The Big Winner in the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition!

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It would be easy to reel off a list of prizes in 4 separate Moscow competition categories and characterize all recipients as “winners,”–that is if we put music-making into the sports arena with a clear cut victor and an opposing loser. In pro-tennis, for example, where a point-scoring system is in part influenced by calls of the referee, we still attribute a Match outcome to the athletic skills of the superior player. (Court strategies and the big serve factor into a championship victory)

In the arena of music-making (excuse the gladiator framing), where judges, who might occasionally doze off through arduous rounds of performances can be blamed for a bad call as they eliminate favorites (for some listeners) while passing through others, we still want to believe that ARTISTRY will reign as the biggest consideration in the adjudication process.

(Artful playing is of course bundled with an ample virtuoso technique that affords musical fluency, though listeners might “connect” with a performer who is less technically bedazzling, and more organically communicative.)

For me, the spread of players at Tchaikovsky XV offered various styles of playing, with consistency of high-level music-making not always manifest, yet the subjective side of reviewing a performance by a so-called skilled adjudicator, or a sophisticated listener, or less musically informed audience member (LIVE or by Internet) is just as valid, since ART unlike SPORTS has no intrinsic need for CONTENDERS to vie for an OLYMPIC wreath.

I guess my lengthy oration, by no means Greek inspired by Spartan and Athenian framing, is to justify the global audience of MILLIONS as the true WINNER in this so-called Moscow-based competition, and that a powerful Medici driven TV partner gave Classical MUSIC unprecedented mega-exposure. (A WIN/WIN for all!)

In short, the Masterworks and their divinely inspired creators acquired a new stature amidst a feverish international SPORTS frenzy! (Soccer anyone, on ESPN?) No thanks we had the war horse concertos beamed through a select group of young performers–one, like a young Stallion (Kharitonov), catapulted himself to favored status with his Lisztian lyricism while Dmitry Masleev landed a second round prize for his rather mature rendition of Mozart’s D minor concerto. In the last grueling lap he nailed the Gold!

Finally, I must admit that I had my personal favorite through the Moscow-based opening round to the finale, and it was GEORGE LI, though in truth, my ears were captivated by playing moments of others–but not to the extent that George’s CONSISTENCY and heart-moving playing affected me from start to finish. (update: Li packed a punch subbing in for Masleev with the Tchaikovsky Bb minor concerto in a post-competition performance with Gergiev/Marinksy Theater Orchestra. And in a recent interview, Martin Engstrom, a Moscow juror, singled out the pianist as “a fantastic musician with a unique charisma that causes a range of positive emotions.”)

Without a doubt, the powerful EXPOSURE, Silver medalist, George Li received at the Competition was worth its weight in Gold.

And while I was mesmerized by Lucas Debargue’s Ravel and Medtner renderings, I didn’t feel that his last concerto round performance fed my personal need for unabated inspiration. (not humanly possible in any event)

Nonetheless, my opinion by no means invalidates scores of others. (excuse my inadvertent athletic analogies)

Obviously listeners far and wide should trust their innate assessment of beauty and artistry without having to apologize for a variety of aesthetic preferences. And at the same time, they shouldn’t be wooed to a Moscow talent showcase with the incentive of a declared Grand Prix winner in the spirit of a Nascar finale.

From my perspective, the Tchaikovsky Competition that culminated in the purple-tinged GALA awards ceremony with its crescendo to the PRIX was not about the essence of MUSIC-making.

Even its wrap-up had contestants tied for Bronze or Silver prizes while off the competitive stage, a pianist named Debargue captured a wreath from the Moscow Music Critics Association. He otherwise trailed off to fourth in the official standings. Not much of a horse race.

Those who shared second or third place might have been well-poised for a sudden death, extra round tie-breaker. But barring an overtime match re-play, were they considered on par with each other? (Golf anyone?)

All kidding aside, perhaps my UTOPIAN wish would be that a global audience of listeners could be drawn to an international showcase of musical talent without the incentive of a fever pitch march to the WINNER’s circle. To this effect, a cadre of UTOPIANS, including Seymour Bernstein have been clamoring for a new framing that would preclude putting music-making into a competitive category.

Still, for now, the big Tchaikovsky Competition, occurring in 4 year cycles, is here to stay with a new INTERNET-driven, LIVE-STREAMED boost. For this alone, we should be grateful!


