Russia relaunches Tchaikovsky Competition

International Piano

IT WAS ONCE ONE OF THE WORLD’S most prestigious piano competitions, with a list of winners that included Van Cliburn, Vladimir Ashkenazy, John Ogdon and Grigory Sokolov. But in recent years a lack of funding, poor management and controversial voting practices have seen Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky Competition virtually disappear off the international music competitions map.

Now, the quadrennial contest for piano, violin, cello and voice is undergoing a major overhaul to return it to its former glory. The Russian Minister of Culture, Alexander Avdeev, has appointed conductor Valery Gergiev to chair a new organising committee for the 14th Competition, 14 June –2 July 2011. There will be new rules and regulations and a voting system designed to ensure fairness and transparency. Gergiev is also assembling four juries comprising performers as well as teachers.

The organising committee will include high-profile musical and political figures, including Avdeev, Liudmila Shvetsova, First Deputy of the Mayor of Moscow; Yuri Laptev, Councilor of the President of Russia; composer Rodion Schedrin and pianist Denis Matsuev. In April Gergiev appointed Richard Rodzinski, former president of the Van Cliburn Foundation, as senior advisor to the organising committee and chairman of the working committee.

‘Gergiev contacted me because of the success of the Cliburn Competition – its transparency, integrity and legitimacy,’ said Rodzinski. ‘The Tchaikovsky has a bad reputation for having so many professors on its juries with many students in the competition, which at least gives the perception of impropriety. This urgently needed to be cleaned up.

‘The Tchaikovsky Competition is extremely important in Russia: it is a part of its cultural heritage,’ Rodzinski continued. ‘In the past the competition enjoyed a huge reputation, and the Soviet system valued it highly as a showcase for major Russian talent. With the collapse of the Soviet Union it began to fall into hard times because government support stopped, and between competitions it virtually ceased to exist because there was no offi ce.’ He added: ‘The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is very much involved in endorsing this effort.’

For the first time in the competition’s history there will be concert engagements for laureates: Gergiev plans to engage the winners to perform with the Mariinsky Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra, and the Cliburn and Tchaikovsky competitions will offer concert tours to each other’s winners in Russia and the US.

The first Tchaikovsky Competition, in 1958, was sensationally won by the Texan Van Cliburn, who has been invited to return to Moscow as an Honorary Chairman of the Competition.