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The First International Tchaikovsky Competition became a turning point in the second half of the twentieth century, which “dotted the i’s” in the official attitude of the Soviet state to the performing arts. The spring of 1958 has taught the Russian public to patriotically cheer up for the national team and at the same time wish victory for new idols from abroad. Since then, the “iron curtain” has fallen, teachers of pre-revolutionary training have been replaced by their students, then by those students’ students. The world, once divisible into “us” and “them”, became whole again.


The births of the St. Petersburg (1862) and Moscow (1866) conservatories were separated from each other by mere four years. By a whim of fate, Tchaikovsky, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, became one of the first professors of the Moscow Conservatory. According to his recommendations, the professorate vacancies of the Moscow Conservatory were filled up by Petersburgers: composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, pianist and conductor Vasily Safonov, the future director of the Moscow Conservatory. The route from Petersburg to Moscow was taken by many outstanding musicians of the twentieth century, such as conductors Alexander Orlov and Alexander Gauk, pianists Heinrich Neuhaus and Maria Yudina, composer Dmitry Shostakovich.

The joint efforts of the two cities formed the famous Russian performing school, which later split into Soviet and foreign. Thanks to the Tchaikovsky competition, these two lines met. Van Cliburn and Daniel Pollack, laureates of the First and Eighth Prizes of the First Competition, studied in the Juilliard School (New York) together with Rosina Levina, student of Vasily Safonov. Israeli violinist Shmuel Ashkenazi, winner of the Second Prize of the II Competition, studied with violinist and teacher Efrem Zimbalist. Zimbalist, a member of the jury of the first two Tchaikovsky competitions, studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory together with Leopold Auer. Such examples are numerous.

In his interview to Sovetskaya Kultura newspaper, Zimbalist recalled chamber music evenings at Rimsky-Korsakov’s place which he had visited after Auer classes: who would have thought, back then, that half a century later a Zimbalist’s student would become a laureate of a competition held in Moscow. In 1962, an outstanding cellist Gregory Pyatigorsky worked as a member of the cello jury. At the competition, after many years of separation, he met the brother of Alexander Stogorsky, a Moscow cellist and teacher. So, human fates became part of the Competition’s history.

All this imbued the Tchaikovsky Competition with a wealth of cultural memory. Many winners have long been living or working abroad. Liana Isakadze, Paata Burchuladze live in Germany, Victoria Mullova, in the UK, Ivan Monighetti, in Switzerland, Ilya Kaler in the USA. Vladimir Kraynev, the winner of the IV Competition, for nineteen years taught in Hanover, where he finished his life path. “What Stalin dreamed of, that is, to extend this country’s influence over the whole world, was done by musicians,” he wrote in his autobiographical book, The Pianist’s Monologue. “The Russian-Soviet performing school has taken up the whole world”.


For the first Competition, the Aprelevka Plant produced forty thousand records of works by Tchaikovsky. The first of the pianists discovered by the competition was the 23-year-old Van Cliburn. In April 1958, Cliburn found the key to the hearts of Soviet music lovers. Confessing their love, the listeners themselves became true lyricists: “Dear Van! I cannot help but write to you. For the first time in my life, although I am 17 years old, I wept while listening to music. You conquered me with your performance, which I will never forget. I want to thank you so much. You opened my eyes, and I’ve realized that life is beautiful; that there is so much beauty around. I can’t write anymore. Thank you, thank you!” (from the archive of the Tchaikovsky House-Museum in Klin).

In 1966, Grigori Sokolov’s unprecedented performance forced the jury to recognize victory for a 16-year-old youth of pre-conservative age. Among the jury members, there was was the reputable Frenchwoman Nadia Boulanger who was hard to surprise at her age of 78: among her students were Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Dinu Lipatti, Darius Millau, Daniel Barenboim.

