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Article from the magazine Classicfeel
At the great gates of Kiev
The Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky immortalized
the city of Kiev in his most famous piano composition Pictures at an
Exhibition, namely in this suite's majestic finale - the Bogatyr Gates, more
commonly known as The Great Gate of Kiev. The church in modern day Kiev on the
site where this monumental gate was supposed to be erected in honour of Tsar
Alexander II is now a tourist attraction, although it does not match the
massive proportions of the original design. (On a prominent hill in Kiev there
is a modern high rise building resembling a gigantic gate.)
Kiev is rightfully regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is also one of the oldest cities in that part of the world which is today the Ukraine. As a matter of fact, Kiev was so prominent in history for so many centuries that it is known in Russia as the "mother of cities". It is also the city where the celebrated
virtuoso pianist, Vladimir Horowitz was born. Needless to say, Horowitz who is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, is an icon in Kiev.
To honour this legendary pianist the International Competition for Young Pianists in Memory of Vladimir Horowitz was established in 1995 by teachers of the R. Glier Kyiv
Music College where Horowitz studied. The first such competition was held in 1995. This year the 8th competition took place in the historic and charming National Philharmonic Hall of Ukraine from 12 - 26 April. I was fortunate to be invited as juror with the following distinguished musicians: Oleksander Zlotnyk (Ukraine), Eleanor Wong (China), Yakov Kasman (Russia/USA), Marian Rybicki (France), Tetiana Roshchyna (Ukriane), Vadim Rudenko (Russia) and Mykola Suk (Ukraine/USA).
Arriving in Kiev after a long flight from Canada where I attended the General Assembly of the World Federation of International Music Competitions held in Banff - I was rushed off just in time for the solemn Opening Ceremony. From the outset it was clear that the Ukrainians treat classical music with the greatest reverence indeed. The word "solemn" is descriptive of the tone of all proceedings during the event. Two jury members (Yakov Kasman and Vadim Rudenko) and previous winners performed - one of them as soloist in Rachmaninov's Variations on a theme of Paganini with the National Academic Honoured Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine (sic) conducted by Nataliia Ponomarchuk. All items are seriously announced to the audience as was the case with every single pianist performing in the competition.
The Horowitz Competition is fortunate to have two symphony orchestra's at its disposal, namely the abovementioned symphony orchestra and the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine conducted by the "People's Artist of Ukraine " Mykola Dyadyura - decidedly the better one.
However, the jury had to judge the performances of 18 young pianists from 8 countries in the "Intermediate Group" (ages ranging from 15 to 20 years) and 31 pianists from 10 countries in the "Senior Group" (ages from 17 - 34 years) before 6 finalists in each age group could be selected after two rounds of solo performances. Apart from the usual repertoire such as Baroque, Classical and Romantic, all pianists had to perform a short work by a Ukrainian composer as well as works from Horowitz' repertoire for which special prizes were offered.
The standard of the young pianists in the Intermediate group was quite overwhelming both technically and musically, while the performances in the Senior Group were not always too captivating. The six Intermediate finalists performed one concerto with the Academic Symphony Orchestra, while the six Senior finalists each performed two concertos, one classical and one romantic, in quick succession with the Philharmonic Orchestra. This made super human demands on the concentration and stamina of the young pianists. The 19 year old pianist from Georgia, Luka Okrostsvaridze who played the Beethoven concerto no. 1 followed almost immediately by Rachmaninov's second piano concerto, told me that he was totally exhausted toward the end of the last movement. Nevertheless, he persevered and clinched the fourth prize in the senior group. The First Prize in this group was awarded to 26 year old Korean pianist, Kim Kho Woon performing both Beethoven's 5th and Rachmaninov's 2nd piano concertos with technical ease and musical panache.