Results of the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition
Piano category
I prize – Dmitry Masleev (Russia); II prize – Lukas Geniušas (Lithuania-Russia), George Li (U.S.); III prize – Sergei Redkin (Russia), Daniel Kharitonov (Russia); IV prize – Lucas Debargue (France).
Violin category
I prize – no winner; II prize – Yu-Chien Tseng (Taiwan); III prize – Haik Kazazyan (Russia), Alexandra Conunova (Moldova), Pavel Milyukov (Russia); IV prize: Clara-Jumi Kang (Germany); V prize: Bomsori Kim (South Korea).
Cello category
I prize – Andrei Ioniță (Romania); II prize – Alexander Ramm (Russia); III prize – Alexander Buzlov (Russia); IV prize – Pablo Ferrández (Spain); V prize – Seung Min Kang (South Korea); VI prize – Jonathan Roozeman (Netherlands).
Voice category
Female: I prize – Yulia Matochkina (Russia); II prize – Svetlana Moskalenko (Russia); III prize – Mane Galoyan (Armenia); IV prize – Antonina Vesenina (Russia).
Male: I prize – Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar (Mongolia); II prize – Chuanyue Wang (China); III prize – Hansung Yoo (South Korea); IV prize – Dmitry Grigoriev (Russia).

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Van Cliburn’s Tchaikovsky No. 1 concerto revisited

Cliburn Moscow

Van Cliburn’s named popped up on one of the piano forums. Would he have made the same formidable impression in today’s Moscow Competition as he did in 1958?

The answer is simply YES, and resurrecting a flashback of his winning performance sheds light on how and why his Tchaikovsky 1, at least for me, stands out as uniquely memorable. (I might add that I heard Van play the towering signature concerto at Lewisohn Stadium in the Bronx under the baton of Kiril Kondrashin upon the pianist’s US return)

It was evident that Van allowed the concerto to play itself with its unswerving, embedded lyricism. He didn’t toy with phrases, fight the bravura octaves, or apply extreme rubato to distort musical lines. His gorgeous singing tone was unabated through the most challenging cascades of notes and his thread of MELODY permeated the most dizzying passagework. Yet Van made his virtuoso journey look effortless with big, relaxed gestures of his arms that funneled energy down through his wrists into fluid finger approaches into the keys.

There was no battlefield landscape, as perhaps the 1812 Overture might have evoked. Van knew better than to leave listeners with a one dimensional warhorse impression. He respected the immense color palette of the composer’s creation and its underlying singing dimension.

In the concluding Presto movement, Van imbued more contrasts through rhythmically animated chords. He refused to carbon copy measures of the same. His playing had dynamic variation and riveting emotional engagement without a forced pushing, pulling, poking or prodding of phrases.

Finally, Cliburn was at all times a soloist and collaborator, embedded in expressive counterpoint/dialog with the orchestra in an interactively pulsating exchange.

On so many levels, Cliburn was a winner back in 1958, and I surmise, in today’s Moscow Competition 2015, he would be my undeniable favorite.

The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition resumes today, June 30, in a Medici TV beamed LIVESTREAM.


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Haydn on the harpsichord or piano? (Competition interlude)

elaineshandshubbardScreen Shot 2015-06-27 at 5.07.40 PMElaine Comparone insists that playing Haydn’s works on the harpsichord stirs her “imagination to new heights.”

The harpsichordist’s upload of Haydn’s eloquent Sonata No. 52 in Eb Major ironically paralleled Reed Tetzloff’s piano performance in Moscow which introduces an aesthetic comparison or two.

Reed’s You Tube channel features the opening Allegro movement,
while his complete sonata rendering can be replayed on Medici: Round one, XV Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. (Start at 6:30 in track: the second offering on the grid that follows his Bach selection)

Elaine’s inspired performance of the towering late Haydn sonata is worth an attentive ear to detail in anticipation of her astute comments about playing the composer’s masterpiece on the harpsichord.

“In the late 18th century the pianoforte gradually replaced the harpsichord, but the original editions of almost all of Beethoven’s keyboard sonatas up to Opus 27 (1800-1801) bear the inscription: “Pour le Clavecin ou Pianoforte” (“For the Harpsichord or Piano”). Haydn prescribes harpsichord for his solo keyboard sonatas as late as his E minor Sonata (H. XVI: 34) first published in 1784. In letters from March and April of 1789 he refers to his C Major “Clavier” Sonata (“keyboard” sonata—a generic designation) and he includes a middle movement with the title “Adagio per Clavicembalo o Piano-Forte” (“Adagio for Harpsichord or Pianoforte”).

“All this shows that harpsichords were still widely used around 1800 and that music publishers were eager to accommodate the players and owners of the older instruments as well as those of the more modern ones. Haydn’s keyboard music is stylistically interchangeable between harpsichord and piano, except for the slight proliferation of dynamic directions absent in most harpsichord music. (Modern, non-urtext editions add many more dynamic markings than Haydn’s original ones.)

