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Some disturbing thoughts on the Tchaikovsky results

It was the most powerful judging panel ever assembled, a panoply of past winners from many countries. The competition was entirely transparent, shown live on the internet, heavily tweeted and facebooked, safeguarded against party and personal manipulation.

Any scandals were out in the open, not covered up. Valery Gergiev and Richard Rodzinski made the 14th Tchaikovsky competition a model of what such contests should be. Indeed, it’s unlikely music competitions will ever be the same again.

And the result? A Russian victory, again, in all the instrumental sections.

Any which way you look at it, the Russians won.

Piano: gold – Daniil Trifonov.

Violin: gold withheld. Joint silver – Sergei Dogadin and Itamar Zorman, the latter from Israel, where Russian musical influence prevails (he was a pupil of Hagai Shaham and Nava Milo).

Cello: Narek Hakhnazaryan, an Armenian, product of the Soviet education system.

What are we to deduce from this? That the Russian teaching method is superior to all others? Your view, please….

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Comments

  1. Interesting results, but I find the idea that Hakhnazaryan is a product of the “Soviet education system” quite a stretch. He hadn’t reached school by the time the Soviet Union was dead. From what I’ve seen, he studied first in Yereven with an Armenian teacher and yes, then with a teacher affiliated with the Moscow Conservatory for several years. He is now a student at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Since Armenia has a music tradition that goes back hundreds of years, I’m not surprised they have some good teachers.

    Also, are you saying that Shaham and Milo used Soviet education methods? I thought Shaham’s influences were based in Vienna and Budapest. I may be wrong.

  2. The vocal awards, though – won by two Koreans. I don’t think you should miss these off your list, just because they don’t fall into instrumental categories – the vocal category is not inferior. After all, there were Russians competing here too.

    • I mentioned them, Jo, in an earlier post.

      • I know Norman, but had someone not read the earlier post (surely one has to assume that not everyone has read everything?) then this gives the impression that it’s only Russians that have won, which isn’t correct. It looks like you’re trying to make a point that doesn’t exist.

  3. I don’t get your point, sorry. Virtually all of the participants were either of ex-Soviet or Asian background, it was not a world-scale assembly from the start. Who should’ve won to not make you feel disturbed, martians?

  4. I have to echo Leo. It has already been stated that the competition was run and judged in the fairest, most transparent way possible and so I think the only thing to be deduced from this is that, of the narrow range of countries represented, the Russians were the best.

    • I agree. You just cannot say that something wasn’t fair. Yes, it all was either russian or asian, but don’t tell me that europeans did not apply. They just weren’t good enough!

  5. About Itamar Zorman – His teachers are some of those that were NOT educated by what you (or I ) would call “the russian school” – there are certainly other influences in Israel, Both Hagai and Nava belong to that OTHER one :)

  6. Benjamin Birtle says:

    Any idea what happened to Jakob Koranyi? He disappeared after the first round.

  7. Prof. blog_patrick says:

    South Corea undesputably won!

  8. Juilliard fiddler says:

    Norman … of the violin prizewinners, ALL except Dogadin study or have studied in the US, at Juilliard, New England Conservatory, or Colburn. How, again, do the facts favor the Russian system? I’d think an American hegemony is indicated, rather.

  9. What happened with China?

  10. If you buy into the notion that all these individual human beings who have been taught by other individual human beings can be lumped together in some sort of Soviet/Russian School of Performance, then what is so “disturbing” about the idea that one school could be better than another school? Is it the fact that the school happens to be “Russian”? This is so Cold-War era. I hate to remind everyone, but half of these kids were born ca. 1990; I’m not even sure what the Cold War means to them these days, if anything at all. A running theme in their introductory videos was “I was born in X, studied in H, now live in Y.” Poizat even called himself “a citizen of the world.” But you seem to suggest that some sort of battle lines still exist? Do you think they want to keep alive the tension that their parents lived through (not pragmatic for an international concert career)? Would Hakhnazaryan want to be part of a “Russian victory” after being insulted on the world stage by an old Soviet-era conductor? Was Trifonov’s acceptance speech shout-out (in English) to his friends back at Cleveland actually a clever Soviet publicity ploy to mask smug satisfaction that the Russian school won? Or are these young musicians just mindless “by-products” of an old system over which they have no control? I would prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt as we move further into the 21st century.

