I spent the off days tending to my other Fort Worth Weekly duties as well as reading the comments thread. I'm not talking about the one on this blog, of course, which is lucky to get a single comment for individual posts. (Though I have read all the comments here -- thanks to all four of you who've weighed in.) Nor are there many comments for the other local bloggers who are reporting tirelessly from the Cliburn: Olin Chism at KERA's Art&Seek, Matt Erikson at WRR Radio, and Scott Cantrell at Dallasnews.com's Arts Blog, whose contributions there have been augmented by Carol Leone and now Wayne Lee Gay. None of them are getting nearly the same traffic as the Cliburn's blog, which regularly scores high-double and triple digits when it comes to comments on individual posts.
The debates there have been contentious and sometimes acrimonious. I'm assuming that the worst posts were deleted by the moderators before I got there. It's important to remember that music by its nature inspires irrational feelings, and though words are the best medium we have for discussing music, they can still be pretty inadequate sometimes. Had the technology been around in the 19th century, we can only imagine what sort of mud might have been slung between Brahms' and Wagner's supporters. Plus, the competition format necessarily excludes some pianists at the expense of others, and that gives rise to both useful debate and useless bitterness. We shouldn't be surprised at the latter.
I didn't read all the comments on the Cliburn's blog (doing that would probably have taken me until the next Cliburn Competition) but some interesting topics came up in the ones I did read. The chatter in the press room was pretty polarized regarding Alessandro Deljavan, and so it's been in the blogosphere, too, though the online community talked much more about his facial expressions (distracting? faked? incidental?) than the critics did. There was also a great deal of sniping back and forth about Andrea Lam and Eduard Kunz. One commenter said Kunz was the only pianist in the entire field who played with any "artistry." (Paging Kara DioGuardi.) Kunz' champions were silent in the press room, though they chose to express themselves online. I don't think his semi performances warranted a spot in the finals, though I do find his talent to be worth following.
Cliburn poster L.L. Evans floated the interestingly cracked theory that the judges were promoting Nobuyuki Tsujii to the later rounds just to give him experience playing with chamber-music and orchestral ensembles, something he hasn't had much of. I don't believe this is the case, and if I did, I'd say that isn't what the competition should be for. Nevertheless, I found the idea intriguing because Tsujii's chamber-music performance impressed me more than anything else he did, and did a lot to convince me that he might one day be a major pianist. (Notice the words "might one day".) I've made it known that I don't think he belongs in the finals, but it's not a stretch to think that his Cliburn experience this year is going to do him good as a musician and help him be as good as he can be.
One commenter said Deljavan didn't deserve to make the semis because he was sloppily dressed and didn't tuck his shirt in in the prelims, which is just too stupid. Most of the numerous comments on the competitors' clothes were more amusing. Women's fashions tend to be more interesting than men's, so no surprise that their dresses drew more commentary than the men's suits. The most thought-provoking comment on this came from one female poster who said that the women shouldn't be playing in formal wear, because it's improper attire for the work at hand. I don't find the dresses a distraction. On the other hand, I have no experience playing the piano while wearing a ball gown and heels. Is that the best thing for a woman to be wearing while performing? Or is Kudritskaya's sensible (if eccentric) ensemble a better way to go? I wouldn't mind if the female pianists were wearing pants, or clown suits for that matter, if it helped them play their best. Can the women reading this blog offer me any perspective on this?
(If any men can tell me about playing the piano while wearing a dress, they can throw in their two cents, too. Judgmental as I often am, I don't judge that.)