestra. A collaborative pianist plays a condensed version of the orchestral score. The piano, being an instrument that is suited to mimicking the sounds of other instruments, is called in to perform this task. There’s something paradoxical about the fact that this support piece is called a “reduction”, which refers to the fact that multiple instruments have been reduced for one keyboard, because it actually calls on the pianist to expand his or her skills to achieve all the different effects required, from a steady percussive beat to a lush breeze of string-like sounds. Beyond that, they are playing a support role, and not meant to attract attention to their own playing, which is at the same virtuosic level as the soloist. And this major art is seldom enjoyed by the public because it is used as a rehearsal device, not a performance piece.
The Glenn Gould Concerto Competition is a chance to hear the reduced versions of six orchestral works along with the soloists. This year’s round included four piano concertos, one violin concerto, and one vocal solo, all backed up by superb pianists. The composers performed were Poulenc, Prokofiev, (twice) Liszt, Strauss, and Brahms. Given the variety of instruments and the range of composers, it is an understatement to say this is like comparing apples to oranges. It’s more like comparing peacocks to avocados. When Timothy Ying, one of the three judges, (along with Michael Esch and John Greer) announced the winners at the end of the day he emphasized that they were required to select those performances that they thought would work best with a full orchestra, but they were not commenting on the worth of the two musicians who were not selected.
Short of going to a music festival, you won’t often get the chance to hear six concertos in one day, so the Glenn Gould Concerto Competition is an event to watch for in 2018. Not only will you enjoy a free concert in a fabulous concert hall, but you will also be sincerely thanked for attending. Timothy Ying told us that there had been a “lot of electricity” at the semi-finals, but your presence made this a concert.”
I for one am happy to contribute to that difference. I’m also looking forward to hearing the fully orchestrated performances during the 2017-2018 season, an experience that I think will be a bit like going from film noir to Technicolor: both are satisfying, but one is richer than the other.