The Final Instalment: Goodbye Moscow!

Tchaikovsky Competition















Mozart concertos are now over.


As suspected the change in the order of audience preference is obvious as the competitors come to terms with collaboration with the orchestra. Teachers and advisors dance up and down the hall gesturing, shouting and discussing advice on phrasing, timing, tempo and volume during rehearsals.


The conductors (2 different chamber orchestras) struggle with the volume and balance of the orchestra and are constantly adjusting their baton for the various tempos being imposed on them by the pianists. This is where chamber music experience really comes to the fore.


Audience wait with anticipation as their favourites take to the stage – some with a confident stride, some with trepidation.


The adrenaline kicks in and what was a timid rehearsal turns into a towering performance leading the orchestra through the intricate melodies throughout the Mozart concertos.


At the end of a second movement, just as the notes are dying away the hall is filled with the theme from Nokia….. Suddenly what was a leisurely intentional last movement in the rehearsal turns into a race to the end… Who wins?


The audience favourite from the solo round stumbles as he tries to take the orchestra on an extra sensitive journey. In the end a beautiful performance, but was it Mozart?

The backstage mums are all emotional as one by one the performers exit the stage, some almost in tears. 6 will miss the cut.


Finalists are announced. As expected there are surprises…..


Major excitement as the Con nearly burns down…. Several workers who are carrying out renovations at the Con have bunked down overnight (illegally) in one of the rooms in the west wing. As they all smoke I suspect that one of them fell asleep with one lit up. In any case the fire starts about midnight and several rooms are completely engulfed. The fire is brought under control before it spreads further, however the smoke then fills the main hall. Teams of cleaners go through every item to try to eliminate the smell however it just increases over the rest of the day and there is talk of moving the finals to another venue. The fire brigade then comes in with their big guns. A massive fan which would be comfortable in a wind tunnel mounted on the back of a truck. By morning most of the smell is gone so they decide to continue in the hall.


Now for the Herculean feat that is before the final 6. Perform a Tchaikovsky concerto and another 20th Century Concerto back to back. This time it is with a full orchestra ready to encase any inexperienced soloist with a tsunami of sound.


One 1/2 hour discussion with the conductor followed by a two hour rehearsal with orchestra for both concertos is insufficient for most of them. The teachers carry out the same dance in the hall. The conductor loses a few more follicles and the brass receives a significant talking to…


Finally the day of the performance, and a quick half hour run through for both concertos.


There are two performances each evening with the Tchaikovsky 1 being chosen by 5 of the 6 performers and Prokofiev being the favourite for the second concerto.


The Steinway thunders through both. Again, performance energies in most cases overcome the challenges of the orchestra. The conductor works hard and succeeds in controlling the balance as the pianists show off their virtuosity mostly, and musicality…..


For some the energy required over the last few weeks with a torturous practice schedule, lack of sleep, proper eating habits and nervous tension shows and the energy required for the 2 concertos takes its toll. Some survive to the end while others start to fade somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd movements on the Tchaikovsky.


All the performance are now over, full houses for each concert, jury staring from the 6th row and over 10million viewers worldwide have enjoyed, criticized, judged and argued about the various interpretations. The blogs are full of know-all opinions about the smallest detail. Should this contestant really have played the fifth phrase in the recapitulation at this tempo? Surly the jury can’t condone that?


The decision comes swiftly as the jury members all come out of their room and head off to the Ritz. Mums the word and there are no leaks…. Everyone in the forecourt tries to extract an opinion. Giergev offers some subtle words to a small group but no hints as to the results. They are due on the following evening at the prize giving event in the Tchaikovsky hall.


Now if you have ever followed the Oscars, this could rival the prize giving concept. Complete with star wars style imagery and tall…no, very tall models in black evening outfits to direct the competitors onto the stage and hand out the flowers.


All four sections receive their prizes. Most of the competitors are very gracious in receiving the lower awards however there are at least 2 whose body language reveals a greater disappointment than they would like to show at not receiving the gold medal.


Now for the piano section. 4th prize is called first…. Unusual as there are six contestants… Will 2 not be receiving anything? Were their performances so bad that they will be without a prize? Ahh, there are two 3rd prizes announced. Then the first of the second prizes is announced which leaves 2 on stage waiting.


