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XV Competition diary: 28 June

Cello, Piano, Violin, Voice

XV Competition diary: 28 June

June 28:  The first day of the final piano auditions took place in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

The excitement that has been growing from one round to the next on this day reached a peak.  People in the streets leading to the Conservatory were asking whether anyone had tickets available, and a sign hanging on the box office said, “No tickets for the Tchaikovsky Competition.  None!” did not deter the music lovers turned away from trying somehow to get in.  The public in showing its own competitive spirit was expecting a fascinating duel, and they were not disappointed.

The auditions began with Sergey Redkin of Russia, who had switched from the Yamaha piano to the Steinway, and George Li of America came after the intermission.  Both pianists played Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and one by Prokofiev:  Sergey Redkin chose his Second Piano Concerto and George Li the Third.  Their final performances in the Competition were accompanied State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov” conducted by Alexei Bogorad.

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto—an indispensable feature of the Competition and even an emblem of it—was a challenging workout for both pianists.  Like an x-ray it revealed both the strengths and weaknesses of each of them.  Sergey Redkin in previous rounds had proven a pianist who is not after idiosyncratic, flashy effects, and whose performance was characterized by true musicality, beautiful and varied tone, and precision in stylistic details.  But in the First Concerto these virtues were often drowned out by the overpowering orchestral textures, while the pianist for his part was unable to summon up enough leadership to serve as a proper soloist and equal partner with the orchestra.  In the lyrical second movement this musician delineated a moving, profound, and clear image, but again in the finale he receded into the background.

By contrast competitor George Li as soon as he touched the piano showed that he had no intention of fading into the background.  He demonstrated his best qualities as a pianist for virtuoso concertos and deployed his massive arsenal of technique (his extremely powerful octave passagework was especially impressive), and his youthful sincerity and attractiveness brought liveliness, freshness, and fervour to the interpretation of the music.  In contrast with the rather ponderous performance of the orchestra and conductor that imposed excessively moderate tempos, Li came out the winner—he “nailed” the Tchaikovsky Concerto as if he were an athlete attaining new heights.  However, when style is taken into account, his treatment could do with more variety in imagery and sound that would save his playing from comparison with an athletic feat.

In the Prokofiev concertos both competitors felt much more free and confident.  And here Sergey Redkin was perhaps able to make a comeback.  In the Second Concerto he was never at a loss.  In fact he knew very well how to shape extended structures that were delicate, otherworldly, yet very definitely theatrical.  Li once more played his high card, leading with his fantastic virtuosity that was at least bound to make a big impression on the audience.

On June 29th the second day of the finals will take place in the Great Hall of the Conservatory.  Lucas Debargue and Lukas Geniušas, two pianists with nearly the same name that are favourites in the Competition as many in the audience see it, will confront each other.  The audience will again hear four concertos, but none of them will be repeats of each other (there will be no chance for listeners to compare interpretations of the same piece on that evening).  Lucas Debargue will play Tchaivkovsky’s First Piano Concerto and Liszt’s Second.  Lukas Geniušas will perform Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Third.

(Text by Elena Chishkovskaya)

The violin auditions for Round III began on June 28th in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall.

The Round III competitors will be Pavel Milyukov (Russia), Alexandra Conunova (Moldova), Bomsori Kim (South Korea), Clara-Jumi Kang (Germany), Yu-Chien Tseng (Taiwan), and Haik Kazazyan (Russia).  Each of them must play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in the composer’s own edition plus one other concerto that may be by Bartok (No. 1 or No. 2), Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, Dvořák, Glazunov, Lalo (“Symphony espagnole”), Mendelssohn, Paganini (No. 1 or No. 2), Prokofiev (No. 1 or No. 2), Sibelius, or Shostakovich (No. 1 or No. 2).  Three of the finalists chose the Sibelius, while the other three chose Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, Brahms’ Violin Concerto, and Beethoven’s.

Although Leonidas Kavakos had to drop out of the violin jury and Vadim Repin took his place, the changes in the jury have now become even more notable:  Repin has also left, but Yuri Bashmet, Nikolaj Znaider, and Maxim Vengerov have come on board.

