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Top Five Competition Controversies

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Whether generated by the appeal of reality television or the means of promoting talented musicians, competitions seem to be more popular than ever these days. While we’ll let the experts debate the worth of these contests, they certainly have made the careers of some musicians and also created scandals, of which we’ve collected the five most notorious:

1. 2006 Villa-Lobos International Piano Competition
Brazil created the Villa-Lobos International Piano Competition in 2006 to promote the country’s most famous composer (participants were required to play his pieces). Instead, it started an international controversy when its director Ilan Rechtman accused organizers of interfering with the list of invitees. Rechtman was fired but the competition is still staged annually.

2. 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition
Conspiracy theorists took special interest in the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition, a contest with roots in Soviet-era cultural politics, when judges sent favorites home early. Critics in Moscow and around the world suggested favoritism toward musicians trained in Russian schools. The resulting Russian sweep in all the instrumental categories, except violin, where no top prize was awarded, didn’t quell the rumors.

3. 1980 International Chopin Piano Competition
Perhaps no competition has been as divisive as the 1980 International Chopin Piano Competition. The field featured a 22-year-old Yugoslavian (now Croatian) pianist Ivo Pogorelic, who split the jury. Fans included judge Martha Argerich, who called him a genius. When Poporelic was eliminated after the third round, Argerich walked out. Her defiance didn’t help Pogorelic’s chances in the contest, but it did catapult the young pianist to instant fame.

4. 2009 Van Cliburn Piano Competition
A pair of gold medals, instead of one, had onlookers second-guessing the judges’ priorities at the 2009 Van Cliburn Piano Competition. Though not completely unprecedented — the 2001 event also ended in a tie — cynics wondered about the motivations behind giving the top awards in a talented filed to 20-year-old blind pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, and the youngest competitor, Hoachen Zhang, who’d just turned 19.

5. 2009 Geza Anda Competition
The Geza Anda competition in Zurich was founded to commemorate the Hungarian pianist who died in 1976. Still run by his widow Hortense Anda-Buhrle, the event was embroiled in furor in 2009, when Anda-Buhrle publicly criticized the jurors’ first-round selections, saying they had chosen the musicians with the fastest and loudest styles.