Finally the 2nd of the Silver medals is announced leaving only one to receive the Gold medal. He is the one who is the audience favourite.


The following scrum on stage is immense. Audience members jump onto the stage to congratulate the winners, have their autographs and the inevitable selfies as the international media attempts to drag them away for interviews. Backstage there is nowhere to move. Everyone pushes and shoves to get to their favourites. An area that would be comfortable for perhaps 15 people has more than 50 attempting to move about. After about an hour it all starts to subside as the realization of the results sinks in and calmness ensues.


There is an after party with the participants, jury, workers and sponsors which continues for another 2 hours with lots of backslapping and discussions before everyone finally disperses.


The following evening is the gala concert. In hushed tones everyone is told to bring their passport with them as Putin will be there….


I arrive at the stage door at my alloyed time of 7:30am in order to check over the piano ready for the evening gala. This time I am met not only by the usual ‘blue shirts’ who after 3 weeks actually occasionally raise what could be construed as a smile but two other men in black suits.


After a few questions they announce ‘you cannot come in as you are not on ze list’ some discussion ensues while they thumb through 3 black folders with varying names and cannot see Vartoukian anywhere. Even the blue shirts come to my defence and explain that I have actually been there every day for the last 4 weeks. Alas no argument or logic can convince them and I am kindly dismissed.


Back to the hotel and various phone calls to organizers who are very frustrated as apparently some of their names are also ‘not on the list’. After some four hours of discussions, emails, text messages and phone call finally a new list is produced and I return to the stage door where the metal detector which always stands there is active. Now have you ever tried to explain the contents of your piano tuning bag??? Every item looks like some sort of a weapon…anyway the reassurances of the blue shirts that in fact I would only be terrorizing the piano with my implements allows me in. There is chaos on stage. Because of the extra security and the fact that the lists weren’t ready in the morning the whole rehearsal schedule and setup is thrown into disarray. I fight for a few minutes at the piano and fortunately it doesn’t require much attention. I leave the stage and settle in for an interesting evening which is supposed to start at 7pm.


There are police cars everywhere. Almost nothing moves on the street, particularly since over the previous two weeks, the council in there infinite wisdom has decided to dig up the opposing path and lane in order to eventually widen the path for better pedestrian access. This has limited the street to only 1.5 lanes. With the amount of police cars, black security details and the various limousines bringing in the VIP’s there are inevitable delays.


The audience is slowly ushered in as everyone must go through a security check akin to that at an airport. All identities and bags are checked and everyone walks through a scanner. It is a slow process for the close to 2000 patrons and workers.


Finally Putin comes in at 7:40pm and gives the opening speech. He then joins the audience in row 6 while Giergiev takes the helm of the orchestra and most of the finalists give a short performance. The largest applause is for Lucas Debarg who was the early audience favourite with his incredible rendition of Ravel. And also, to the eventual gold medallist Dmitry Masleev. This is the performer whose mother past away in the first round, so emotions are very high.


As is the tradition in Moscow, after many of the performances audience members rush to the front of the stage to give flowers to the performers. This meant almost moving past Putin and some very nervous security black suits. Putin finally leaves at the end of the last performance to much applause.


This time the audience and staff don’t hang around as most of them have to go to St Petersburg early in the morning for a repeat of the Gala.


A few of us go to the hotel bar for farewell drinks which go on to after 2am. No chance of sleep as I still need to pack and be up by 5am for checkout and a taxi ride to the airport. Exactly 30 days after I arrived in Moscow I now say goodbye to a sensational experience. I have had more that 140 hours of listening to some 52 dedicated performers and more than 82 hours of interaction with my friend, Steinway D-274 No 598.987. I will miss him.


Cheers from Moscow,




3 Responses to The Final Instalment: Goodbye Moscow!

  1. Den says:

    Great story Ara! Congratulations on the work and contribution you have made to this event.
    We have been there in 2007 fortunately without Putin…))

  2. Mary-Jane Morgan says:

    A wonderful experience and read Ara, for us, too. How privileged Russia was to have you, our finest. Thanks for sharing the drama, not unlike our own SIPC. x x x x to you and yours, Mary-Jane and Paul

  3. Sandy Jacka says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed your rendition of the competition and events.
    Glad you’re home safe.

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