Contest ends on sour note

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - Famous around the world as the contest that matters most to make a reputation in music, Moscow's Tchaikovsky Competition is battling to rescue its own reputation after allegations of vote-rigging and favouritism by judges, and incompetence by organisers, writes Andrew Higgins.

The contest, held every four years, stirred grumbling about political pressure during the Soviet era but never such a chorus of complaint as this year, the tenth event since the American pianist, Van Cliburn, was catapulted to fame in 1958.

The main cause of disquiet is the decision last week by judges in the piano, cello and violin sections not to award a first prize. The cello jury also declined to award second and third prizes.

Prizes have been withheld before but never have judges been so harsh on such a scale - and, some critics say, generous with inferior Russian contestants taught by members of the jury. According to a front-page article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, widely read by Russia's intelligentsia, this year's Tchaikovsky Competition was effectively hijacked by jurors from the Moscow Conservatory and biased in favour of their students and friends. It voiced particular outrage that a young American violinist, Jennifer Cox, had been ranked in joint second place with Anastasia Chebotareva, a student of one of the jurors, Irina Bochkovaya. Pupils of judges also shared third and fourth places with contestants widely judged to be far more talented, the paper added. Music critics from Izvestia, Russia's other main quality daily, also voiced alarm at the outcome of the competition. In what looked like an attempt to compensate for the dearth of awards, the Tchaikovsky Competition ended late last Thursday by announcing not only a dollars 10,000 ( pounds 7,000) Grand Prix in the vocal section but also two second prizes and three third prizes. The feast for singers will not calm anger at the famine for everyone else.

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