The outstanding French pianist Marguerite Long has graced the Tchaikovsky Competition with the “Musical Spring of the World” metaphor: “I was very excited by the invitation to join the jury of the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Pianists and Violinists, ... not only because the competition bears the name of one of the most famous composers whose magic music is loved and listened to by the whole world, but also because this spring competition of Moscow will be a meeting with talented youth from many countries, that is, a meeting with the musical spring of the world”. Since 1966, the Tchaikovsky Competition has been held in summer.


Up until the early 1980s, the competition remained a political and musical event in equal measure. In the autobiographical book “Monologue of the Pianist,” Vladimir Kraynev described how Ekaterina Furtseva personally decided on his participation in the competition. The first two Tchaikovsky competitions were visited by the Belgian Queen Elizabeth, the patroness of the famous Brussels competition. For many years, the path of the Brussels and Moscow competitions seemed common. Before the war, the Eugene Izai competition (named after Queen Elizabeth in 1951) discovered violinists David Oistrakh, Boris Goldstein and Mikhail Fichtenholz (1937), pianists Emil Gilels and Yakov Flier (1938). The 1951 Brussels winner, Leonid Kogan, several times took part in the violin jury headed by Oistrakh at the Tchaikovsky Competition. Finally, the Brussels third prize laureate (1967) Gidons Kremers became the winner of the VI Tchaikovsky Competition in 1970.

Since 1990, the decline in the authority of the competition has become increasingly noticeable. Its ideal “thaw era” start and the 1960-80 winners’ level looked like a living reproach to the competition losing its prestige. The subsequent competitions merely brought the past winners to memory. The experience of the First Competition where eight of the nine Soviet violinists, Valentin Zhuk, Viktor Pikaizen, Zarius Shikhmurzaeva, Mark Lubotsky, Jean Ter-Mergerian, Valery Klimov, Nina Beilina, Viktor Liberman, made it to the third round, was exceptional in its own way. In 1958, there was a rule to exempt the winners of major international competitions from the first round. Cancellation of this condition made the victories in the following competitions all the more convincing.

At the Second Competition, Boris Gutnikov won the First Prize for violinists, Irina Bochkova and Shmuel Ashkenazi shared the Second Prize, Nina Beilina got the Third Prize, Albert Markov, the Fourth, and Edouard Grach, the Fifth. Subsequent competitions were also marked by outstanding discoveries. At the Third Competition, Viktor Tretyakov won the First Prize, Oleg Kagan, the Second Prize, Oleg Krysa, the Third Prize. At the VI Competition, Gidons Kremers got the First Prize, Vladimir Spivakov, the Second Prize, Liana Isakadze, the Third Prize, and Tatyana Grindenko, the Fourth Prize. At the VII Competition, Viktoria Mullova and Sergey Stadler won the First Prize.

In 1958, celebrating the victory of the first “Tchaikovsky” violin laureate Valery Klimov, the country rejoiced. The Steering Committee, for example, received a letter from the Stalingrad region from a 31-year-old miner: “Dear highly respected Chairman! With great interest, I followed the preparation and conduct of the International Tchaikovsky Music Competition in Moscow. I listened [on the radio] to the entire program performed by all participants in the competition. The competition results have brought great joy for the Soviet people. Young talented Soviet violinist, Valery Klimov, won the first place and received the First Prize. That means he plays better than all the violinists of the world. It has long been said that the violin is the mother of music. If we get together all the best musicians of the world and organize a concert, then with legitimate pride we can say that the Soviet violinist plays the first violin in this concert” (from the archive of the Tchaikovsky House-Museum in Klin). In fact, in 1958, only the third round was broadcast on radio and TV. But this was enough for people to write surprisingly personal letters about the contestants.


In 1962 cello nomination appeared in the competition. This was a logical development of the plot, which began with the participation of Tchaikovsky, whose student and friend was cellist Anatoly Brandukov (1858-1930). To Brandukov the composer dedicated his Pezzo Capriccioso for cello and orchestra, which is now an obligatory composition of the first cello tour. Being a famous pedagogue in Moscow, Brandukov organized cycles of chamber music evenings. In the 1940s, after his death, Mstislav Rostropovich, a student at the Moscow Conservatory in the class of Semyon Kozolupov, was a frequent visitor of those cycles. In 1944 he joined the future Borodin Quartet, where he was soon replaced by Valentine Berlinsky. In 1996, Ruben Aharonyan, Second Prize laureate of the V Tchaikovsky Competition, became the first violinist of the Quartet.

