When I judge a piano competition for several hours there are usually several performers that stand out from the rest. I most often judge competitions for state solo & ensemble or regional talent shows. Here are some of the qualities of the performers that stand out:
- stage presence
- technical mastery
- piece selection appropriate difficulty for the skill level
- response to mistakes (Can they recover from a mistake?)
- All mistakes not created equal
- gracious acknowledgement of the audience
- knowing your competitors
- knowing the judges
Knowing your competitors
When competing it is valuable to know what you are up against. If a competition is held annually it is excellent feedback to watch the rest of the competition after you compete. I remember doing this for university concerto competition. I didn't make it the first couple of auditions but I watched all the other competitors. I got to see which auditions made the cut and what kinds of pieces and performances the judges picked.
Knowing your judges
Sometimes this is not possible, but for recurring competitions where you can guess who the judges might be you might be able to guess what kinds of things that judge is looking for. For example, I knew that no matter how well someone played Gershwin or Beethoven the university conductor didn't really like doing those concertos. Picking Liszt or Saint-Saens or Grieg was a much better choice.