“Why not merely play and record these pieces on a piano? As a harpsichordist, my major argument is that it has been done many times in the “modern” era. Why not try a fresh approach? The harpsichord has a sound with unique acoustical qualities not shared by either modern or early pianos. I do not regard “early music” as the sole property of those who play antique instruments or modern replicas. Pianists who play modern grand pianos clearly share my opinion as is evidenced by their many performances and recordings of music by Bach. But, at the same time, their performances of Mozart, Haydn and even Beethoven are farther away from the aural imaginings of these composers than harpsichord performance might be. Harpsichord sound stirs my imagination as piano sound never did. That is why I try to play whatever music lends itself to the instrument. As long as it is idiomatic, I will play it!”

After listening to Elaine and Reed’s performances, make your own judgment about what is pleasing the ear and why.

Finally, I asked Maestra Comparone why she chose to “sit this one out,” since she’s well-known for standing at the harpsichord:

“Standing at the harpsichord was a pose requiring an audience.
#1. It added to the complexity of the harpsichord move.
#2. I had four sonatas to record. Standing requires more energy. I had to save energy, not to expend it needlessly.

“Standing was useful when I played LIVE with the entire QCB (Queen’s Chamber Band). Elevating the instrument aided in projection. My colleagues preferred to stand when possible so we all liked to be on the same level.

“In a recording session, the instrument didn’t have to be elevated to be better seen or heard. The camera and recording equipment took care of that. Also, if it had been elevated, it would have been next to impossible to accomplish overhead shots of the keyboard, so we all agreed that simplicity was the key to a smooth and successful recording session.”



You Tube Channel

Tetzloff REPLAYS Round 2 (Tchaikovsky Competition)

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George Li, among 6 Tchaikovsky Competition Finalists

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As many cheering fans had expected, George Li catapulted himself into the Finals with a memorable performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K. 488.

Reed Tetzloff not having the same good fortune to make the cut, still delivered a moving reading of the soulful middle movement, K. 488.

A noticeable audience favorite at this competition has been French pianist, Lucas Debargue whose artistry is uniquely introspective and Old World–a contrast from players heard to date in all rounds.

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What amounts to a cult-like following surrounds Debargue in response to his Medtner and Ravel performances which had mystical qualities.

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Seymour Bernstein was so moved, he sent an email to his list of followers celebrating Debarge’s artistry!

“First, the Medtner is unbelievable! But I doubt that anyone will ever hear Ravel’s Gaspard performed like this. The French pianist Lucas Debargue must be a another world. Simply the most miraculous playing. Perhaps because of this alone he may win the competition.”

While I appreciated the trance-like playing of Debargue in his Round 2 recital, I found his Bach, and Beethoven, op. 10 no. 3, Round 1, to lack definition and tonal brightness. He seemed focused on a big intellectual dimension without finite detail. Often he skimmed the surface of the keys in the Baroque and Classical era works, while his illusory approach seemed better suited to late Romantic and Impressionist era composers. (A Ravel-inspired color palette was very appealing)

Many Debargue followers showcased his reading of Mozart’s C minor concerto with its dark, foreboding dimension, well fleshed out by the Frenchman, while I hurriedly revisited Murray Perahia’s performance with its more diversely lyrical and emotional contrasts.

The List of Finalists

Sergey Redkin
Geroge Li
Lucas Debargue
Lukas Genusias
Daniel Kharitonov
Dmitry Masleev

The final round that resumes June 28th will include Tchaikovsky, Liszt and Prokofiev concertos.


REPLAY, George Li’s Recital, Round One:

Flashback to my interview with George Li in 2012:

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Tchaikovsky Competition, Round ONE: My favorite performers and those undeservedly overlooked who never made it to Round 2

First a big congratulations to George Li, whose opening recital earned him passage to the next round. He’s scheduled to play today, Sunday, June 21, at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight time. (1 p.m. EDT)

George Li today

Li’s Program:

Sergei Rachmaninov. Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42

Franz Liszt. Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in C-sharp minor, S. 244 (cadenza by Sergei Rachmaninov)

Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Meditation, Op. 72,5; Valse de salon, Op. 51,1

Frederic Chopin. Variations “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, in B flat major Op. 2 (Jan Ekier edition)

Those who missed George’s opener, can revisit it on the Replay.

For consistency of high artistry through the opening recital featuring the works of J.S. Bach, (for Classical: Haydn/Mozart/Beethoven), Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, my selected pianists were George Li,(USA), Reed Tetzloff (USA), Alexander Ullman (Great Britain), Andrejs Osakins (Latvia), and Sergey Redkin (Russia).

Sadly, Ullman and Osakins were cut, though I feel their Replays are worth a listen.

