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e-Competition I - The Yamaha Disklavier Pro Mark IV

This past week, I spent 4 days immersing myself in the latest of young pianistic talent, as well as the latest in piano technology. Each merits its own entry, so that's what I'm going to do! The e-Competition, based in Minnesota, started in 2000 with the idea of embracing fully the possibilities of technology in the service of good old-fashioned piano playing of the great traditions begun over 300 years ago. Based on Yamaha's extensive development of the concert grand piano CFIIIS and their parallel development of electronic recording of MIDI information, the Disklavier is an incredible 21st Century piano. Full disclosure requires me to say that I'm a Yamaha artist, but having had a hand (actually, two hands) in the development of the CFIIIS during my time in Paris, I feel I've made an investment in Yamaha - both professional and personal. The e-Competition's screening auditions take full advantage of the Disklavier technology, and I believe they are the only competition to do so, at least currently. My suspicion is that, as economic times continue to get difficult, especially for the arts, the possibilities of using the Disklavier will become more and more tempting for our very conservative little artistic niche. The technology has advanced past a critical tipping point, and any continuing mechanical concerns with using the Disklavier are now on par with the constant and expected mechanical concerns of using an instrument as complex as a grand piano - tuning, voicing, pedal regulation, escape regulation, etc. In the company of three wonderful colleagues - Rees Allison, Stanislav Pochekin, and the e-Competition director Alexander Braginsky - I spent a happy 4 days listening to over 60 pianists perform 25 minute programs. While we worked with very little pause from 10am to 8pm every day, the process was much less tiring than similar processes have been for me at other events. This is the first unexpected observation about this particular experience: listening to auditions with the Disklavier was much less tiring than I expected. In the past, I have participated in juries where auditions were held live, and others where applicants sent in audio recordings. My memories of both processes are broadly painted over with one feeling - fatigue! In the case of live auditions, we jury members went to the contestants - we traveled around the world, over a period of weeks, setting up physically and mentally in many different cities, battling jet-lag, food issues and strange beds! We spent a substantial amount of time ... waiting - for planes, for taxis, for contestants, for audiences. With the Disklavier, we were able to leave the traveling to a single coordinator, who worked with local Yamaha staff and technicians to set up the taping of the auditions. Once auditions had taken place - in NY, LA, Paris, Moscow and Beijing - the recordings were collected together in NY, where our jury group was able to hear them in quick succession. For myself, it was a dream job for 4 days. I got up in the morning, dressed, grabbed some breakfast as I headed out to the Metro-North train station. The hour-long ride gave me ample opportunity to read the newspaper, look over some mail and grab a quick snooze before stepping onto the Grand Central platform in NYC. A brisk walk to the Yamaha showroom gave me a good alibi for another day passing without doing any swimming! I checked my pedometer - 2000 aerobic steps one way, already better than the number of steps the average couch potato American takes in a day. By the third day, I was fantasizing about having an office job, timing my short drive from home to the train station parking lot with only 2 minutes to spare, lining myself up on the train platform at the exact spot where the train doors would stop and open, my pre-paid ticket ready in my wallet. Unfortunately, the third day was a Saturday, and the 8:04 ran only on weekdays. Fortunately, the weekend train arrived 20 minutes later, which still got me to Yamaha on time, albeit with a brisker walk. Soon after we began, it became clear how efficient this would be. There was no waiting for the contestant to walk to the piano, sit down, adjust the bench height, wipe the keyboard, find their concentration before starting to play. Electronic editing had eliminated all of this before we arrived. The timing between p