Cold War era scandal haunts Tchaikovsky competition

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The International Tchaikovsky Competition was due Thursday to announce winners of the world's most prestigious classical music event amid scandal typical of its storied Cold War era past.

The quadrennial Moscow Conservatory event was plunged into scandal on its inauguration in 1958 when the grand prize went to the young US pianist Van Cliburn -- a decision so stunning it had to be approved personally by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

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.

Thursday's awards will be announced for piano and cello as well as violin and voice.

The piano finalists include two Russians and a Ukrainian along with two South Koreans.

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 that 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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