Seattle Symphony Piano Competition: Q&A with Monica Felkel

The Seattle Symphony presents its first-ever Piano Competition, September 15–18 at Benaroya Hall. One of the seven judges will be Young Concert Artists’ Director of Artist Management, Monica J. Felkel. We asked Monica about competitions in a socially networked world, the ever rising level of talent and advice for young artists. More information about tickets, contestants and judges can be found here

There are many more ways for performers to be seen and heard today than a decade ago —YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are all roughly ten years old now, for example — what role does a competition like this play in today’s scene?

Technology has given the artist and the audience so many more opportunities to connect today. To hear and see performances that before you could only experience if you were in the same room. Now you can hear performances that are taking place halfway around the world almost immediately, but a live competition gives everyone a chance to ride the rollercoaster together — to be a part of the artist’s journey. 

Competitions provide the opportunity for artistic growth and critical feedback, as well as to gain important performing experience. A competition like this also provides young artists with the opportunity to make real connections and foster invaluable professional relationships with other artists in the industry. Participants will have the opportunity to engage directly with the conductor, jury members, orchestra members and other competitors. 

In general, do you feel like the overall level of musicianship continues to rise? And what kind of impact does that have on both the contestants and the jury?

Every year I am amazed by the number of fantastic musicians that I come across. It seems that there is no shortage of artists studying, performing and pursuing careers in music. I don’t envy the preliminary jury of any competition that has to go through the vast number of initial applicants to select those who go on to compete in the first round. There is so much competition just to get in. In turn, for the jury, the level of artistry is so high that they’re not just looking for technique or musical interpretation — they’re also searching for that connection to the music and communication and relationship with the audience.

Do you have any advice for these young artist?  Win or lose, how should they be thinking about this experience?

I have always told the artists that I work with that they have to have a reason to enter a competition other than just winning the top prize. Only one person will get that, and there can be anywhere from 10 to 70 artists competing — not a betting man’s odds. Every competition can offer numerous experiences — from expanding your repertoire, to playing on some of the finest stages in the great cities of the world, to the opportunity to perform with a world-class orchestra. Each round provides a chance to be heard, and you never know what may come from that particular performance. There are many established musicians who never won a first prize, but were heard in competition, and it provided the significant steps to advance their career. 

Best of luck to everyone and most of all, have fun!

Posted on August 24, 2015