  11. mka2404 says:

    Опять в нашу сторону “бочку катят”! Как бы мне это было неприятно признавать, но на самом деле русская инструментальная школа, к сожалению, умирает. В Союзе готовили намного лучше и сильных педагогов было больше… О чем вообще разговор?! Наших с медалями можно на пальцах одной руки пересчитать (еще и с запасом хватит)! И кто-то еще что-то, я извиняюсь, вякает?!

  12. Ruth R. says:

    I disagree that “it was the most powerful judging panel ever assembled” – if you look, to give just one example, at the last Chopin competition jury, it was not less powerful, and larger. “The competition was entirely transparent, shown live on the internet, heavily tweeted and facebooked, safeguarded against party and personal manipulation.” – this was true also for the Cliburn’s, Chopin’s and Rubinstein’s competitions. As to transparency, the Chopin comp. published the jury’s votes – every juror in every stage for each contestant. This was unprecedented, and unrepeated so far. I agree the Tchaikovsky comp. was organized excellently, but it did not create the model, rather it used the best existing ones. I would also mention the method of result calculation, adopted from the Cliburn competition.

  13. Brazil_violin says:

    I am a Brazilian violinist. Though I have studied in the US for the past 5 years, I watched the entire competition online in my home country, and with many other musicians that have never been abroad. We all agreed on the results shown in each division. In fact, most of the winners (if not all of them) were also champions of public choice, clearly visible is such public sites like Facebook and many others. Regardless if the Russian were majority, they certainly deserved. However, I do not think the Russian school should be hailed as the best one in the world given the results of this particular competition. It is not a strong enough argument, and not a fair one, if you investigate laureates from other recent major competitions such as Queen Elizabeth, and Indianapolis. I think that, from the beginning, the Russian (and students from Russia) were majority, and that certainly raised the chances for them as a nation, to win top prizes. But again, well deserved in my opinion.

  14. Natalie Provodnic says:

    Two points. 1/To qualify for an audition stage, potential contestants were required to present a list of at least five performances with orchestra and five recitals in the last few years. With regards to non-Russian applicants, it must have been extremely hard to find those orchestral possibilities – which, mainly should explain a very marginal foreign participatio – with the Koreans, as an exception, as they benefit from huge sponsorship. 2/ With regards to Russian school predominance – I believe, starting from Rachmaninov, Horowitz, Hoffman, Zilott etc – the formidable Russian musical emigre’ continues and we do not distinguish between the Russian and the Western schools any more. Who teaches at the RCM London? Who teaches in the main conservatoires in Europe and America? Russian winners of inernational music competition. But if we go back to 1850 StPetersburg. Where did Rubinstein, who founded the Russian Music Society, studied? – in Berlin. Where this Russian school originated from ? – Western Europe. Neuhaus-grandfather studied in Vienna, etc. It is true, within Russia itself there are at least three Russian schools: the Gnessin (Trifonov today), the Moscow conservatoire (Romanovsky, Richter) and the St.Petesburg (Grigory Sokolov, Lubiantsev) – to name just for this end. Conclusions must be drawn. Support and sponsorship will be needed to improve the participation margins in favour of foreign players in the next editions of the Tchaikovslky. The organizers will not be able to score foregn help by themselves.

  15. Sheryll McManus says:

    If this competition was transparent, as you say, and those of us who watched also thought it was, then how do you account for Van Cliburn’s win in 1958 —- long before the ‘transparency’?

