What makes BBC Cardiff Singer of the World so special? Music competitions don’t always get the best press in the world – exploitative, gladiatorial, pressurized are words that can be leveled at any kind of competition, but somehow, in a world where the arts, and especially music, are assumed to be about truth, beauty and aspiration, it seems as if anything as vulgar as a competition shouldn’t be cluttering up the landscape. On the other hand, if we’re talking about sport, then competition is somehow what it’s all about – healthy competition, stretching your abilities against your peers’, demonstrating your skill and prowess to them and to the lucky spectators who can be there to see it.
And one of the things that I’ve been increasingly struck by is the similarity between a world-class competition like Cardiff Singer and the Olympics, or Wimbledon. The finest performers in the world coming together to thrill audiences, to meet and inspire one another, to improve their performance through the process of comparison with others, and finally to progress their careers to the next level, gaining recognition for themselves and their art (or sport). And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Of course, there can be downsides; it’s pressurized, demanding, scary and tiring – as you have to perform to the best of your ability to order and exactly when required, for a short burst of time. And we’ve put cameras, microphones, and all the paraphernalia of television, radio and of course, most insidious of all, social media around them. To be honest however, this will be the shape of their lives to come if they are as successful as they hope to be, and we make sure to be supportive and helpful to them in the process, so that the learning curve is, we hope, a useful and not too painful one.
But the upsides! The opportunity to sing the music you love, and the music you excel in performing, with a world-class orchestra and conductor, or accompanied by great pianists, in front of a sympathetic and knowledgeably appreciative audience. To be dressed, made-up and lit beautifully, to be filmed and recorded by one of the greatest broadcasting companies in the world, and to have as a calling card on your CV that you were selected from your peers, world-wide, to be one of only twenty singers to take part in this great event. And of course, the opportunity to become the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, and follow in the footsteps of some of the great names treading the opera stages and platforms of the musical world today.
If we were talking about a sporting event, all of that would be unquestionably a good thing. To my mind, it’s equally true of a singing competition like this one – and we jealously guard our reputation as a competition which looks after our singers, and treats them respectfully, giving them as much support and positive experience as we can achieve while they’re with us.
This year we have, yet again, twenty wonderful, world-class singers, all of whom have been through the most rigorous selection process, and all of whom will have great careers in the world of classical music. As always, we hope that by giving the exposure we can give them, via television, radio, and now worldwide via the internet, that we can help the world enjoy their talents just a little bit earlier than might otherwise have happened without us.
Here’s to a great festival of singing – I hope you can join us, by one means or another!