A new stage in the promotion of the cello art was marked by the active work of Rostropovich. Cellists began to replenish the compositions written for him, including the Cello Sonata (1949) and the Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1952) by Prokofiev, the First Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1959) by Shostakovich. Its premiere took place in October 1959. In 1962, this piece which had already gained world popularity was included in the program of the Tchaikovsky Competition. The Concerto by Shostakovich was also remembered at the opening of the Second Competition in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. After Shostakovich’s welcoming speech, Maurice Marechal, a member of the cello jury, took the floor and said: “I have the great joy and honor to deliver my speech after the great Soviet composer Shostakovich to whom Paris so often applauds and whose cello concerto has been recently performed with great success by that amazing Rostropovich of yours”.

In 1962, the First Concerto by Shostakovich was included into the competition performance programs of Mikhail Khomitser (Third Prize), Toby Ellen Sachs (Sixth Prize), Gloria Strassner and Joanna de Keyser. Natalia Shakhovskaya (First Prize), Natalia Gutman (Third Prize), Laszlo Meuse (Fourth Prize), Lynn Harrell and Jürgen Ernst de Lemos performed the Symphony-Concerto by Prokofiev. Victor Apartsev and Valentin Feigin complicated the task by including both compositions in their programs. To Feygin, it brought his Second Prize. His neighbor on the competition podium was an American cellist Leslie Parnas.

“The competitors have never had to deal with such a complex program as in Moscow,” said the cello jury chairman Daniel Shafran. “Here they are given the right to choose, but still they choose from a number of compositions of the highest complexity ... However, these obstacles have frightened almost nobody, because each contestant played in his or her own way and basically coped with the task. How interesting it was for us, the jury members, to listen to different interpretations of the Shostakovich Concerto ... How interesting it was to compare the interpretation of the Kodaly Sonata whose various parts the contestants performed in the second round. Many, like Feygin and Meuse, Gutman and Parnas, managed to find new and original expressive possibilities here”.

Tchaikovsky Competition is more than half a century old; during this time, a number of unforgettable moments have been imprinted on its history, for example, the touching sympathy of the public and participants to the American cellist Toby Sachs. In April 1962, her fans constantly surrounded her, but the performer was inspired, first and foremost, by the warm wishes of the authoritative Frenchman Maurice Marechal. This cello jury member said something like “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you”. And what wonderful words accompanied the performances of Natalia Gutman, one of the youngest contestants of 1962! Her skill and talent conquered the legendary Grigori Pyatigorsky, who admitted: “Gutman plays charmingly, in a feminine style, but she also has strength about her. She really interested me. I kissed her once, so serious and sweet, so shy and sad. And then I noticed that she suddenly smiled. It was the only smile of hers I saw during the whole competition”.

Pyatigorsky also aptly wrote about the cello competition in Moscow: “It is known that the cello has been neglected for a long time. This instrument was, so to speak, “second-rate”. An echo of these views affected the First Tchaikovsky Competition. I was even a little angry then. But, of course, this is not the only example. I remember playing in an ensemble with Heifetz and Horowitz. Before going on stage, a “topical issue” was debated: in what order we should enter. I quickly put an end to the discussion, saying, “What are you arguing about? I certainly know who should be the last to enter: of course, the cellist!”

It goes without saying that after the victories of cellists of the level of David Geringas (1970), Ivan Monighetti (1974), Alexander Knyazev and Alexander Rudin (1978), Antonio Meneses (1982), Mario Brunello and Cyril Rodin (1986) at the Tchaikovsky competitions of various years, the issue is no longer put that way. One of the main initiators of the Moscow competition, Mstislav Rostropovich, who chaired the cello jury in 1962, 1966 and 1970, contributed a lot to this understanding. Three years later, in 1974, when he was forced to leave the Soviet Union, Rostropovich established the International Cello Competition in Paris.

