Recently, I played Salute to Donald, a version freshly transcribed from Colin Campbell’s Manuscript. There is no recording of the performance, but it was on similar lines to the one that I made for the wiki, linked above. The judge was an eminent scholar of piobaireachd, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the repertoire and the primary sources and modern and historical playing styles. Just the kind of person who might have an interesting and very well informed opinion of the performance that I would like to hear. Our conversation afterwards was indeed very interesting, and not at all what I expected.
He said to me that, apart from being played on a good sounding instrument with good technique, he was not able to evaluate it, cold, even with the score to hand. It was just notes. Without preparation, knowing what to expect, hearing it only once, it was too difficult to pick out the phrases. Especially so when performed in a style with rhythmic elements not usually heard and a version that has the phrase structure and boundaries completely different from the Piobaireachd Society and Kilberry versions.
That actually makes a lot of sense. It’s not because the judges don’t like different interpretations or think that they’re wrong (some may do, I suppose) but rather that if they’re mentally prepared for a day of listening to standard, careful performances designed primarily to win prizes, it is very difficult to change mindset without warning to appreciate something different and unfamiliar. Or at best if it is possible to appreciate it, it’s still the case that meaningfully comparing it to the other performances is nearly impossible. And that, after all is the job that the adjudicator is being paid for doing here.
It is similar to a situation that people who have more than one language sometimes find themselves in. In a place where one language, for example, English, is normally spoken, a stranger addressing you in Spanish might not be understood even though you speak perfect Spanish. On realizing what has happened, and asking the person to repeat, this time being prepared to understand Spanish, you understand them correctly.
The solution, of course, or at least the only solution that I can see, is to keep at it. Keep playing music in these other styles, until it is becomes familiar and not unexpected.