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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » October 29, 2010
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Russian Wins Warsaw Chopin Competition
October 29, 2010   
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The judges have decided: The winner of this year’s 16th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw is 25-year-old Russian Yulianna Avdeeva.

One can only agree with the verdict, not least because the judges are the top piano experts and include five past Chopin Competition winners. Like no other of the 78 pianists who took part in the competition, Avdeeva has proven herself to be a seasoned pianist, fully aware of her immensely powerful and expressive style. Apart from the Grand Prix, the judges granted Avdeeva a Special Prize founded by Polish pianist and onetime Chopin Competition winner Krystian Zimerman for the best performance of a sonata. Sonatas are some of the most difficult tasks performers of Chopin masterpieces get to tackle, and in the case of Avdeeva, her class has been endorsed by the reputation of Zimerman himself.

The Grand Prix has definitely gone to the right hands, as Avdeeva can surely live up to the challenge posed by invitations to take part in prestigious concerts at the biggest venues across the world, including a concert with the New York Philharmonic and other proposals. The Grand Prix also comes with a prize of 30,000 euros from the Polish president and a Gold Medal.

The overall quality of the 16th Chopin Competition was very high. For the first time in years, no pianist from China, Japan or South Korea made it to the finals, even though these days pianists from Asia are winning lots of prizes at the largest events of this kind. Asian pianists accounted for the largest group when the competition’s first stage began, but they all failed to make it into the finals. Was it a shortage of talent or is it perhaps that technical perfection no longer comes first among the judging criteria? The talent is definitely there, as Fei-Fei Dong and Julian Zhi Chao Jia of China, Da Sol Kim of South Korea, Rina Sudo of Japan, and Chinese American Mei-Ting Sun clearly captivated the audiences with their superb piano playing proficiency.

Whatever made them miss out on the finals, it heralded the return of famed piano schools to the Chopin Competition. One of these is the Russian school, which triumphed at this year’s competition. The Grand Prix winner aside, the runners-up include the remarkable Lukas Geniusas, who tied in second place with the audience’s favorite Ingolf Wunder, the extremely talented and sensitive Daniil Trifonov (third prize and a Special Award for best performance of a mazurka), the young and promising Nikolai Khozyainov (distinction) and Miroslav Kultyshev (distinction), the winner of the Pyotr Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. The Russians thus revisited their finest Chopin Piano Competition traditions. For example, in 1927 the Grand Prix went to Lev Oborin, while Grigoriy Ginzburg took home the fourth prize. Pianists who won distinctions that year included Dymitr Shostakovich, who went on to become one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.

The Polish piano school, on the other hand, has scored no success this year. Poland’s Paweł Wakarecy won a distinction at the Warsaw competition, which is quite an achievement for this undoubtedly remarkable musician, but the Polish piano school failed during the 16th Chopin Competition. What makes this a particularly sorry affair is that a prize for a Polish pianist should probably have been of fundamental importance to the Polish music community 200 years since the birth of Chopin.

I will not have anybody tell me that Poland lacked the right candidates. I am even convinced that with a bit of luck, five of the six Polish contestants, Marcin Koziak, Jacek Kortus, Gracjan Szymczak, Joanna Różewska and Marek Bracha, would have been able to compete for the prizes on a par with other finalists. I know how well some of them can play a concerto or a sonata, and I can tell they could outdo some of the winners in this department. What’s more, the selection committee did not admit Mateusz Borowiak, who just two weeks earlier won the grand prize of the prestigious International Piano Competition in Monza, Italy.

Does Poland really lack the right people? One could suppose that before such a weighty event, the Polish contestants simply gave in to the enormous pressure and got consumed by stage fright, but then again, there must be ways to deal with that. With so many projects tied to the 200th anniversary celebrations, surely there should be enough funds to provide special care for the Polish contestants, such as scholarships, studio recordings (the Polish state broadcaster Polskie Radio used to take care of that), performances with an orchestra and, to get stage fright under control, help from a psychologist. All that should be taken care of beforehand, as after all, professionals take it for granted. For now, all that is left is sorrow and regret and these young people are not the ones to blame for this utter failure. Those who are will know.

The biggest success of the 16th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition is that it has discovered a truly charismatic pianist and it seems that a glorious career awaits Avdeeva. Other than that, the competition sparkled with a wide range of talented pianists who took the audiences on thrilling music journeys. The most important journey were recitals performed by Ingolf Wunder, who knows how to give a beautiful and refined sound to Chopin’s music. Bulgarian pianist Evgeni Bozhanov (fourth prize) courted the audiences with his fanciful interpretations of waltzes, Polonaise in B-flat Major and Rondo a la Mazur.

One of the biggest surprises was France’s Francois Dumont who collected high marks at each stage, confidently playing his way to fifth place. Hélene Tysman beautifully performed a complete set of Preludes. Mei-Ting Sun demonstrated his total dedication to Chopin when he competently played some of the less known pieces like Allegro de concert.

The significance of all previous Chopin Competitions in Warsaw can be judged by the post-competition careers of the Grand Prix winners. Hopefully, Yulianna Avdeeva will turn the 16th Chopin Competition into one of the finest chapters in the event’s history.

Jan Popis
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