October's themed month explores the world of international competitions through the eyes of some finalists of top competitions around the world. We continue our tips series with Barry Douglas, winner of the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1986. As Artistic Director of Camerata Ireland and the Clandeboye Festival, he continues to celebrate his Irish heritage whilst also maintaining a busy international touring schedule.

Barry Douglas © Katya Kraynova
Barry Douglas
© Katya Kraynova

Whilst some singers thrive on competitions, others find them terrifying. What was your experience of competing in the Tchaikovsky competition 30 years ago?

In 1986 it was still part of the Soviet Union, and that was a fascinating and very different time compared with today. What’s similar to both periods is this passion for music and art, and an amazing enthusiasm and conviction from the music-loving public in Russia for great concerts and also for the Tchaikovsky Competition. What was daunting was the fact that there was such history in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire; portraits of the great musicians and composers all around the place, and the knowledge that some of the greatest premières of Russian compositions had happened there. For the weak-hearted, it might have been described, as you say in your question, as terrifying. However, the experience for me was uplifting and of course I was so honoured to have been given the Gold Medal. To this day, I feel a close friendship and connection with all of these friends in the Russian audiences.

What was the biggest way in which winning the Tchaikovsky competition helped you to develop your career?

While the Tchaikovsky Competition since 1958 when Van Cliburn won the medal, has been held in such high regard, the excitement of orchestras and festivals and presenters around the world will automatically lead to laureates of the competition being in high demand. For me, it was an amazing turning-point in my career, when the phone didn’t stop ringing. With that brings challenges in terms of organising your repertoire, and making sure that you plan your diary in a constructive way.

What is the key to capitalising on competition success?

The key to any artistic success is work and vision. For those who are blessed with a competition success, this comes with great responsibility. One has to see beyond the admittedly welcome attention to an artistic goal which will mean fulfilment for the artist and a rich cultural experience for the audience. These should always be the goals for every musician, whether a competition winner or not.

What are your top three competition tips?

It’s like what people say about real estate: location, location, location. If you ask me my top three tips: practice, practice, practice.

Are competitions an essential rung on the performing ladder, or are there other ways for young artists to get noticed?

There is a very simple answer to this: great quality and great vision from young and old will always out.