After Shaking Up Tchaikovsky Competition, Gergiev Brings Winner to Carnegie Hall

WQXR Blog

Saturday, October 08, 2011 - 12:00 AM

WQXR to Broadcast Mariinsky Orchestra Concert on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 8:00 pm

When conductor Valery Gergiev became chairman of the International Tchaikovsky Competition last year he promised to clean house, ridding it of its historic corruption and favoritism while repackaging it for a 21st-century audience.

Founded in 1958 and held in Russia every four years, the Tchaikovsky is divided into cello, voice, piano and violin. Past winners have included Vladimir Ashkenazy, Van Cliburn and Mikhail Pletnev while former judges have numbered such legends as Sviatoslav Richter, Nadia Boulanger and David Oistrakh. Every entrant must prepare reams of repertoire for a gladiatorial, six-round contest in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, a setting music critic Richard Morrison called “scarier than center court at Wimbledon.”

Despite its prestige, in recent years the Tchaikovsky had fallen prey to all sorts of malicious practices that can afflict music competitions sooner or later. Teachers were voting for their students while voting against others. Judges were drawn mainly from Moscow, thus putting international competitors at a disadvantage. The balloting process was murky with accusations of bribes and cartels.

Gergiev moved to banish teachers who were voting for their students and brought in a new jury that included several international classical stars: Anne-Sophie Mutter and Yuri Bashmet were on the violin jury; Nelson Freire, Peter Donohoe and several others judged the pianists. The cello jury included Lynn Harrell, Ralph Kirshbaum and Clive Gillinson, the head of Carnegie Hall.

New management was brought in and the voting was remade using a scoring system modeled on that of the Van Cliburn Competition in Texas.

One of Gergiev’s other intended reforms were to give the competition winners high-profile performing opportunities, for without proper career support, finalists can fade into middling obscurity. So when the conductor leads his Mariinsky Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on October 11, joining him will be 20-year-old pianist Daniil Trifonov, the first-place winner at the competition in July.

“Daniil Trifonov is playing a very important Tchaikovsky Concerto performance – not only for him but for the reputation of this competition,” Gergiev told WQXR’s Jeff Spurgeon. “It will be important for him to be on top of his game."

Last month, London audiences got a taste of Trifonov’s playing when he performed the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with the London Symphony, also under Gergiev’s baton. Critics had measured praise for the young performer. “He possesses almost boundless potential, but on this evidence is not yet a fully formed player,” wrote Martin Kettle in the Guardian. “The charismatic young Russian tore into the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto with exhilarating confidence and formidable technique.”

Born in Nizhny Novgorod in 1991, Trifonov trained at the Gnesin School of Music in Moscow before entering the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2009, where he studies with Sergei Babayan. His win at the Tchaikovsky Competition in July came just weeks after he snagged a Gold Medal at the 13th Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv. He has over a hundred engagements on his calendar this season and has been signed by two major management companies.

Gergiev praised the pianist’s ability to play with “a wonderful sonority, a precision, a balance,” without showiness, adding that he hopes the pianist’s competition days are behind him.

“I want to move away from sports and discussing how a young musician of 19 or 20 years old can simply sustain the pressure of being in six or seven rounds and always playing consistency very high quality,” said Gergiev. “It’s good news that he can do it. But let’s hope for him it will be something of a past.”

Weigh in: What do you think of piano competitions? Take our poll by voting below:

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Comments [6]

Michael Meltzer

AF and Arnie maintain that WQXR puts the importance of announcer personalities ahead of the music. I've been maintaining that WQXR puts its journalism head of the music, and the journalistic penchants for novelty and sensation ahead of musical content.
We have to judge results. The real strength of this station is its historic archive of recordings by the immortals, built over 75 years. A management that depends for its knowledge on CD salesmen is already at cross-purposes.
WQXR, show what kind of musicians you are!

Oct. 10 2011 05:53 PM
af from ny

The new playlist format on WQXR's newly designed website, breaking up the day's list according to the program and host (and supplying info and photos of that host, etc), seems to fit with the opinion expressed here (by Arnie) that the station wants to make "stars" of the hosts, making them more important than the music.

Oct. 10 2011 01:06 PM
Michael Meltzer

Arnie:
I'm not sure that announcers are even in the hierarchy or make any decisions here. Remember, these days they are all professional corporations with agents and accountants, just like actors and jingle-singers. I think the programming department dumps the music on them and leaves it to them to fill in any gaps however they see fit. My peeve is the terrible homework and make-it-up-as-you-go musicology of the veteran late-night weekend announcer.
That being said, in defense of Ms.Woolsey, I've found her to be the most likely to respond to a listener complaint or correction with a personal reply. Forrest and Lewin get some points in that regard, but Midge Woolsey is far and away the most interactive, which is certainly not WQXR station policy.

Oct. 09 2011 05:19 PM
arnie

Michael Meltzer
Re: Oistrakh Beethoven concerto

WQXR seems to be more interested in making stars out of their announcers who fall flat over each other in their cloyingly annoying folksy approach.Really, does anybody care who spins the CD's or how Midge Woolsey thinks we should feel about a piece of music in any given season or time of day?She can't clear her throat without editorializing how Midge Woolsey feels about it. Really, Midge, we want to hear the music, not you.Luckily, my mute button works.

Oct. 09 2011 12:45 PM
Michael Meltzer

I suspect that most of the listeners voting in your little poll will be too young to remember the heyday of Town Hall, when there were seven New York newspapers and young artists gave debut recitals here to announce their entry to the professional world.
The newspaper critics competed to be the discoverer of the next Horowitz, the next Heifetz. They attended and issued prompt reviews.
Soloists strived to make an impression by being as unique and as charismatic as they could, to stand out.
Through the 70's and 80's the critics that remained shifted their attention from auditing to creative writing, making music really only incidental to their journalism.
The competition circuit remained as the only outlet for the emerging soloist. But, now there were committees to please,, vetoes to avoid, and the fear of offending one judge or another superseded the expression of any creative impulse.
We now have a homogenized product, for the most part. The competitions have done terrible damage as they are consitituted. Hopefully, Gergiev is sincere and will set an example to the good.

Oct. 09 2011 02:29 AM
Michael Meltzer

It is interesting that Brian Wise is aware that David Oistrakh is a legend, but that the same information has somehow eluded the WQXR programming director.
After two years of many repeated requests, we are still awaiting an airing of Oistrakh's Beethoven Violin Concerto, arguably the best ever recorded.
Perhaps if WQXR offered its staff a tuition plan, we would eventually see some improvements.

Oct. 09 2011 01:26 AM

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