1996, while still playing as the
pianist of my beloved Trio di Venezia,
we were invited to participate in
a chamber music competition in Asia,
whose location will remain
unknown. The organization was simply
spectacular: tape auditions, twenty
or so groups selected, the most expensive
plane tickets with Lufthansa, including
a seat for the cello, accommodation
at a five-star hotel, single rooms,
etc. We were even given a generous daily
allowance to spend as we liked (quickly
wiped off by modest but outrageously
expensive meals at small local restaurants,
where we were asked to leave most
of the time because we looked American).
The competition invested huge sums
to guarantee the success of the event.
We were treated like royalty. People
were exceedingly nice to us, always
finding a way to make us feel comfortable.
Upon our arrival, we had to
attend a general meeting with the
director of the competition, who
gave a long spiel about how wonderful
it was to have us there, and how
privileged they were that a major
violinist (who will also
remain nameless) became the
patron of the competition. He was
the guy who was offering the daily
stipend to all the contestants, and
from his own pocket!
The pleasant introduction was instantly
spoiled by an unexpected request:
we were asked to pay a $30 admission
fee, and declining to pay would
have incurred in the automatic disqualification
of the group! We were speechless.
The organization spent no less than
$2,000 for the sumptuous food offered
at the reception the night before,
a total of probably $60,000 on airfares
to fly all of us there, stellar hotel,
breakfast included (I'm sure they
got package deals, but still...),
and they are asking us to cover admission
fees that most likely totaled 600
bucks??? Quite surreal. We pull out
our wallets and submit. I guess it
became for them a matter of honor,
a manifestation of commitment.
The whole experience is great.
We get into the semifinals and
are quite satisfied with our performance.
The concert hall is possibly one
of the best in the world (at least
one of the best stages I got to step
on) and the audience very receptive
and enthusiastic. We are amazed at
the perfection of the system, where
everything is minutely calculated,
and most of the time obnoxiously
Meanwhile, we get to talk to other
contestants, who are excellent players
and very nice people. The sense of
camaraderie is of the highest level:
no dirty looks, no unfriendly behavior.
However, we soon notice that our return
flights are scheduled for the day
after the end of the semifinal round,
even though they are open tickets.
We just assume it was done randomly,
but by chance, one day we start
a conversation about it with some
of the remaining contestants. Some
of them have our same flight schedule,
some of them are scheduled to leave
after the end of the competition.
The next day, the results are announced:
five groups get into the finals,
and we are not one of them. We quickly
come to the realization that the
finalists were those people who had
their flights scheduled a couple
of days after the end of the event.
We are in disbelief: how is it possible
that they thought we wouldn't notice? In
a way, I remained optimistic for
a few days, trusting that it was
done in good faith and that it was
just a coincidence. But it remains
so only until I take a look at the
brochure of the competition, which
included each group's profile, teachers,
programs: all the groups that made
the finals were students at a music
academy in Europe (also to remain
nameless), which coincidentally...
is named after the guy who became
the generous patron of the competition
and gave us the opportunity to have
a glimpse at the lack of hospitality
of people who thought we were businessmen
from the new continent.