It was hard choosing among the performances in the finals round of the string quartet competition. Each played a big, serious version of a big, serious quartet: Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" (Castalian), Beethoven's Op. 131 (Tesla), or his Second Razumovsky (Rolston). Beethoven's finales are bouncier than Schubert's; that was about the only difference.
So I'm still glad I'm not a judge, but it was on the basis of earlier exposure to all the groups that a lot of my fellow attendees, and this includes myself, were rather shocked that the grand prize winner turned out to be the Rolston. They're fine performers, but so was everybody else, and there was a top cut of performing effectiveness which the other finalists (and two or three non finalists) made but the Rolston didn't. One person I talked to said they didn't belong in the final round at all, and is worried about whether the group will survive the pressure of being the BISQC winners. In an interview session this morning, the Dover Quartet, winners of the last round 3 years ago - and whom everyone agreed deserved it with bells on - talked about how their careers have been transformed by this credential. They're a strong, seasoned ensemble and have weathered it, but BISQC winners have faded and collapsed before, and I'd be sorry if this happened again.
The fact that Rolston is the hometown team, the only competitors from Canada and in fact a group that formed three years ago at a chamber music residency at this very Banff Arts Centre, also casts a question mark. If BISQC gets a reputation of overly favoring Canadian groups, that will not be good for its health.
On the other hand, the judges do have their own criteria. Two men sitting near me were talking about how the judges are absolute death on technical mistakes. These could be so minute as to be inaudible to ears listening for emotive flow. The judges tote that number up and if it's too high, the group is gone. I turned to the men and said, "What about breaking your string? Does that count as a mistake?" Because the Rolston is the only quartet that did that during a concert. So I can't say. One woman told me she'd been coming for decades and never got the winner.
After the concert, there had been a break of about an hour while the judges made their final deliberation, while we milled about outside, then one of those "end of intermission" bells was rung, we all filed back in to the auditorium, and then, after a wait long enough for a few performances of John Cage's 4'33", people finally came on stage. Each of the ten competing quartets filed up and received a huge and sincere round of applause, and sat down in a bank of chairs, then the awards, including those for best performance of the Haydn and of the commissioned work, were made. The director announced various appropriate persons of note to make the awards, but in fact he announced them, and these notables were just there for photo-ops with the winners.
Then attendees had what was billed as a special buffet dinner, but it was in fact another version of the same (excellent) dinners we've been having in the dining room all week, just served somewhere else. That and the end of the festival meant we could sit around and chat a lot longer than in the past, and I had a long talk with a Canadian as interested in the US as I am in Canada, trying to fill in the holes in each other's knowledge of the other country's politics and history. One thing she said she didn't know about was the US's treatment of its aboriginal inhabitants. That entailed explaining what the Trail of Tears was (a term she'd heard but didn't know the meaning of), and it also entailed something I'd noted about this conference. At least twice, welcoming messages had begun by noting which treaty the land we were standing on had been ceded under, which tribes had inhabited the area, and thanking them for the use of their land. That is something that would just not be done in the US. No speechmaking bureaucrats would know which treaty a given piece of land was ceded under - I doubt there was one where I live; the Spanish apparently just came in and started gathering the natives into missions - or care much which tribes were settled there. It's a different country.
Anyway, I'm glad I've been here. Will I be back when they do this again in another three years? Very possibly.