After Rostropovich’s departure, his role in shaping the new cello repertoire became especially noticeable. In the days of the XIII Tchaikovsky Competition, jury member Ivan Monighetti said: “Shostakovich’s first concert and Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto are the compositions that have overturned the ideas about the possibilities of the cello. There was a time of incredible discoveries ... There came a revolutionary transformation of the cello world, which gave a start to great performers, primarily Rostropovich. He has given it all an incredible kick-start which goes on to this day”.


The advent of the vocal nomination at the Third Tchaikovsky Competition (1966) was due to the then-popular idea that the Moscow competition has to undergo an expansion, maybe even introduction of opera and ballet. The successes of the first two competitions gave rise to a utopian idea of ​​turning the competition into a “contest of all kinds of music by Tchaikovsky”. “Let’s dream ... Perhaps, vocalists, conductors, orchestras will join the competition, and the competition will turn into a music festival, into the “top” center of music gravity, a world music festival the dream of which lives in the heart of every musician. And the name of Tchaikovsky, the bright spirit of his work will bring together and unite thousands of diverse people from all over the world”, argued the chairman of the piano jury, Emil Gilels, in 1962.

Heinrich Neuhaus developed Gilels’ idea: “It seems expedient to me that not only instrumentalists, but also singers, symphony orchestras, ballet and opera companies should compete in Tchaikovsky competitions. Tchaikovsky is the creator of brilliant symphonies, operas, ballets, romances. Instrumental works are only an addition to this tremendous creative wealth. And if competitions have to carry out, in addition to identifying new talents, a popularization mission, then the work of the composer should be presented in a wider scope”. In fact, Neuhaus spoke about the monographic festival of music by Tchaikovsky, apparently regretting that the main part of the composer’s heritage was not included in the competitive repertoire.

The international dynamics of the competition in which 61 musicians from 22 countries participated in 1958, 131 musicians from 31 countries, in 1962 and 200 musicians from 36 countries, in 1966, in concordance with the spirit of the time fuelled the desire of the USSR to be “ahead of the whole planet”. Ekaterina Furtseva, the patron of the Bolshoi Theater, was the Minister for Culture back then. It was on the Bolshoi stage that the opening of the III Tchaikovsky Competition with the newly-introduced nomination “solo singing” took place, and it was Furtseva who addressed the audience with a greeting from the Government.

In those years, the victory at the Tchaikovsky Competition largely predetermined the future career of a laureate, both in the Soviet Union and abroad. One year after winning the Third Tchaikovsky Competition, Vladimir Atlantov became a soloist of the Bolshoi Theater. And the first winner among women, Jane Marsh from the USA, soon received the role of Mozart’s Pamina in the San Francisco Opera.

Compared to the three instrumental specialties, the vocal nomination turned out to be a “competition within the competition”. The singers performed in the neighborhood of the Bolshoi Theater, in the Pillar Hall of the House of Unions. They had their own specific audience. The Moscow army of connoisseurs of operatic voices and music lovers who procured the rare disks with opera recordings was more numerous than the equally savvy lovers of piano, violin or cello. And they were hotter tempered, although they abstained from “booing” when expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the performance. Programs that included Tchaikovsky’s romances and Russian operatic arias posed difficulties unknown to instrumentalists: the Russian language was a serious problem for foreign singers, especially back at those times, when the Russian repertoire was practically unknown beyond the borders of the motherland.

The stronger was the impact that the overseas competitors made to the public. In 1966, against the backdrop of the flawless performance of Vladimir Atlantov (First Prize), the Muscovites were struck by three Americans: Jane Marsh (First Prize), Veronica Tyler (Second Prize) and Simon Estes (Third Prize). Jane Marsh was fluent in not only English, but also French, Spanish and Italian, and was learning Russian. And the black bass Simon Estes to whom the jury awarded the special prize “For the Best Performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romance Song” frankly confessed: “Of course, for me, an American, it is not easy to comprehend the depths of his [Tchaikovsky] music. But I’m doing my best”. His achievements were amply demonstrated by the imminent debut on the stage of Carnegie Hall, where the singer performed Aleko’s Cavatina from the same-name opera by Rachmaninov.

