Rhinegold Publishing

All change at the International Tchaikovsky Competition

9:45, 12th February 2015

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

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