Some languages, such as French, use the same word to indicate ‘time’ and ‘weather’. And yet, precision is necessary when estimating the influence of a particular context and of the electric tension that pervades the concert hall during certain competitions. A Soviet candidate winning in the city where NATO has its headquarters (1951), a first Israeli laureate, defeating a Soviet candidate in 1971; a laureate and future winner, Nai-Yuan Hu
, playing the Elgar concerto at the very moment in 1985 when British football fans were creating, just a few minutes away, a frightful human tragedy: events like these can fill the hall at the Centre for Fine Arts (Palais des Beaux-Arts) with unique vibrations of a kind that can be lost in recording.
The weather, on the other hand, can push the thermometer up to 40° C or more onstage, strip the jackets off an orchestra under the threat of strike action, and make the piano ivories glisten with sweat. The television spotlights of the 1970s and 1980s were merciless. Belgian spring weather - believe it or not - can also be merciless. Some finalists owe their failure or, less dramatically, a variety of minor hitches to this heat - experiences discs and the radio inevitably overlook.
The competition, of course, takes place over time - and those competitors who end up occupying the top places show immense powers of resistance: they have lived through a whole month of tension and testing. Others may have cracked up during the final, failing to achieve the ranking their talent promised. The word ‘exhaustion’ invariably recurs in laureates’ recollections. But that is not all: for those who achieve the highest places, the declaration of the results heralds further fatigue: a succession of laureates’ concerts, including the closing concert - the climax of each edition - in the presence of the Belgian royal family. After that there are the concerts that external agents hasten to organise with the laureates, with the active support of the Competition; these are numerous and go well beyond the borders of Belgium. Here too, over the years, the organisation has been able to help provide optimal assistance to the laureates and to offer them many artistic opportunities.