By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
If you were in the audience on Jan. 22 for the Pasadena Symphony concert at Ambassador Auditorium, you got a sneak preview of history because the soloist that day, cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, won the gold medal in the 14th Tchaikovsky International Competition during the awards ceremony today Moscow.
Meanwhile, Nigel Armstrong, a 21-year-old recent graduate of The Colburn School, won fourth place in the violin portion of the competition. Earlier, Armstrong — who has studied with Robert Lipsett at The Colburn School — won a special award of about $2,900 for his performance of Stomp by American composer John Corigliano. Armstrong, who finished ahead of the American Erik Silberger in the violin competition, won about $7,250 for his fourth prize today.
Hakhnazaryan, a 22-year-old Armenia, won 20,000 euros (about $29,000) in addition to the gold medal. He’s also eligible for an additional 10,000 euros that will be given to one of the gold medal performers following concerts in Moscow tomorrow and St. Petersburg on July 2.
The young cellist, who also won first prize in the 2008 Young Concert Artists Competition in New York, will play a worldwide concert schedule, although it’s worth noting that competition success is no real predictor of a major performing career. The list of past Tchaikovsky winners (LINK) reveals a smattering of well-known names and an even longer list of musicians that most people wouldn’t recognize today.
Hakhnazaryan was embroiled in a controversy earlier in the competition when conductor when Mark Gorenstein, artistic director of the Svetlanov State Symphony Orchestra, used what was reported to be a racial slur against the cellist during rehearsals.
According to ArtsJournal.com (LINK) and the Tass News Agency (LINK), Gorenstein called Hakhnazaryan “an au, something like a village fiddler, a term which expresses Russian disdain for its former provinces.” Gorensetin later apologized and withdrew from conducting during the competition.
During the final round, Hakhnazaryan played the Dvorak Cello Concerto (the piece he played in Pasadena — click HERE for my review) and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme (the latter was required of all five finalists).
For the first time, the competition included an audience voting system (in person and online). Voters agreed with the judges in three of the five categories. In addition to Hakhnazaryan, the audience winners were Daniil Trifonov of Russia, who also won the gold medal in the piano competition; and Sergey Dogadin of Russia, who shared the silver medal in the violin competition with Itamar Zorman of Israel (no gold medal was awarded in the violin portion, something that has happened occasionally in other Tchaikovsky contests).
The two differences were in the vocal competitions. In the female vocal portion, Sun Young Seo of South Korea won the gold medal while Elena Guseva of Russia was the audience favorite. In the male vocal segment, Jongmin Park of South Korea won the gold medal,while Enkhtaivan Chimed of Mongolia captured the audience voting.
Competitors, some of whom had to wait up to 48 hours between their second finals concerto and the awards ceremony, had to endure an even longer suspense as the awards ceremony — which was presented in both English and Russian — was delayed 80 minutes beyond its scheduled 8 p.m. (Moscow time/9:00 a.m. PDT) start due to the late arrival of some jury members from St. Petersburg by train, where the violin and cello competitions were held.
Armstrong’s fourth-place finish capped a four-year stint at The Colburn School, which earned him a Bachelor of Music degree this spring. He will play a series of concerts this summer including a tour of Argentina, before moving on to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he will study in the Graduate Diploma program with Arnold Steinhardt and Shmuel Ashkenasi (the latter won second prize in the 1962 Tchaikovsky Competition).
Armstrong will return to Southern California as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216, with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Jan. 21 in Glendale’s Alex Theater and Jan. 22 in UCLA’s Royce Hall. Andrew Shulman, principal cellist with both LACO and the Pasadena Symphony, will make his LACO conducting debut in the concerts. (LINK)
Armstrong’s competition bio, which shows the pieces he played in each round is HERE.
The Tchaikovsky International Competition catapulted to worldwide fame in 1958 when Van Cliburn, a lanky 23-year-old Texan, won the inaugural contest. His victory, at the height of the Cold War, gained Cliburn instant fame, including a ticker-tape parade in New York City and a cover story in Time Magazine. His RCA Victor recording of the Tchaikovsky first and Rachmaninoff third piano concertos (the pieces he played in the final round) became the first classical album to go platinum. Cliburn was present for the finals of this year’s competition, the first time he’s been back since winning in 1958.
The first competition had two categories: piano and violin. Among the pianists, American Daniel Pollack, a long-time professor at USC, finished eighth. In the second competition in 1962 cello was added, and vocals came last in 1966.
Click HERE for the competition Web site.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.