Thursday, 22 January 2009


Director: Peter Rosen
Presenter: Dudley Moore (the diminutive star of Arthur, Ten and Foul Play)
Conductor: Stanislaw Skrowaczewski

What happened: This competition formed the basis and backdrop to Joseph Horowitz’s The Ivory Trade, a devastating exposé on the Van Cliburn IPC and competitions in general.

Who won: ALEXEI SULTANOV (USSR / Uzbekistan)

Also ran: Jose Carlos Cocarelli (Brazil), Benedetto Lupo (Italy), Alexander Shtarkman (USSR), Tian Ying (China), Elisso Bolkvadze (USSR), Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (France), Kevin Kenner (USA), Eduardus Halim (Indonesia), Victor Sangiorgio (Australia).

Almost took part but decided against it: Marc-André Hamelin

Narrative techniques:
1. Various great pianists and former competition winners talk about their experiences. Sound bites from Ashkenazy, Fleisher, Graffman, Ax, Davidovich, Dichter, Entremont amongst others.
2. The winners are announced in reverse order followed immediately by their respective concerto segments.

Montage: A disjointed sequence of pianists in solo works ending with the 1st movement from Beethoven’s Sonata in C major, Op.2 No.3.

Best quote:
“My opinion of competitions is they’re absolutely the worst form of finding talent, except for all the others.” Emanuel Ax

Worst quote:

“Its almost like making love, you know. I cannot make love in front of people.” Jose Carlos Cocarelli (2nd prize winner, Brazil, left) on practising the piano.

John Giordano says:
“The big criticism of competition is frequently the innocuous player, the one that offends the least number of people, wins,” as Russian juror Sergei Dorensky appears piqued.

Best moments:

1. A deadly serious Alexander Shtarkman (USSR/Russia, left) in Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor with the Tokyo String Quartet. Earlier, he plays a grim Baba Yaga’s Hut which dissolves to The Last Waltz.

2. Alexei Sultanov sweating buckets in Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No.1, Rachmaninov’s Etude-tableau Op.39 No.5, William Schuman’s Chester and practically everything else. He breaks a string in the Liszt, and the audience roars its approval.

Cringeworthy moment:

Kevin Kenner (left) applauding tepidly as Sultanov is named as a finalist, and his trying to appear enthusiastic after not making the final cut.

Van Cliburn appears for: 2 minutes 10 seconds.

1. A Competition Retrospective (1962-1993) with lots of historic black and white footage, including a clean-shaven Radu Lupu and Sara Davis Buechner when she was a man.
2. Audio highlights from Alexei Sultanov (previously issued on Teldec)

Winner Alexei Sultanov attempted the 1995 Chopin International Piano Competition and placed second. Kevin Kenner achieved the same accolade in 1990. On both editions, no first prize was awarded. Sultanov later suffered two intracranial haemorrhages, before succumbing in 2005.

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