In Round III the Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yuri Simonov will accompany the violin soloists.  Probably because everyone was aware that the whole world would be watching the Competition, the members of the orchestra gave their all and then some.  This might have been one of their best concerts in several years.  The Philharmonic Orchestra proved itself a responsive and dependable accompanist for the Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, and Shostakovich concertos.

The first audition was of Pavel Milyukov who had been easy to pick out as a potential prize winner from the very first piece he played in Round I.  He seemed as much at home on a larger stage as on a small one.  His performance of the Tchaikovsky was permeated by a sense of freedom and confidence if one discounts a few faults of intonation in the climax of the first movement.   His Shostakovich Second came off better as the orchestra and soloist joined forces to create the necessary feeling of intense torment.

Alexandra Conunova came second and began with the Sibelius concerto.  The violin was striking in its transparency and weightlessness so that at times one had the impression that this was chamber music.  It was reminiscent of a performance in that same hall of the Tchaikovsky Concerto given by Julia Fischer in 2006—one of the best that had been heard—and Conunova’s interpretation kept to that same high standard.

Whatever the fate of the prizes may be, the participation of Milyukov and Conunova came to an end with today’s contest, and the journey that they embarked on from Round I to the finals is now part of the history of the Competition.

On June 29th Yu-Chien Tseng and Bomsori Kim will appear, and the next day Clara-Jumi Kang and Haik Kazazyan.

(Text by Ilya Ovchinnikov)

June 28th, Saint Petersburg:  In the Grand Hall of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic the first day of the third and final round in the cello discipline of the International Tchaikovsky Competition began.

Along with the distinguished ensemble led by Nikolai Alexeev, Pablo Ferrández-Castro from Spain and young Andrei Ionuț Ioniță from Romania performed.  Both cellists played Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme” which is a mandatory piece for the auditions and one of the most enigmatic of the great Russian composer’s works in which his customary lyrical nature is “tricked out” in an 18th century costume.  This virtuoso concerto was dedicated by Tchaikovsky to his friend, the German cellist and professor at the Moscow Conservatory, Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, who premiered it in 1877 and also made his own edition of it, which is more popular than the composer’s own version.

For his second concerto Pablo Ferrández picked Antonin Dvořák’s famous concerto in B minor written while he was in America from 1894 to 1895 after he found out about the death of Josefina Čermakova with whom he was passionately in love in his youth.  This may be why the concerto seems bound up with the special confessional tones of wrenching grief that the soloist must feel and convey.  In the second session Andrei Ioniță for his performance in the finals had prepared Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, which was first performed in 1959 by Mstislav Rostropovich in the Grand Hall of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic with the same Philharmonic Orchestra then conducted by Evgeny Mravinsky.

This new stage in the Competition presented the musicians with the still more daunting challenges of projecting sound in the area of the Grand Hall and of dextrously and responsively collaborating with an unfamiliar orchestra and conductor.

Tomorrow the audience in the Grand Hall of the Philharmonic is anticipating the appearance of Alexander Buzlov, one of the public’s favourites and the most experienced participant in the contest, and of the expressive Seung Min Kang of South Korea, who will both play with the same distinguished ensemble conducted by Nikolai Alexeev the very same programme of Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme”, Op. 33, and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor.  The Russian musician will be in the first session that begins at 6:00 pm, and the cellist from South Korea starts at 7:45 pm.  Like all the previous stages of the Competition, this one may be enjoyed online streaming live or later on.

(Text by Egor Kovalevsky)

June 28th, Saint Petersburg:  Announcement of the Round II results for voice.

Round II auditions for vocalists have concluded.  The second ten semi-finalists—four young women and six young men—offered large programmes of five numbers each in which they sing not only an extended aria of their own choosing but also a folk song either a capella or with piano accompaniment.  This is not so much a demanding competitive battle, but more a true celebration of vocalism.