I’ve described George’s performance as a “triumph” for its synthesis of emotion and intellect added to its mature musical dimension given the pianist’s tender age of 19.

And while competitor, Adrejs Osakins, had a heart-breaking stumble in his otherwise beautifully rendered J.S.Bach Prelude and Fugue, he retrieved his bearings in remaining works to a noble conclusion. (Osakins was cut from Round Two)

A catch fire, communicative pianist, Osakins joins George Li in the total immediacy, and ear-catching spontaneity of his playing with its varied colors and emotional shifts. He produces a gorgeous sound without offensive banging in FFs or sFzs, and his dynamic palette is rich and diverse.

The Latvian has risen well beyond myriads of notes played with flying fingers, to produce melt your heart playing when needed, and has thunderous interpolations with the right degree of passion. Sadly, he’s off the roster.

In summary, what stands out about Li and Oskins is their degree of risk-taking that creates excitement. If we listen to Perahia, Sokolov, or any of the pianistic giants, there’s the element of surprise amidst emotional peaks and valleys while impeccable technical/musical control feeds inspiration.

And finally, those performers who make us feel like we’re engaged in a here and now act of discovery, experiencing our first sunset so to speak, as metaphor, are for me the compelling musicians.

Andrejs Osakins Opening Recital on Replay


Sergey Redkin, a round two survivor, is yet another choice for notable artistry through his first round recital opener.

Control is a strong ingredient of his playing and perhaps he can surrender to the music a bit more here and there but overall his sound is engagingly gorgeous, and each period of composition was exceptionally realized. Without doubt, the pianist kept judges upright and awake during his first round recital particularly one in camera range, who periodically nods off during un-captivating performances.

Sergey Redkin

Reed Tetzloff, a Masters in Musical Performance student at Mannes, played a lovely recital, hallmarked by a magnificent rendition of Haydn’s Eb Sonata, Hob. 16/52. His musical sensitivity is keen and he’s a great communicator. With a permeating singing tone, nursed along by his Russian teacher, Prof. Pavlina Dokovska, he’s well on his way into the Second Round.


And finally, Ullman, who was refused passage to Round 2, is a sensitive musician and communicator. His tone and expression were worthy of recognition but perhaps the kind of playing that drew cheers for its shear volume was top priority for adjudicators.


Hopefully, revisiting performances through replays will give some of the overlooked pianists, the exposure they deserve.

The list of pianists who advanced to the Second Round

Sergey Redkin
Maria Mazo
Reed Tetzloff
Ilya Rashkovsky
George Li
Lucas Debargue
Lukas Geniušas
Daniel Kharitonov
Julia Kociuban
Mikhail Turpanov
Nikolay Medvedev
Dmitry Masleev


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A Triumph for pianist, George Li!

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Among many opening piano recitals beamed around the world by Medici in the first round of the Tchaikovsky Competition, George Li’s display of virtuosity was the most riveting for me. A synthesis of intellect, emotion, sensitivity and spontaneity hallmarked Li’s interpretation of Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt masterworks. A replay of the opener offers its own best testimony to extraordinary artistry by a pianist seasoned well beyond his tender years. (He’s just 19).

By all accounts George is a musical messiah in the way I remember Murray Perahia way back in the 1960s. So it’s my hope that he’ll add another major triumph to his roster, wooing audiences to new heights joy and gratitude far and wide.

Go George, All the way to the Gold in Moscow!

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REPLAY, George Li’s Recital, Round One:

Flashback to my interview with George Li in 2012:


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Medici TV presents FREE LIVE stream of the XV INTERNATIONAL Tchaikovsky Competition from Moscow

Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory

This is a unique opportunity to savor performances by a roster of international contestants, one of whom is our very own, pianist, George Li, a loyal Facebook Friend to so many of his avid fans. We’re tracking his global-wide performances with great interest. George Li

Li’s scheduled opening Recital is THURSDAY, JUNE 18:

3:50 PM Piano: Round 1 George Li – Moscow – Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory


So far, the first few pianists of Russian origin have exhibited unique musical personalities and their opening recital can be replayed at the site if you missed the LIVE feed.

It’s definitely worth a Medici mouse click into a big competition panorama spanning 19 days. (June 15-July 3)

NOTE THAT LIVE feed is available for separate instrumental and vocal categories:





More about the Competition:

“Broadcasting will begin early from Moscow at 6 a.m. EST, (1 p.m. Moscow time), with Nikita Abrosimov taking to the stage to commence the Piano Competition. Eight candidates will perform throughout the day. You can find the piano webcast schedule at:”

Prior to the official recital opener a few contestants were interviewed about performance pressure, and their strategies to deal with the high-tension Competition environment:

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