  16. If you buy into the notion that all these individual human beings who have been taught by other individual human beings can be lumped together in some sort of Soviet/Russian School of Performance, then what is so “disturbing” about the idea that one school could be better than another school? Is it the fact that the school happens to be “Russian”? This is so Cold-War era. I hate to remind everyone, but half of these kids were born ca. 1990; I’m not even sure what the Cold War means to them these days, if anything at all. A running theme in their introductory videos was “I was born in X, studied in H, now live in Y.” Poizat even called himself “a citizen of the world.” But you seem to suggest that some sort of battle lines still exist? Do you think they want to keep alive the tension that their parents lived through (not pragmatic for an international concert career)? Would Hakhnazaryan want to be part of a “Russian victory” after being insulted on the world stage by an old Soviet-era conductor? Was Trifonov’s acceptance speech shout-out (in English) to his friends back at Cleveland actually a clever Soviet publicity ploy to mask smug satisfaction that the Russian school won? Or are these young musicians just mindless “by-products” of an old system over which they have no control? I would prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt as we move further into the 21st century.

  17. tatiana Goncharova says:

    did anyone notice that the majority of winners of top prizes in the instrumental divisions study or have studied in the US ?

  18. Mara Lindstrom says:

    Can someone explain why Chernov was, at the last minute, included in the competition?

    • Yes, two people dropped out, and he was invited. It’s on Tch. competition web.

  19. Drew Lewis says:

    At least Chernov kept his facial expression under control, and did not subject us to the array of hideous grimaces we had from Trifonov. And Chernov played a stunning Scriabin 5!

  20. The comments about the preponderance of Russian participants are interesting and clearly sets the stage for a Russian win. However, according to the website of the competition, a list of concerti in the applicant’s repertoire is requested as well as an indication that the competitor is ready to perform at least 4 concerti with orchestra. There is no specification of a number of concerto performances over 5 years, unless I missed something. Furthermore, they admit receiving more than 500 applications from 47 countries. I suppose it is possible that most applicants were disqualified based on their performance records but I rather doubt it (they would not incur the fees and bother recording the DVD if they knew that they do not qualify by virtue of the number of concerto performances)..
    The fact that the Russians have a formidable music education system and traditions and that they have trained some of the best musicians in the world locally and indirectly via teacher migration, is well established. What is surprising to me is the rise of the South Koreans, as opposed to the Chinese, and their ability to train musicians capable of competing and winning at the highest level. I do not know much about the Korean system and whether it has benefited from Russian teachers. And it is true that most South Korean candidates end up studying abroad but they receive the foundation of their education at home and at least in the case of the 3rd Prize piano winner,all of their music education.
    Another interesting observation is the prevalence of competitors who have finished their music education at an American school. Can one speak of an American education or is it still heavily influenced by Russians, eg Trifonov studying in Cleveland but with Sergei Babayan (a Moscow conservatoire graduate) after several years at the Gnessin.
    Also will the demise of the Soviet system eventually lead to the fragmentation of the Russian music teaching tradition. I hear rumors of diminishing government support as well as lower standards for admission to the music schools for “gifted children” or at least the emergence of a second route of admission for wealthy candidates.
    As for the Trifonov win, I have to say that he is indeed a marvelous pianist (and so young, at 20) but he seems to approach all music with the same somewhat excessive lyricism.

    Re Chernov, who performed brilliantly but lost his edge in the last concerti performances, he apparently replaced another candidate who could not participate,

  21. Honestly, I thought Mr. Zorman’s Tchaikovsky was the most meaningfull Tchaikovsky concerto and Mr Dogadin’s Shotakovich was the most exciting “other” concerto. Just my humble opinion though…

  22. Ruth R. says:

    Just for the sake of the argument – if the discussion is about the nationality (and therefore “musical schools”) of the winners, one should also note that in every stage of the competition 50% or more of the jurors were Russian musicians.

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