George London (USA), a member of the vocal jury, in the days of the Third Competition, tried to formulate the peculiarities of the Russian language in singing: “Most of the vowels are clean and clear. There are, of course, some features that need to be overcome”. After the Italian, the international language of vocalists, singing in Russian seriously changed the situation with the Russian repertoire on foreign stages. Laura Claycomb, Second Prize laureate of the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1994, said: “Shortly before the competition, I participated in the production of Boris Godunov in San Francisco, and for the first time I had to learn a part in Russian. Of course, there were difficulties, say, the alphabet, but languages have ​​always been of great interest to me. After the contest, I had to master the Russian repertoire, so Rakhmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Gliere appeared in my portfolio”.

The idea of ​​the supposed ballet component of the Tchaikovsky Competition resulted in the First International Ballet Competition held in Moscow in 1969. The award ceremony was accompanied by a scandal: Ekaterina Furtseva, who presented the awards, was enraged by the ovation the public gave to award winner Eva Evdokimova (USA) at the Bolshoi Theater. Ballet historian Vadim Gayevsky describes this situation in detail: “Ekaterina Furtseva first smiled motherly, then frowned and began to show her watch. The audience did not give up. And then the usually restrained Furtseva lost command of herself, her face twitched angrily and she made some kind of threatening gesture with her clenched fist”. So the International Ballet Competition nearly fell into official disfavor.

The competition of 1970 gave a start to the systematic countdown of the Soviet winning singers. At the IV Competition, Elena Obraztsova and Tamara Sinyavskaya deservedly won the First Prize among women, Evdokia Kolesnik received the Third Prize, and Nadezhda Krasnaya won the Fourth. The Fifth and Sixth Prizes went to Esther Kovacs (Bulgaria) and Edna Garabedian-George (USA). Of the male winners, only Thomas Tomashke (Fifth Prize) was from the GDR. The rest of the laureates were represented by the USSR: Yevgeny Nesterenko and Nikolai Ogrenich (First Prize), Vladislav Piavko and Zurab Sotkilava (Second Prize), Viktor Trishin (Third Prize), Alexander Pravilov (Fourth Prize), Alexander Rudkovsky (Fifth Prize), Sarkis Guyumdzhyan and Valery Kuchinsky (Sixth Prize). There was no stretch in such a generous distribution of awards to the singers: they had something to strive for. Or, rather, for whom: the magnificent Maria Callas was among the jury panel chaired by the rector of the Moscow Conservatory A.V.Sveshnikov. When she came in the Pillar Hall of the House of Unions, the public stood up to greet her. In Soviet newspapers, her photo was invariably signed: “M. Callas is a popular Italian singer”. In fact, the word “popularity” better suited her companion, an outstanding tenor Tito Gobbi.

Over the years, the composition of the vocal jury, as well as the composition of the jury of other Tchaikovsky Competition nominations, started to be replenished by its former winners. The Solo Singing nomination was evaluated by Maria Biesu (Third Prize of the year 1966), Evgeny Nesterenko (First Prize in 1970), Vladislav Piavko (Second Prize, 1970), Zurab Sotkilava (Second Prize, 1970). Irina Arkhipova set a sort of a record. A member of two jury panels chaired by A.V.Sveshnikov (in 1970 and 1974), she herself chaired the jury at the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Tchaikovsky Competitions. In 1978 her intuition and experience brought victories to Lyudmila Shemchuk (First Prize, USSR), Eva Podles (Third Prize, Poland), Jacqueline Page-Green (Fourth Prize, USA); in 1982, an outstanding “set” of male voices was discovered: Paata Burchuladze (bass, First Prize), Gegham Grigoryan (tenor, Second Prize), Vladimir Chernov (baritone, Third Prize); in 1986, Third Prize was awarded to Maria Guleghina, and in 1990, First Prize was awarded to Deborah Voigt (USA).

