Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano competitions, Seymour Bernstein, shirley smith, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Van Cliburn piano competition

Seymour Bernstein’s riveting statement about the piano competition environment and what changes are needed


“Are all of you listening to one spectacular young pianist after another? (Cliburn Competition in progress)

“Why should they have to be placed in the position of competing against one another, and facing the possibility of being rejected by a jury? It would be just absurd if a jury was chosen to decide who is the greatest impressionist painter-Monet, Cézanne, or Degas, to mention only three painters? These performers have profound messages to share with the world.

“What sort of a system has created a scenario akin to gladiators in ancient Rome who had to fight-to-the-death for survival and, in the process, give
the public a thrill? Are we to accept the fact that only one or two among these phenomenally gifted performers are going to receive major engagements, plus a pile of money? How will the others be rewarded for the inspiration they have afforded us? The well-adjusted among them will recover quickly from rejection and continue to relate to music as life itself. Others will return to the familiar rat race of trying to find engagements.

“I say down with the contest format! Let’s replace it with a showcase of the world’s greatest talents who symbolize the highest form of human achievement. Take the large sum of money allotted to winners and divide it among the performers as a token of their participation. Are you prepared to carry this message wherever you can by writing to the directors of contests and to music publications? I am. This will be a major project this summer.”



Seymour Bernstein, pianist/teacher/author/composer

Do we Need Piano Competitions?

Star Telegram, questions jury ties to competitors at Cliburn Competition