All change at the International Tchaikovsky Competition
28 April 2011, Moscow
Historically fraught with controversy and claims of cloudy voting systems, the International Tchaikovsky Competition is nonetheless one of the most prestigious events on the classical music calendar, its former winners including Van Cliburn, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Boris Berezovsky.
And now its muddy past looks set to change, at least according to Richard Rodzinski, the competition’s new general director and former director of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (pictured, middle).
‘It had fallen into disrepair,’ says Rodzinski. ‘There was this perception that it was dominated by conservatory professors and that the voting system wasn’t as transparent as it could have been.’ Rodzinski believes the competition was on its way to losing its international prestige.
So this year, there are new rules and a whole new set of conditions. Featuring 30 pianists, 27 violinists, 25 cellists and 40 singers (aged between 16 and 32), the competition takes place from 15 to 30 June in Moscow with a total prize fund of €300,000. Among the entrants are several world-renowned performers, all chosen by an independent jury (the piano jury includes Ashkenazy, Bronfman and Barry Douglas).
The main thing the jury is looking for this year, according to Rodzinski, is communicators: ‘People whose technique you take for granted but who are very good, well-rounded personalities. People who you would want to buy a ticket to see.’ He says the auditions have been promising so far: ‘From the screening auditions we can see that the standards are very high.’ There is still great difference in nationalities. For example, this year’s piano class is largely dominated by Russians; but there are only two Russian cellists. There are no British finalists across the whole competition.
There are also changes to the prizes on offer. ‘In the past they just gave you a medal, said “good luck” and hoped commercial management would pick you up,’ says Rodzinski. ‘Now we are focusing on offering the laureates
three years of guaranteed management [from Opus 3 and Intermusica] and hundreds of engagements [at performances conducted by chairman Valery Gergiev]. We are opening the door to a career now.’
Some of the competitors’ names might look a little familiar, many of them already enjoying a degree of international success. Russian Eduard Kunz is a competition veteran, having won the Grand Prix of the George Enescu Competition in Bucharest, the Paderewski International Piano Competition and the Richter Award from the Rostropovich Foundation. The South Korean Yeol Eum Son has already won silver at the Van Cliburn Competition and recorded for Universal, and Yunjie Chen scooped first prize in China’s National Piano Competition at the tender age of 12.
Others to watch in the piano class include the Russian former Liszt Competition winner Arseny Aristov and jazz pianist, singer and composer Andrew Tyson from New York, whose Chopin Competition entry prompted judges to say he was not so much playing Chopin as ‘recreating Chopin’. Praise indeed.
Report by Hazel Davis
Child molestation investigation against Mikhail Pletnev dropped
6 December 2010
An investigation into accusations of child molestation by the Russian pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev has been formally dropped without charge. A statement from the Russian National Orchestra (RNO) confirmed that the Thai authorities had terminated their investigation surrounding the founder and music director of the Russian National Orchestra on 28 September 2010 and no charges were made to the Thai Court. Pletnev’s bail was lifted in October, and returned to him in late November.
The RNO's statement said that Pletnev, 54, has always refuted the allegations made against him and has been fully cooperative during the Thai authorities' investigations. He was arrested on 5 July 2010 by Thai police investigating allegations that he had been involved in a child prostitution ring and had molested a minor. Contrary to newspaper reports at the time he was never charged. Furthermore his Thai one-year visa was never restricted and he was never put on a 'black list'. After his arrest he was released on bail, and returned regularly to the Thai beach resort of Pattaya as instructed by the Pattaya District Court.
The RNO is currently touring Europe and Pletnev is due to conduct the orchestra on 8 December in Moscow.
First woman in 45 years wins Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw
25 October 2010
Russian Yulianna Avdeeva, aged 25, is the surprise winner of the 16th International Fryderyck Chopin Competition in Warsaw, which concluded on 21 October.
Avdeeva beat the nine other finalists to become the first female winner to be awarded the first prize since Martha Argerich won in 1965. Her performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto no.1 in E minor on her chosen instrument, a Yamaha CFX concert grand piano, received the vote of the jury, which included Argerich, Nelson Freire, Fou Ts'ong, Bella Davidovich and and Kevin Kenner. She received 30,000 Euros and two dates with the New York Philharmonic.
The jury’s decision proved to be highly controversial. The competition’s website had revealed the Austrian Ingolf Wunder as the audience favourite, and music critics had also voiced their expectation that Wunder to walk away with the top prize. Instead, he shared the second prize with Russian-Lithuanian Lukas Geniušas, 20. Third prize went to 19-year-old Russian Daniil Trifonov; fourth prize to Bulgarian Evgeni Bozhanov, 26, and fifth prize to François Dumont, 25, of France. Sixth prize was not awarded.
