How Valery Gergiev changed the music world

How Valery Gergiev changed the music world


norman lebrecht

August 15, 2011

In the wee hours of a white Finnish night, I told Valery Gergiev that he had changed the music world forever. (You can hear part of our conversation at 10.15 tonight on the Lebrecht Interview).

‘How exactly?’ he demanded.

‘By introducing perestroika to the Tchaikovsky Competition,’ I replied. ‘No self-respecting contest will ever take place again behind closed doors.’


I expand on the issue in the September issue of the Strad, out this week. Here’s the nub of the argument:

The 2011 Tchaikovsky was a game-changer. There can be no more contests where one judge votes reciprocally for another’s pupil, where talent is drilled to conform, where fear and loathing predominate. My inbox overflows with accounts of dirty deeds at classical music contests, of flagrant injustice, institutional prejudice and favours of every kind. Reform is resisted on grounds of ‘maintaining standards’. But that cover is blown by modern media. When an outvoted judge or a wounded player can take a grievance instantly to youtube, music competitions had better shape up, or ship out….

So what’s to be done? First, learn the lessons of the Tchaikovsky triumph: world-class judges, online streaming, total openness. Second, allow the public to vote. They almost did in Moscow, why not Indiannapolis? Third, regulate the competition circuit to exclude rotten apples… Too many competitions are diluting talent rather than promoting it. A cull is overdue. Someone needs to draw up a league table, relegating the lower ranked. Agree?


  • AVI says:

    Generally sound points. But regulation? Isn’t that in reality the problem?
    Regulation requires a group of people to decide which competitions are good and which are not.
    That’s what the competitions do – they seek to say which are good players and which are not.
    Why would a group of people get it any more right about competitions themselves than they do about the competitors in them? And who appoints those people? Or pays them?

    Presumably the only folk with the experience and knowhow of competitions to really judge which are most worthwhile are those people who are involved with the competition world… who have a definite self-interest in it! And wouldn’t the competitions who remain then find themselves spending time and money to directly placate and lobby this regulatory body, instead of developing the competition itself?

    No, competitions are best left to effectively self-regulate. By and large, poor competitions will, over the years, wither and cease to be. Sponsors will turn elsewhere, the calibre of entrants will dwindle. The better competitions will see the opposite. With exceptions, sure, but that’s as with so much else in life. And it’s better too; a competition can survive based on the desires and funding of those who support it, rather than the risk of every competition being the same, following some dictatorial dogma laid down by a regulatory comission. Anybody’s league table is flawed by the nature of the views of the person drawing it up. It’s impossible to regulate effectively and fairly, even in theory, and that’s without considering the inherent difficulties of doing something across borders / worldwide!

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