Minnesota Piano-E-Competition

The Minnesota Piano-E-Competition started in 2002 and is held every two years, the most recent installment being this year, 2008. The competition level is very high. Some of the contestants have participated in other piano competitions such as the Van Cliburn and the Sydney International. There is also a Junior E-Competition and it is amazing to see what repertoire these youngsters are able to play!

What’s really interesting about the Minnesota competition is the unique way that the auditions and early rounds are conducted. Contestants record their performances on Yamaha CFIIIS grand pianos equipped with the Disklavier Pro player system. These pianos are located in Moscow, Shanghai, Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris. The recorded MIDI XP files are sent via the Internet to the competition jury at a central location. The jury then listens to the performances played back on a similarly equipped CFIIIS. I’m not sure, but it looks like there is also video, sync’d to the MIDI XP playback.

Even more interesting is that the MIDI files of all the solo performances are available for download from the competition website. The 2002 files are available only in MIDI XP format, which only the Disklavier can playback properly. MIDI XP has higher resolution key data. It uses a scale of 0-1023 to record hammer (note-on) velocity, key-on velocity, and key-release (note-off) velocity. Pedal data for sustain and una corda are recorded as continuous data from 0-127. They can still be played back on standard MIDI pianos, but they don’t sound too great.

From the 2004 competition onwards the MIDI files are provided in three flavours: MIDI XP, MIDI enhanced and E-SEQ. MIDI Enhanced conforms to the normal MIDI specification but includes data that is not often recorded or played back by other MIDI instruments, such as key release velocity (from 0-127). As with the XP SMF, pedal data for sustain and una corda are recorded as continuous data from 0-127. These files playback very nicely on Pianoteq. E-SEQ files are for early model Disklaviers.

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