Competitions help build careers, but there are other ways

Competitions may be the most effective way of building a musical career these days: A winner has a greater chance of making it big than a musician who tries to establish himself or herself without them.

The evils of competitions are also much discussed, as well they should be. Competitions have been accused of creating a generation of note machines without personality - high-velocity whiz kids without heart or soul.

In general, observers call competitions a necessary evil, for there are precious few ways a performing artist can get a career launched without a splashy win. There is no guarantee that the career will last - that is up to the player and how he or she actually clicks with the public. But the big win gets headlines, gets management, gets attention. One has only to cite Andre-Michel Schub's win at the Van Cliburn competition last year (Cliburn himself, of course , was put on the map at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow), which has finally, after years of struggle, put him on the big-time circuit.

Are there ways an artist can get around the competition syndrome? Well, take the case of Affiliate Artists - an ambitious, marvelous program, announced last April, that could revolutionize the way young artists are groomed and prepared for careers. Auditions were held last year and six pianists were chosen for a new residency program that will place these artists in 14 orchestras around the country for two weeks. The pianists will play a concerto with the orchestra, as well as a solo recital.

Most importantly, they will offer at least 14 ''informances,'' and this is where the project is unique. Informance is a trademark designation of Affiliate Artists that describes an informal recital with information added by the artists themselves (thus the sense of informal, informative performance combined in the term).

These informances will occur in any number of unusual places - city halls, community centers, school classrooms, and so forth. They allow the artists direct communication with their audiences, many of whom are probably hearing such a musical event for the first time in their lives. The artists say they enjoy these events because they provide feedback.

Projects like this one cost money, and Affiliate Artists has been able to get that money from the National Endowment for the Arts and Xerox. Not surprisingly, then, the program is called Xerox Pianists Program. The players involved are Leon Bates, Arthur Greene, Stephen Mayer, Gita Karasik, Christopher O'Riley, and Panayis Lyras.

Mr. O'Riley has won awards at the Van Cliburn, Busoni, and Leeds Competitions. Mr. Lyras won the silver medal at the Van Cliburn Competition, grand prize at the 1979 Gina Bachauer Competition, and first prize in the Three Rivers Piano Competition. Mr. Mayer won awards at the Bachauer and the Busoni.

Mr. Greene won first at the Bachauer in 1978. Miss Karasik was invited to China in 1980, and has just been asked back. Mr. Bates has already made a recording, played with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and performed a new piano concerto on nationwide TV. Fisher

None of these artists is exactly inexperienced, but all need the boost this program will give them. This sort of assist is what Avery Fisher conceived of doing with his prize, administered through Lincoln Center. Of late, he has been recognizing American instrumentalists on the verge of international careers - Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and the like. Now the award has changed again - to become, as Mr. Fisher likes to say, ''the Pulitzer Prize of the music world.''

This year's winner is Horacio Guttierrez, an artist already established, with three Angel records under his belt and a career here and abroad. So now this fine prize - a cash gift of $10,000, as well as other assistance to be worked out with the artist and his manager - takes on a new lustre, a new aura. Guttierrez is said to want to make more records, and he will appear on the Great Performers at Lincoln Center next season under the auspices of the prize.

The Avery Fisher Prize, at the very specific designation of the man who gave enough money to make it all possible, is not to be considered a competition. A huge panel of judges - over 100 - send in their lists of candidates, and a committee reduces the names, finally, to the winner. Mr. Fisher remains throughout an advisor, not a voting member. His influence is felt in the way the prize evolves rather than who gets it from year to year.

It is surprisingly quirk-free (if one overlooks the fact that only instrumentalists are considered, with singers categorically excluded). Since there is no competition, no one is put through an emotional and physical wringer in an attempt to wrest that prize from someone else. Meet the Composer

While on the topic of unusual arts programs, the extraordinary Meet the Composer/Orchestra Residencies Program was unveiled in May in the New York Philharmonic board room at Avery Fisher Hall. It's extraordinary because it allows six composers to spend two years with an important American orchestra. The composers and ''their'' orchestras are: John Adams at the San Francisco Symphony (Edo de Waart, music director); Jacob Druckman at the New York Philharmonic (Zubin Mehta, music director); Joseph Schwantner at the Saint Louis Symphony (Leonard Slatkin, music director); John Harbison at the Pittsburgh Symphony (Andre Previn, music director); Robert Xavier Rodriguez, Dallas Symphony (Eduardo Mata, music director). The sixth composer and orchestra have yet to be announced.

The composer will work with the music director; he will try to awaken a new interest in contemporary music within the orchestra and the community. He will write one major work for the orchestra (if not more). He will organize a new-music series, advise and guide when and where needed, and serve as an overall advocate for new music.

To paraphrase Zubin Mehta, music directors are too busy to take the pulse of what is happening in new music. The resident composers will be their source of information, their sounding boards. ''We would not have done it ourselves; we could not afford it,'' Mr. Mehta says. ''We will make the experiment work!

''The composers will make $40,000 a year (John Harbison notes that, although it is less than he and his wife earn in Boston, he felt the program was too special to pass up). The Rockefeller Foundation and Exxon are giving $350,000 each over two years. Those who spoke at the press conference said they did not know exactly where all this would lead, but that an important step had been made.

A curious footnote is that all of the major orchestras were sent information about the program; only 22 replied. The Philadelphia Orchestra and National Symphony asked to be put on hold; the Cleveland Symphony requested a two-year hold to allow its new music director to settle in; the Boston Symphony apparently never answered.

The interest in the program is enormous. The good will is high. The composers themselves are looking forward to the challenge. And, most importantly, audiences are the ones who could benefit the most in the long run from a program that may, perhaps, begin at last to break down resistance to - and fear of - new music.

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