Interview with Gérard Bekerman
Founder of the International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs
What was the real deep-down reason that you created the International Competition for Outstanding Piano Amateurs?
It was the need to share a passion and find other people who, like me, both in France and across the globe, lead a double life: their profession – born of necessity – and their love of music, the piano in particular. But this “double life” is really one and the same. For outstanding amateurs like ourselves, 1 + 1 = 1. See! An economist who knows how to count! In fact, music does not just hold a place in our lives, it is our life. We work for a living, but we live for music. And this twofold experience is enriching on a human level. It teaches us that we have to combine the wisdom and reasonableness we need to acquire a profession with a passion that doesn’t necessarily butter our bread, but is our reason for living. I don’t have a business card, but if I did, I’d put “economist” on one side to use in the day and “pianist” on the other to use at night.
How do you select candidates from every corner of the globe and every walk of life?
It’s just “natural selection”. Every year, we receive about a hundred entries from throughout the world without really knowing where they come from. The level of our candidates varies considerably, but gradually becomes more homogeneous when you get to the semi-finals and finals where our candidates are usually of a very high calibre. I also have to say that I have tried to instil a certain philosophy into the Concours. In every candidate, no matter how imperfect they are, there is always something worth discovering, even if their fingering technique may be a little short. To a certain degree, I prefer poetry to grammar … even if combining the two satisfies me best.
You say that it’s an anti-competition. Don’t you think that every competitor is driven by an overwhelming desire to be first?
In art, the notion of first is relative. In the history of piano competitions over the last century, some marvellous pianists such as Kissin haven’t competed in a single competition, while others, like Lipatti, have come second (Cortot, who was the judges’ chairman, walked out in sheer disappointment!). I think that it’s quite legitimate for a candidate to want to win, but I can assure you that, at the Concours – and it’s the same in my professional and personal life – you can win without it meaning that you have beaten someone else. In a certain sense, the only person a candidate really has to beat at the Concours is themselves. Competitors have to learn to have complete self-control, totally master their situation and overcome the logistics of the keyboard, so that the door to expression, the “soul”, will spontaneously open. The piano, as you know, is a lot of soul and even more sweat.
Do you think that the professional pianists who judge the Competition sometimes have an (unavowed) feeling of rivalry with amateurs who sometimes play better than they do?
Once again, I don’t share your idea of “rivalry” in art. Chopin is not a 100 metres Olympic sprint. I’m not in a very good position to answer the question. Having said that, I would be curious to know their answer. You should put the question to them. On a personal level, I’m delighted when I hear a pianist play better than I do. Needless to say, I’m often delighted!
For you, as president, what are the most outstanding, or most unusual, or the funniest moments you have experienced during the competition?
I have a little story to tell you. For years, Nella Rubinstein, the wife of Arthur Rubinstein, was a faithful member of the judges’ panel. She loved it! Sometimes, during the preliminaries (because she wanted to be in on all the heats), when we started to get tired, we would spontaneously catch each other’s eye, and Nella would start to entertain me with fabulous recipes from Eastern Europe (she had even published a book of them). Both my grandfather and father were born just a few miles from the village where Arthur Rubinstein himself comes from, in Lodz in Poland. Nella’s education and elegance – far greater than my own – and our shared respect for the candidates, would prevent her from getting to the end of the recipe and – no pun intended – would leave me hungry for more. Suddenly, I was the one who would start to imagine myself in a Delicatessen when I was supposed to be concentrating on the candidates. Since then, whenever I walk in the streets of Berlin or Los Angeles or Paris and I see a Delicatessen, I think of Nella, and of my concentrated efforts to hear the last bars of Mozart’s Variations by Duport or Liszt’s Valse oubliée …
In two years’ time, it will be the 20th anniversary of the Competition for Outstanding Amateurs. Have you thought of an unexpected, or original or exceptional way of celebrating it?
Yes, I have my little idea. I promise I’ll tell you what it is if you do me the pleasure of interviewing me again when it comes closer to the time.
Fragen an Gérard BEKERMAN
Journalist : Elisabeth Richter