Controversy over choice of winner brews at International Chopin Competition in Warsaw
There is controversy after every single major music competition as judges square off against each other and the audience squares off against the judges and against each other. It's one of the byproducts of passionate engagement.
The goings on in Warsaw this week are a case in point.
Since 1955, the International Chopin Piano Competition has been held every five years. It enjoys a lot of prestige, based on helping launch the careers of Maurizio Pollini (who won in 1955), Martha Argerich (1960) and Garrick Ohlsson (1970). It turned Yundi Li into a sensation when he won in 2000.
The 2010 winner is Russian Yulianna Avdeeva -- not the audience favourite. Here is the story from thenews.pl. The headline reads Controversial Chopin Competition Verdict Stuns Music Lovers:
The consensus before the verdict was announced late last night was that Ingolf Wunder of Austria, who eventually shared the Second Prize with Lucas Geniusas of Russia/Lithuania, was the more worthy of the top award than Avdeeva of Russia.
Musicologist Marek Dyżewski, a former rector of the Music Academy in Wrocław, told Polish Radio that the Russian pianist failed to communicate the beauty of Chopin’s music in her interpretations.
In his view, the result could be harmful for the future of the Warsaw Chopin Competition as the best pianists may feel reluctant to take part in the event, anticipating an unfair verdict.
Kacper Miklaszewski of the Ruch Muzyczny periodical says that Avdeeva has all the makings of a classical music star who is able to attract the crowds, but her interpretations lack the spirit of Chopin’s music.
Lidia Kozubek, a prominent pianist of the older generation, describes the verdict as “terrifying”.
In an interview for the news.pl, jury member Kevin Kenner, Second Prize winner at the Warsaw Competition in 1990, justified the decision.
“Avdeeva has a very deep understanding of the score, the kind of relationship to the score which no other pianist in this competition had. She looked into the score for her creative ideas. It was the source of virtually everything she did and she was also one of the most consistent competitors throughout the event,” he said.
Jury Chairman Andrzej Jasiński admitted that if the jury had taken into account solely the interpretation of the concerto in the final round Ingolf Wunder would have been the winner.
In addition to the Second Prize, Wunder received special prizes for the best performance of a concerto and of the Polonaise-Fantasy.
A graduate of the Universitat fur Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna, Wunder is currently continuing his studies under the guidance of the eminent Polish pianist Adam Harasiewicz, the winner of the Chopin Competition in 1955 and for many years a resident of Vienna.
In an exclusive interview for the news.pl, Wunder said: “I owe Harasiewicz my way to understanding Chopin. Life, and also playing Chopin, is a guest, and I am just at the beginnings and I have much to learn. Harasiewicz definitely led me in the right way and made me understand Chopin’s music, something I did not have five years ago.”
Commenting on Wunder for the news.pl, Polish pianist Pawel Kowalski said: “His playing is a mixture of technical perfection and a very Polish spirit. You can hear he was spending hours with Adam Harasiewicz who won the Warsaw Competition 55 years ago. People were saying at the time that Harasiewicz played like Rubinstein. Wunder’s playing is in the same category. He has no technical problems whatsoever. There is simplicity in his phrasing. His pianism is absolutely perfect. [Polish composer] Witold Lutosławski once said: ‘the music begins where the words end’.”
The competitors' performances were streamed live on the Web and have been archived them on the competition's site. So you can reach your own conclusions.
You can hear Avdeeva's finals performance of Chopin's E minor Concerto here. It's smooth, but certainly not memorable.
The sole Canadian competitor, Leonard Gilbert, didn't make it past the semi-finals (Stage II). You can listen to his playing here.
I don't want to take anything away from Chopin or this prestigious competition, but my main qualm about this whole thing is I really don't see how we can judge the merits of any artist with the music of a single composer.