I became good friends with fellow juror, Prof Eleanor Wong who is Senior Keyboard Lecturer and Artist in Residence in the School of Music of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. We enjoyed breakfasts together in the hotel Dnipro where the jury was accommodated within walking distance via subway to the National Philharmonic Hall. Prof. Wong is the teacher of the prodigious Chinese pianist Rachel Cheung who won, among many other international prizes, the fifth prize at the 2009 Leeds International piano Competition where I was also fortunate to be juror.
During our walks in the park we naturally discussed the meaning of competitions for aspiring musicians, since she is herself an active teacher training them for these gruelling events. There is such an abundance of piano competitions available for aspiring young pianists producing excellent first prize winners almost on a monthly basis all over the world. In spite of the inflationary situation, Prof. Wong feels strongly that a competition can be a marvellous stimulus for students to prepare a chosen repertoire for a specific purpose in a given time. Besides playing in competitions involves travelling to interesting destinations where one meets and hears pianists from different countries. The biggest bonus, apart form the prize money, is perhaps the opportunity to gain valuable experience performing concertos with orchestra and thus come to the attention of concert agents and other interested parties.
As a matter of fact, our colleague on the jury, Prof Marian Rybicki, Polish born French pianist and piano pedagogue, told me that he often visits international piano competitions, such as the Chopin competition in Warsaw where he selects superb pianists from, for instance the second and third rounds to invite to his competition in Paris or Casablanca. Usually I recommend the winner of a competition where I am juror, to a South African concert agent, such as the Ukrainian pianist, Alexej Gorlatch who won first prize at the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. His first South African concert tour was such a success that he has been invited back here in 2011. In the case of the 2010 Horowitz Competition, I recommended the winner of the Intermediate Group, 17 year old Ukrainian pianist, Roman Lopatynsky to be considered for a South African concert tour in 2012. Had it not been for his participation in the Horowitz, Roman would perhaps never had the opportunity to play concerts in South Africa - quite an exotic destination for most Ukrainians.
Kiev's ancient buildings are reminders of its illustrious past. In fact there were so many churches at one point in time that Kiev was known as the city of churches. The monastery of Caves, Petcherskaya Lavre, a walled complex with churches diplaying magnificent golden domes, is one of the most famous. Yakov very kindly took Prof Wong, Mr Marian Rybicki and myself on a guided tour of this holy site in Kiev - also the scene of massacres of Jews during the revolutionary episodes in 1905.
The driving force behind the International Competition for Young Pianists in memory of Vladimir Horowitz, is Mr Yuri Zilberman, Pro-Rector for Methodology of the Kyiv Rheinhold Gliere Institute of Music and author of important articles, dissertations and a book about the life and work of Vladimir Horowitz. Soon to be published is an article on the pianist's charity during the second World War. Among other interesting aspects, this article tells about the Millenium Concert for which the US Federal Treasury earned about a billion dollars in today's currency! Unfortunately, Mr Zilberman's publications are not yet available in English.
Mr Zilbermann introduced a host family programme for the first time this year, saying in a newspaper interview: "There are a lot of well-to-do families in Kyiv that can host a competitor form a foreign country. Many households have excellent pianos, special guest rooms and one or more cars which make it possible to drive the contestants to the philharmonic hall." During one of the receptions when the competitors had the opportunity to meet the jurors and receive some advice , I was introduced to a young married couple who hosted a Japanese competitor. They eagerly told me that they are on the point of departing on holiday to South Africa on. The South African Ambassador in Ukraine, Mr Andries Venter, told me over a cup of coffee that there are indeed quite a number of extremely wealthy Ukrainians.
For me the wealth of Ukraine is hidden in its tradition and its culture and the very real appreciation of people from all walks of life for the great master pieces in the classical music repertoire. I could not help imagining great pianists like Liszt, Rachmaninov and of course Horowitz himself performing in the historic chandeliered philharmonic hall. And it is not hard picturing this at all - because the really did perform there. May Horowitz' legacy continue for a very long time as an inspiration for the many new rising stars in the piano firmament!