Tchaikovsky competition ends in Cold War era scandal

30th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

The classic music competition bearing the name of Tchaikovsky and made famous by the young Van Cliburn ended in scandal Thursday befitting its storied Cold War era past.

The prestigious piano prize at the quadrennial event went to Russia's Daniil Trifonov, while the violin award was kept by the judges after both the local entry and an Israeli candidate were deemed to be only worthy of joint second.

"We can all call the 14th International Tchaikovsky Competition a success," Russia Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev told the award ceremony.

"This was a grand celebration for all music lovers."

The Moscow Conservatory grounds have been home to intrigue since the inaugural grand prize went to the young US pianist Van Cliburn in 1958 -- a decision so stunning it had to be approved by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Soviet legend says that the imposing figure asked the quivering head of the Tchaikovsky jury if Cliburn was really the best man. A nod in the affirmative drew the gruff Khrushchev response: "Then give him the prize."

The Soviet Union's perception of its cultural supremacy was restored at subsequent competitions and most of the prizes have since gone to local stars.

Trifonov was born in the central Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod in 1991 and studied at the renowned Moscow Gnessin Special Music School. His personal biography say he also composes piano and orchestra music.

The cello award went to Armenia's Narek Hakhnazaryan while voice was won by two South Koreans -- Sun Young Seo for women and Jong Min Park for the men.

But the awards ceremony was preceded by two weeks of competition during which some of the biggest names got axed by a jury that faced criticism not only from music critics but even the government's main newspaper.

"In almost every category, all the bright personalities were eliminated by the third round," the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said.

"By tradition, the judges' decisions were the most widely-debated part of the whole competition."

Organisers have dismissed all criticism and boasted that the event was only gaining in significance because its performances could now be watched online for the first time.

The final ceremony was expected to watched by up to a million people online.

Some critics however think the grand event may hold more sentimental value for the nation than it does relevance for the international music community as a whole.

"The Tchaikovsky competition is our everything. More than simply a contest between musicians, more than just one of the main brands of Soviet culture," Kommersant daily music critic Dmitry Renansky wrote on the website.

"In the Soviet Union, the Tchaikovsky competition was an oasis of liberalism and free thinking, even if it was controlled. Where else could people openly say that foreigners were better than Soviet citizens?"

But he lamented that today's Tchaikovsky judges still clung to romantic traditions favoured in bygone eras while refusing to accept the more contemporary interpretations sparking interest in the West.

"At the Tchaikovsky competition, what was always valued the most was the grand concert style -- pompous, large-scale and solid as reinforced concrete.

"At the start of the 21st century, completely different aesthetics are running the show."

© 2011 AFP

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