Soprano Natalia Pavlova began the day on a high note—with Anna Bolena’s grand aria, Cielo, a' miei lunghi spasimi, from Donizetti’s opera of that name.  Natalia negotiated this intricate vocal-dramatic score mastering its interpretive nuances.  Although there were a few moments that made the audience a bit apprehensive, there was no need to worry—all the peaks were reached.  In Anne Trulove’s aria from Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress” which is fashioned along the lines of a classical aria with alternations of fast and slow passages, she enthralled with the deep emotion of her affections and captivated with the softness of her tone.  Baritone Alexey Zelenkov sang two Tchaikovsky numbers, the romance “No Response, No Word, or Greeting” and Mazeppa’s aria, O, Mariya, from the opera “Mazeppa”.  But the main expressive emphasis came in Poprishchin’s extended monologue from Butsko’s “Diary of a Madman” so heavily laden with misfortune that it drew real tears from the performer.  In an off-hand way he valiantly sang Sviridov’s song “The Harmonica is Playing” with its impudent, dissolute lyrics, “The harmonic is playing, the harmonica is singing, but I won’t extend my hand to you, mate.  Better if you, vagabond, had lived in America. Better if you had never been my friend, brother”.  The song “Here Comes the Troika” was another souvenir of Russia for the foreign members of the jury.  Anastasia Fedorova continued to convince the jurors that she is a real dramatic soprano.  This singer had assembled a programme all of a piece—gloomy, in minor keys, cheerless, dark compositions that she sang in very measured, almost slow, tempos.  She offered “Long Night” as her folk song.  She performed another of Amelia’s arias, Ecco l’orrido campo, from “Un ballo in maschera” in which the heroine’s tale is taken over by a single emotion—fear.  However, a dramatic soprano is a great rarity these days, and that aroused the interest of the jury as they followed the soaring and descent of her voice.  At last in the Tchaikovsky romance “Does the Day Reign” her face broke into a smile.  Two tenors—Evgeny Achmedov and Ilya Selivanov—happened to sing one after the other.  The former showed his prowess as a lyric tenor as he evenly, steadily and musically performed Hoffmann’s ballad about Kleinzach from  Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” and Brahms’ “Ach, wende diesen Blick” in which he had ideal production of sound.  The latter showed that, after some time spent as a lyric tenor, he might become a dramatic one.  Ilya sounded especially bright in the forte passages, but when piano was called for his voice became a bit colourless.  However, he never lacked for the spiritual or the profound.

The second session after the long intermission was opened by the coloratura soprano Svetlana Moskalenko.  Once more she impressed with a precisely judged dramatic performance, beginning with the Tchaikovsky romance “Tell Me, What in the Shade of the Branches” and Rachmaninov’s “Before My Window” in both of which she had a chance to hold back her strength.  Her Russian folk song “Ekh, da uzh Vy Nochi” she sang authentically, in just the way the programme specifies:  a capella, with a folk song’s broken off words and “Ekh” exclamations with deep breaths.  In Zerbinetta’s grand aria from Richard Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos” where the heroine sets forth her philosophy of life, Svetlana continued to display virtuosity.  But a greater burst of strength came up in Anastasia’s lament from “Peter the Great” where she captivated the hall with the power of Russian full-throated weeping.  The only Mongolian singer  in Round II was baritone Ariunbataar Ganbaatar’s, and it left no doubt that he is a real artist suited to the grand opera stage.  The finale of Round II was made bright with vocal revelations. To begin with Chinese tenor Chuanyue Wang passed out a generous helping of his performing mastery—the delicate “Verborgenheit” of Hugo Wolf, two pieces in Chinese—the folk song Kangding ans Zhao Wu’s aria from Lei Lei’s opera “The Chinese Orphan”—along with the splendidly sung “Flower Song” of Don José from Bizet’s “Carmen”.  After that Tatiana Starkova very expressively and energetically launched into her quite formidable programme, including Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig” and Leonora’s cavatina from Verdi’s “Il trovatore”.   Last to sing was Hansung Yoo in a faultless presentation of a stylistically diverse programme that had room for a Schumann lied, Gerard’s aria from Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier”, and a brilliant rendition of Billy Budd’s aria from Britten’s opera of that title. On to the finals.

(Text by Vladimir Dudin)