The jury panel of the anniversary X Tchaikovsky Competition (1994) consisted entirely of former laureates. The singers were judged by Zurab Sotkilava (chairman, Russia), Elena Obraztsova (Russia), Jane Marsh (USA), Sylvia Sass (Hungary), Maria Biesu (Moldova), Ivan Ponomarenko (Ukraine) and others. For the first time in the history of the competition, the Grand Prix was awarded. The award went to Khibla Gerzmava, now the leading soloist of the Moscow Musical Theater of Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko, known far beyond the borders of Russia. Another participant of the contest, American soprano Laura Claycomb (Second Prize), during the recent years has become the idol of the metropolitan public; after a solo concert (2006), she returned to Moscow to participate in the Grand Festival of the Russian National Orchestra, in concert performances of operas by Donizetti and Offenbach. “The Tchaikovsky Competition of 1994 hardly helped my career, but opened my eyes to many things and gave me a lot”, the singer says.


Three tense moments of the post-Soviet history of the competition should be noted. Sinking into the unknown of the early 1990s when the Competition was expelled from the World Confederation for failing to pay the fee. The “conflict of fathers and children”: in 1994, at the behest of the jury members (mainly laureates of the previous years’ competitions) many strong contestants did not make it to the finals, and the first, second, third and fifth prizes were not awarded. Finally, a calendar failure that disrupted the four-year cycle: the XIII competition was held in 2007, and not in 2006. Apart from that, the competition changed in line with the changes that our country and society underwent during these years. The changes, however, did not affect the main thing: a unique alliance of the four nominations.

The XIV Competition held in the summer of 2011 became a landmark in the history of the event, bringing it to a new level. The main principles of the Fourteenth Competition were formulated by Valery Gergiev: to enhance the refereeing reputation of the Competition, which had lost its former authority, to expand the boundaries of the Competition making it an international event, and to promote the Competition technologically. And, most importantly, to organize world concert engagements for the winners.

As a result, the competition has undergone many changes. For the first time, the competition events were held in two cities: Moscow (in the Piano and Cello specialties) and St. Petersburg (in the Violin and Solo Singing specialties). The audience of the competition has increased vastly due to online broadcasts of each round of the competition in the Russian and English language. For the first time in many years, the jury was composed not of professors, but of artists known worldwide. Reputable agencies were engaged, to organize post-competition tours. All this has allowed the Tchaikovsky Competition to become a new formation tournament. In fact, the competition regained the function of a real career start for young performers. The absolute winner of the show, the winner of the First Prize and the Grand Prix, pianist Daniel Trifonov received concert engagements for several years to come. Pianists Edward Kunz, Philip Kopachevsky, Alexander Lyubyantsev, who, despite of their not making it to the finals, became real world stars after the competition due to webcasts.

The 2015 competition had a double anniversary status: it was held for the fifteenth time, noting not only its own round date, but also the 175th anniversary of the Russian classic who gave his name to the competition. The powerful vector of development set by the last competition will continue this time to a great extent. The halls of Moscow (Piano and Violin nominations) and St. Petersburg (Cello and Solo Singing nominations) became the venues for young musicians. An Internet broadcast was in store for the audience, and a wide arsenal of modern technical capabilities was employed.

One of the main innovations was the introduction of a novel, fundamentally different system of refereeing. The results of the jury voting at the last contest were the most controversial part of it, because this area was closed and non-transparent: the American electronic vote counting system seemed to amaze not only the public, but sometimes the jury members themselves. At the XV Competition, the old point scale was rejected. Its place was taken by a simple voting system, which was designed to make the work of the judges extremely transparent, simple and as unbiased as possible.

Despite the tough economic situation, the competition was held at the proper level. This was noted by the Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation, the Chairman of the XV Competition Steering Committee Olga Golodets. The sum of the Grand Prix of the anniversary competition was increased to one hundred thousand US dollars, and this amount was added to the thirty thousand US dollars of the First Prize. It became the biggest competitive award in the world of classical music.