Imagine a competition for, I dunno, the best home baker in Britain. You’d have at least one baker as a judge, right? Probably two. If you had a panel of five judges, you’d expect most of them to know their way round a mixing bowl first hand.
Well, this competition is different. Of the five expert judges, none are conductors. Mackenzie is accompanied by two LSO colleagues, principal cor anglais, Christine Pendrill, and principal clarinet, Andrew Marriner. Alongside them, head of the Santa Cecilia academy in Rome, Mauro Bucarelli, and head of the Guildhall, Jonathan Vaughan, although he may be here just to make sure his students don’t get out of control.
(Incidentally, there appears to be little chance of that. Not only were the players here warming up together before the competition began, but they were back ready to play after the morning drinks break with at least 5 minutes to go. And their discipline has been impeccable – pretty much no talking and petty disruptive behaviour. If I had been at music college, it wouldn’t have been like that when I was at music college.)
This can mean only one thing: the organisers have made a terrible oversight. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it’s actually a cunning ploy by the LSO players themselves. Remember that one of the prizes is that coveted job as assistant conductor? Well, this is one way to make sure that they get exactly the assistant conductor they want, someone who has a good rapport with musicians rather than someone who has a good rapport with other conductors.
There will be conductors on the panel for the grand final on Sunday, so it’s not a total revolution. But it is a new direction for the Donatella Flick competition, whose previous editions have all had conductors involved in the whole process. And it’s certainly unusual in an international competition of this calibre to see so few conductors sitting in judgment on their younger selves.
And something for the producers of the Great British Bake-Off to ponder too: if you want to make sure the best baker wins, get someone from the LSO to taste the cakes.