A spectacular concert in Moscow reveals the real stars of this year's competition
Under a huge photograph of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, born 175 years ago this May, the winners of the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition were announced on Wednesday. Last night we crossed Moscow from the striking Tchaikovsky Concert Hall (a wonderful amphitheatre with a magnificent acoustic and one of the city’s finest concert venues) for the first of two galas to the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, named after the great man himself - a fine sculpture of Tchaikovsky, one of the institution’s first professors of theory and harmony, stands outside the Conservatoire’s entrance. President Vladimir Putin attended and made a long speech (I couldn’t ignore the irony of Putin standing under a portrait – an even bigger one this time – of Russia’s most celebrated composer, and its most universally acknowledged gay one!).
Having spent the past two weeks in St Petersburg, focusing on the Voice rounds, it was an opportunity to catch up with the other genres: the Piano, the Violin and the Cello.
It was one of those typically 11th-hour productions for which Gergiev is famous – less than an hour before the start of the concert, the programme and running order were still be fixed! But after a characteristically long wait – about an hour – for the officials to show up (during which my co-presenter Olga Jegunova and I chatted away) the gala started. It was, Gergiev had suggested, to be a short one – short in Russia is clearly a relative term! Seventeen young musicians, all the gold and silver medallists, as well as some bronzes and a diploma recipient each gave us a short(ish) example of their art.
The audience, a typically Russian mix of young and old, had obviously been following the pianists assiduously – and passionately! Each of the four players we heard drew his own burst of cheering and stamping! The French pianist Lucas Debargue, who failed to clinch a medal, had his fans, and the beautifully poised solo Tchaikovsky he played suggested that we would be hearing from him soon on the world stage. The joint silver medallists Lukas Geniušas and George Li demonstrated thrilling virtuosity in concertante Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky – and both were greeted as heroes. And the Gold medal winner Dmitry Masleev proved why he’d been chosen – he’s quite a pianist with a barn-storming technique but the soul of a poet too. And the fact that he’d lost his mother in an early stage of the competition won him the audience’s hearts as well.
No Gold medal was awarded in the violin category – but judging by the armful of flowers that the Taiwanese Yu-Chien Tseng carried off after a poised and elegant finale from Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto, the audience didn’t care. The Bronze medallists – Clara-Jumi Kang and Alexandra Conunova – gave us fine finales from the Sibelius and Tchaikovsky concertos, but neither set the pulse racing. Haik Kazazyan, the Silver Medalist, though, was a player of confidence and flair.
Gergiev had brought his Mariinsky Theatre orchestra to Moscow for the occasion – and apparently this particular band is virtually his own private orchestra, a hand-picked ensemble which demonstrates an extraordinary musical sympathy with its conductor, a real opera orchestra which can support a soloist – whether instrumental or vocal – with the fleetness and agility of a flock of birds. And Gergiev is a remarkable and generous musical partner on the podium.
The Voice category, having watched these artists pass from round to round, particular engaged my interest – and the two Gold medallists, Yulia Matochkina and Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar, didn’t disappoint. Matochkina, with her big, ruby-coloured mezzo voice and effortless technique reprised Joan of Arc’s big aria from Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orleans – it was a truly prize-winning performance. I can’t wait to see her on stage in a full-length role. The Mongolian baritone Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar (after two weeks of saying it, the name fairly trips of my tongue!) gave us Figaro’s first aria from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia – after nearly two hours of music, and as the penultimate performance, it was just what we wanted. His rich, velvety baritone used with a light touch and a winning humour, prepared us for the final work.
Of the cellists, the Romanian player, Andrei Ioniţă – a genuinely nice guy and a player of extraordinary range – gave us part of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. It was a brave choice, embracing everything from the inward poetry of the solo introduction to the full-on virtuosity of the tutti passages – and he brought the house down. Tonight, Gergiev can give a discretionary Grand Prix to one of the players… and all will be revealed at the end of the Gala which is being broadcast live on Medici.TV at 7pm (6pm CET, 5pm BST and 12pm New York time).