China launches major piano competition — with $150K prize

China International Music Competition
Chicago Tribune

On May 4, the First China International Music Competition will begin in Beijing, presented by the China Conservatory of Music and featuring what is believed to be an unprecedented first prize of $150,000 plus professional career management for three years (second and third prizes are $75,000 and $30,000).
No less than the Philadelphia Orchestra – one of the world’s most revered ensembles – will play the competition’s last round, when the finalists perform concertos, with music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting.
What’s more, two of the most admired figures in classical music competitions are in charge: Yoheved Kaplinsky, chair of the piano department at the Juilliard School in New York, is the competition’s artistic director and jury chair; Richard Rodzinski, who has run the Van Cliburn and Tchaikovsky competitions, is general director.
Not that either one was particularly excited about the prospect – at first.
A year and a half ago, when the China Conservatory’s president asked Kaplinsky if she would like to come onboard, “I replied that there are enough piano competitions … I really wasn’t interested,” recalls Kaplinsky, who’s based in New York but also teaches at the China Conservatory.
Then conservatory president Li-guang Wang “filled in the details. He told me the first prize was $150,000, which was astounding to me, and he pretty much gave me carte blanche to put together the jury, the rules, the repertoire.”
Kaplinsky said would sign on only if two conditions were met:
“One was that they hire Richard, because he is the best competition director that ever lived,” she says. Indeed, Rodzinski, whose late father, Artur Rodzinski, was music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1947-48, is widely acknowledged as the gold standard in this arena.
“And the other was that they allow me to engage with the Philadelphia Orchestra, to see if they would play the finals.”
All those parts came together, though Rodzinski had long since decided that there were “no more competitions” in his future.
This one, though, was “a real challenge” that he could not resist.
Why have the Chinese put so much money and talent behind the event?
“To be placed on the international music map in a very serious way,” says Rodzinski, speaking from Beijing, where he has lived since last fall.
“I think the ambition is (for the new competition) to be as important as the Cliburn or Tchaikovsky or Queen Elisabeth.”
Says Kaplinsky, speaking from Manhattan, “They’re very savvy, and they know one way of putting themselves on the map is to put on something that has an international cachet, and a competition does that.”
But there are deeper reasons, as well, starting with the ever-rising importance of classical music in China, and the nature of its musicianship. Read the full review here