Avdeeva studied in Moscow and is currently working as an assistant to a Russian professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Zurich. Special prizes were also given: the Mazurka Prize to Trifonov, the Sonata Prize to Avdeeva, the Concerto Prize and Polonaise-Fantaisie Prize to Wunder and the Polonaise Prize to Geniušas.
Helmut Lachenmann Weekend at the Southbank Centre – 23–24 October 2010
20 October 2010
On 23–24 October London’s Southbank Centre will celebrates the 75th birthday of one of the most visionary musical voices of our time, the German avant-garde composer Helmut Lachenmann. British pianist and composer Rolf Hind, an artist who exists very much at the forefront of contemporary classical music and who has worked closely with many living composers, will perform Ausklang: ‘Music for Piano and Orchestra’ (1985) with the London Sinfonietta, and Got Lost (2008), for soprano and piano, with Sarah Leonard.
Lachenmann’s musical language is primarily concerned with the exploration and re-imagining of sound, and makes huge demands of its performers who must reach for new techniques in order to convey the music. When I spoke to Hind about the event, I asked how he had got to know this composer’s work, which has a reputation for being forbidding.
‘I was a bit scared of it, to be honest’, he admits. ‘But one of my closest friends, David Alberman, used to be in the Arditti Quartet, and they did a lot of Lachenmann, so I got to know the music through him. Then, two or three years ago, the soprano Sarah Leonard asked if I wanted to be involved in a commission of a piece by him, which became Got Lost. Then I met and worked with Lachenmann, and really fell in love with his music. It’s very beautiful, and extremely well-made, as well as challenging – it rinses your ears out!’
Lachenmann, a student of the radically-committed Italian composer Luigi Nono, is an intensely political composer with a reputation for being prickly, but Hind seems to find him a bit of a pussycat. ‘I know him quite well, and I have worked with him a lot on Got Lost. He is a towering man, literally, and he can get angry. But once he trusts you as a performer, he’s very supportive, and gives you loads of time.’
Hind says that in spite of its demands for unconventional playing techniques, Ausklang (‘Sounding Out’) is quite easy on the page: ‘He doesn’t do complex rhythms and that sort of thing. He really enjoys the strange sounds – it’s a sensual pleasure for him. Then there’s the German dialectical, theoretical aspect. Finally there’s a kind of presentation of objects, laid out in a beautiful garden for you to contemplate’.
The composer will talk and perform his own music at the event, and there will be a screening of ...wo ich noch nie war ( ...where I've never been before) – The Composer Helmut Lachenmann.
Benjamin Grosvenor selected for the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme
20 October 2010
The young British pianist and former child prodigy Benjamin Grosvenor has good reason to celebrate his 18th birthday this October after he was one of ten musicians to be selected for the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists (NGA) scheme.
The two-year development programme offers recipients recordings and appearances with BBC orchestras, plus Radio 3 lunchtime concerts from Wigmore Hall and LSO St Luke’s and appearances at UK music festivals – in some cases the Proms. Grosvenor will record a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the BBC SO on 26 October, and has a BBC Radio 3 NGA studio recording session in November, performing Brahms’s Piano Quartet no.3 op.60 with three members of the Elias Quartet, themselves New Generation Artists, for future broadcast on Radio 3.
Grosvenor said being selected for the scheme was ‘a great honour. I’m really looking forward to the opportunities it’s going to present: performing with the BBC orchestras and working with the other young musicians on the scheme.’
The pianist first came to prominence in 2004 when, aged eleven, he won the Keyboard Final at the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. At 13 he debuted at the Royal Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall, and since then he has performed internationally as a recitalist, chamber player and concerto soloist, although his concert and recording schedules have been limited to allow him to develop at his own pace and to continue his studies. He recently began his final year at the Royal Academy of Music, taught by Christopher Elton.
Grosvenor has a busy autumn ahead of him. He continues his 18th birthday UK tour, which culminates with a New Year’s concert performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no.2 for the first time, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by James Judd. He will also make his Belgian debut at BOZAR in Brussels, and on 16 October, his birthday, he will present the first UK performance on the new Yamaha CFX grand piano in Malvern, in a programme of Chopin, Ravel and Gershwin.
Performances and interviews with the NGA artists can be viewed at bbc.co.uk/radio3/nga.