The Ear of the Beholder

Author:  John Steinmetz

Publication:  Chamber Music America

Publication Date: April 2006

Click HERE for the full text on the Chamber Music America site.

Every chamber music series, every musician seeks to uphold “the highest musical standards.” But what are these standards? A longtime performer meditates on an elusive concept—artistry.

I used to know what artistry was. I believed that if musicians performed or composed with honesty and heart, giving voice to their personal understanding of music, and did this skillfully and eloquently, then the audience would connect.

Well, I was wrong, but I didn’t realize it for decades, until a colleague inadvertently punctured my naïveté. He was talking about being a judge at international competitions. The purpose of these competitions is to select the best performer and to reward the highest-quality music-making; but there’s one big problem. According to my colleague, the judges at competitions don’t agree about what is beautiful...