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With more than 260 applications to our 2021 Competition, hear from The Leeds Artistic Director Adam Gatehouse about the selection process behind this first phase and the ins and outs of navigating the Competition amidst a global pandemic. We talk digital auditions, repertoire, working remotely and more…

Thanks for taking the time to walk us through this year’s initial selection process Adam, we’re really excited that the first 62 Competitors will be announced in January! Following a challenging year in music, has this year’s selection process been different from others?
Well actually the process wasn’t so very different this year from 3 years ago – as in 2017 all the members of the Jury (5 this year) listened to the Applicants online from home, after which we voted for those who would go through. The real difference this year was that we couldn’t get together physically over the final weekend to listen together and vote on the ‘maybes’ (the Applicants who didn’t quite score ‘yes’ on the first listen). So we all listened to those remotely and voted remotely as well.

In some ways it was a shame not to get together for the last weekend of listening, but since the strict rules of The Leeds requires us not to discuss any of the Competitors amongst ourselves, listening to those remotely wasn’t such an inconvenience. We have such a robust voting system, that the final process and result was clear and unequivocal. The really difficult, sometimes agonising part was deciding who to put through, because we were all acutely conscious of the fact that over 200 of the 264 applicants would have to be rejected. And that is sometimes very painful.

And has Covid-19 had an impact on the rest of the Competition?
We have added one location to the International First Round (London) but in all honesty we would have done that anyway to cope with numbers who elected to play in Europe. Another difference over last time is that there will be no audiences attending the pianists’ performances, for obvious reasons. And the Jury will also not be present because of the risk of long-distance travel.

All the performances will be filmed using identical camera specifications and angles, and identical microphones and positions. The Jury will then view and judge, and ultimately vote, remotely. I had direct experience of this when I was on the jury in August 2020 for the Cleveland International Piano Competition’s Vir(tual)Oso online competition and it worked surprisingly well. So I am confident that the pianists will all have a very fair and equal chance in this First Round, even if they do have to play without an audience. But then many of them will have become well versed in streaming by now!

Do you feel there was an eagerness in young musicians this year to perform and work towards a goal following the cancellations of the past year?
Most definitely, and this might also partly account for the great increase in applicants. So many have been denied the very lifeblood that makes them musicians, and also so many other competitions this year have had to be cancelled. We are just lucky with our timing – that is keeping all fingers crossed – that by September 2021 things will have returned to a sort of normality.

We had 264 applicants – an increase of 43% over 2017 – with 44 different nationalities. The largest number from one single country came from China accounting for 26% of the applicants. Next were South Korea, Japan, Russia and the USA. The 62 selected to go through were from 28 different countries, with China again the largest number, followed by South Korea and Japan. But there were 4 each from France, Russia and the UK who will go through – and some interesting countries represented, such as Morocco, Iran, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Peru, Lithuania, and Armenia. And, as with the applications, the ratio of male to female pianists selected is roughly 66% to 33%. I’m slightly surprised and disappointed that there were not more women applying and we are keen to understand why this might be.

Who were the most popular composers and works chosen by Applicants this year?
Among the earlier composers (all pianists have to play a work composed before 1820) the most popular were Haydn and Scarlatti. Hardly anyone played any Schubert! Predictably there was a lot of Liszt (particularly the Dante Sonata) and Rachmaninov. But there was less Chopin that I might have expected. And one candidate submitted his own compositions.

Can you give us some insight into the International First Round and where they’ll take place in 2021?
Our International First Round will this time be held in 4 locations, as we have added London to the European locations. The aim is to dramatically reduce the distance travelled by each Competitor, for both safety and environmental reasons. By far the most popular choice of location to play is Europe. 18 will play in London and 30 in Berlin. This is because a large number of those applying are either resident or studying in Europe. 11 will play in New York and only 3 elected to play in Singapore.

Here are the locations:
London – Angela Burgess Hall at the Royal Academy of Music
Berlin – Joachim Saal at the University of the Arts
Singapore – Recital Hall at the Esplanade
New York – Carey Hall at the DiMenna Center

Adam's Office Shed

Adam’s office/shed!

And finally – as we’re all working from home these days, can you paint a picture of where in the world you were consuming all of this wonderful music?!
Well, apart from 3 live concerts, one at Wigmore Hall and 2 in private homes, all my music has been consumed in my shed at the bottom of my garden, which is set up with very good quality hi-fi equipment. That is where I have listened to the Applicants. When I say shed, it’s a little more sophisticated than your ordinary garden shed – it’s heated and insulated and houses all my scores and my huge CD collection, and also doubles as my office. I can listen undisturbed – and crucially not disturbing others – at all times of the day and night. Here’s a little photo to give you a taster. It’s my haven!