Outstanding contest

The annual Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition opens this month

Georgian pianist Eliso Virsaladze (photo credit: GEORGE ANDERHUB)
Georgian pianist Eliso Virsaladze
(photo credit: GEORGE ANDERHUB)
Thirty-two competitors from 16 countries will participate in the 15th annual Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv (April 25 to May 11). Among them are three Israeli competitors: Tomer Gewirtzman (27), Yevgeny Yontov (28) and Rafael Skorka (28). The youngest competitor is from South Korea (17), and the two oldest are from the US (30).
The jury chairman is pianist, educator and recipient of this year’s Israel Prize for Music, Prof. Arie Vardi. The artistic director of the competition since 2003 is pianist and radio personality Idith Zvi.
“With many piano contests around, the Rubinstein competition is still among the world’s most important,” says jury member renowned Georgian pianist Eliso Virsaladze from her home in Tbilisi. “The fact that this contest bears the name of such an outstanding musician as Arthur Rubinstein guarantees a high international position.”
Virsaladze believes that competitions are important and help young artists make a name for themselves.
“I simply don’t see any other way for talented young performers to be exposed to audiences and critics, and sign contracts with leading orchestras and important concert venues. This is the major raison d’etre of music competitions. It may be different for vocalists, but this is true for instrumentalists. There are private patrons who support young artists and so does the Sony record company, but that is not enough,” she says.
“Sometimes talented performers not only don’t reach the finals but are eliminated from the competition after the first round. So it’s wonderful when true talents emerge as winners in music contests,” she adds.
Virsaladze feels that the music world has changed, and not for the better.
“It is great when pianists such as Gregory Sokolov, Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia overcome all obstacles and earn their welldeserved fame and position in the world of music. That is how it was in the past, but it is not the rule nowadays. Quite a few performers who are at the top simply do not deserve it. Obviously, it is not musical criteria but other mechanisms that are at work here,” she comments.
She adds, “Granted, they are all talented, but for those who are even more gifted but not famous, it is very difficult to reach audiences, even though they have a lot more to share than their overly popular media-supported counterparts. This is just another proof of the importance of competitions. But again, individual renditions of well-known pieces performed by highly artistic contestants may raise doubts among jury members, who say, “Well, it’s impossible to perform this piece like that.” As if anybody knew exactly how it should be performed. As a professional, I can say that there is a lot of freedom of interpretation within the framework of this or that piece.”
She stresses, “This is not originality for the sake of originality. Because sometimes I feel embarrassed for some of those at the height of their popularity. I see that they are simply not educated well enough. And these may be things I tell my first-year students.”
With a very active career, Virsaladze divides her time between concert activity and teaching – in Italy (Fiesola), Moscow and Tokyo, in addition to master classes “which are far too many, not leaving me time for other things,” she says.
Virsaladze believes that her role is not to teach her students to play like her but to help them develop their own style.
“Recently, my student Vitaly Starikov won the Grand Prix of the international piano competition in Epinal, France,” she recounts. “He studied with me for only two years. When he came to me, I felt that he had some elusive musical ideas which he was not yet able to express. So I saw my task as not teaching him to play in my style but to help him formulate in a very precise way what he felt inside himself. But it has to stem from the music, this is important. Granted, ten talented pianists will play the same piece differently, trying to approach the composer’s ideas. And this is what I teach my students: to be honest with the composer. This is essential.”
The opening concert of the competition will take place on April 25 at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. Stages I & 2 and the chamber music finals will take place from April 27 to May 6 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The orchestral finals will take place from May 8 to 11 at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv. For tickets: www.eventim.co.il/arthur; (03) 511- 1777; *9066 classical (George Anderhub)