Every high-class café or bar used to have a piano player, before playing background music from a CD or a music service became ubiquitous. Some people — including those at piano maker Petrof — would like to keep the old tradition going. The New York Café-Prague at Boscolo Prague Hotel and the famed piano maker are sponsoring the second-annual Pianist of the Year contest.
The geographic boundaries are a bit vague, as anyone in the world can enter but the structure of the contest with one qualification round and five public elimination rounds about every two weeks pretty much limits participants to the Prague area, although one participant did commute from Vienna last year. In addition, six contestants were foreigners who lived in the Prague area.
“This competition is looking for someone who can play pretty much everything, which is hard, you know, because a lot of the training is specialized in one or two [musical genres]. Even if some people can play jazz pretty well, some of them can’t improvise that well. A lot of people just learn it by the score,” contest judge and concert pianist Jitka Fowler Fraňková told the Prague Post.
She is one of three judges, along with pianist composer and arranger Petr Malásek and banjo maker Rostislav Čapek of Čapek Bluegrass and Jazz Instruments. “There is a fourth judge, the audience. They actually have quite an influence. ….So the people who come to the round, they can actually influence who gets into the next round,” she said. In addition, there is Internet voting to choose a wildcard finalist from among the eliminated contestants.
Judging a contest for a café or bar pianist is quite different than judging a classical piano contest, said Fraňková who was involved in last year’s contest. People also ask how such diverse judges coming from completely different fields can judge the contest. “If someone is good and someone creates the atmosphere and gives music with some heart and soul I think you can tell,” she said.
“Mainly it is the proficiency, obviously, and the technique, but also the atmosphere — the different colors they provide on the instrument,” she said. Some of the criteria are very basic such as “whether they can entertain and be musical,” she added.