Joanne Baker sees the role of the musician as one who communicates the wishes of the composer to the audience.
Baker, who has been the chairwoman the jury panel at the Gina Bachauer piano competition since 1982, said, "It's very important for performers to listen and communicate the composers' wishes."The result? "You make the composer and the audience happy with your performance."
Overall, Baker is excited about the quality of performers at this year's competition, noting that the Bachauer has always had some
fine pianists. And she should know, having been associated with the event as a judge since the first competition in 1976.
"Back then," Baker said, "the competitions were held in Provo, and we also had master classes, recitals and lectures in connection with the competition. The event lasted a week total. And it stayed like this for a couple of years.
"In 1981, the Bachauer became associated with the Utah Symphony and moved into Abravanel Hall."
Over the years, the scope of the competition grew and expanded so that in 1994, the year that Nicholas Angelich won the gold medal, it was decided to hold the competition only once every 4 years. The idea was to facilitate the audition process and assemble a group of pianists of the highest cal-i-ber.
"These auditions are held throughout the world and (founder and artistic director) Paul Pollei sets up judging committees at all of these auditions." Thus ensuring the continued high quality of the Bachauer competition.
A high point for the Bachauer came in 1983 when the competition was admitted to the World Federation of International Music Competitions.
"This was a big honor for the Bachauer to be invited to join the federation," Baker said. "There are 10 or 12 big competitions worldwide that are a part of this federation. The directors of these competitions meet yearly to set dates and make arrangements (for their respective competitions) so that there are no conflicts.
"There are several requirements to be part of the federation, and one of them is that there must be a majority of judges on a panel who are not from the competition's country. For the Bach-auer, we have six judges from the (United States) and nine from other countries."
Baker enjoys many things about judging ("I love the piano and can't get enough of it"), but it's a difficult job at best. Many times it's only a single vote that determines if a competitor goes on to the next round or goes home.
"We determine winners by ballot voting," she said. "There is no discussion among jurors. In fact, the rules and regulations stipulate that there shall be no discussion or criticism of each other's decisions."
After the quarterfinal round, for example, each juror had to cast 10 "yes" votes and three "maybe" votes to determine the 10 semifinalists. The "yes" votes were then tallied, with "maybe" votes on hand in case of a tie.
This may seem like a rather impersonal way to determine the fate of so many talented young pianists. But Baker reminds the jurors every day to do their homework and grade the competitors, so that pianists who exhibit both virtuosity and musicality are ensured a fair evaluation.
Like all performers, Baker, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., began playing the piano at an early age. "I gave my first recital at 4. Goodness knows what that must have been like. My first teacher was my mother. My father was not musical, but he was tolerant."
She attended the University of Michigan and did some post-graduate studies with Carl Friedberg, who was a pupil of Clara Schumann.
After her studies, Baker taught at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music for 49 years, retiring in 1997. She also had a prominent career as a performer until she was afflicted with arthritis in 1970. "That was my nemesis. I was devastated when that happened to me. It ended my performing career. However, I continued to teach and hold master classes and judge competitions and promote my students' careers."
Her advice to young pianists wanting to compete and pursue a concert career is both sound and rooted in reality:
"You must work very hard. The pay isn't great, and there are many other pianists. You have to love it to carry on the great legacy of piano music."