Who’s fancied to win the Tchaikovsky Competition

Who’s fancied to win the Tchaikovsky Competition


norman lebrecht

June 21, 2015

The author Marina Evreison Arshinova, who used to work at the competition, assesses the mood at the end of Week 1.

The first stage of the Piano #tch15 is over, the second has begun.

The Russian-Lithuanian pianist Lukas Geniusas, 24, second prize winner at the 2010 Chopin Competition, has been  winning the media vote. His playing in the first round was cheering and revitalizing indeed.

By contrast, the Queen Elisabeth winner Yury Favorin, 29, fell victim to the system of refereeing and did not pass to the second round which was very disappointing.

For certain circles of audience Andrey Korobeinikov, 29, was one of the most wanted participants; however, he was absolutely unwanted by the major part of the jury. He made it easier for both groups – his performance was weak and unfocused, and even those who admire him, agreed that he сouldn’t go any further in the Competition.

Among those who will be playing in the second round Muscovites very much liked the second Lukas – French pianist Lucas Debargue, 24, particularly his inspiring interpretation of Beethoven’s Sonata op.10/3 . Maria Mazo, 32, born and raised in Moscow now lives in Germany. Under the guidance of the prominent piano teacher and juror Aryeh Vardy she achieved international recognition. In the second stage of the Competition she will play Beethoven’s Hammerklavier. The American George Li, 19, has excellent fingers. His depth has yet to be proved.

Daniil Kharitonov, 16, a student of Central Music School, pupil of Denis Matsuev’s teacher Valery Pyassetsky, is in with a chance. Kharitonov is strong in Rachmaninov, and has framed his second repertoire around that composer.


So what will the jury do? We shall see, and judge them all.


  • Robert Eshbach says:

    Superman wears George Li pajamas.

  • Anon says:

    What? No mention of the US candidate George Li here? Apparently he’s a student in the Harvard/New England Conservatory dual program, a student of Russell Sherman. I’d never heard of him before but this report is circulating on social media about his 1st round performance. He passed into the 2nd round : “”It seems like the possibilities of George Li are limitless…”

    The sensation of the day was 19-year-old American pianist George Li. The highly artistic, masterful, and enchanting performance of the young pianist caused the wild delight of the public.
    Architecturally constructed in vertical and horizontal polyphony, George’s performance of the Prelude and Fugue in G minor from the second volume of the WTC created the illusion of auditory three-dimensionality. Mr. Li’s performance of Beethoven’s final sonata was a real work of art. Perfect possession of the instrument, the highest emotional intelligence and artistic charisma, phenomenal polyphony, and mathematically adjusted balance of voice and sound engineering construction of musical form; finally, a brilliant finger perlé and the royal ending – one was reminded of Arthur Rubinstein – it seems that George Li’s pianistic possibilities are endless. The Chromatic Etude by Chopin, which involves the technique of the fourth and fifth fingers, turned into a masterpiece of performing without much trouble, as Pushkin: “There’s the King passing captivates formidable king”. Li – certainly is one of the leaders in the first round.”

    • anon2 says:

      The author seems to be Russian, from the name. She probably recognizes that Li’s Russian repertoire does not sound idiomatically Russian. I should think that’s enough to disqualify him from the gold medal.

  • Bob says:

    George Li?? Are you kidding??
    Don’t get me wrong – he can play, but his Campanella was truly a wreck, and Debargue’s Beethoven wasn’t far behind..

    My vote goes to Redkin, but let’s let the music speak for itself 😉

    • Karen says:

      Yes! Redkin is and remains my favorite (two years after the competition now). He has such an intelligent and careful attitude towards the tone while being technically brilliant. Absolutely wonderful Schubert.

  • kuma says:

    I’d love to buy a ticket of Lucas Debargue. Russian audience could not go home after his amazing recital today @moscow.
    I would not buy one of George Li yet for some reasons… he is already a mimi Lang lang, no?

    • Erwin Poelstra says:

      I agree, Debuargue was very impressive, especially in the second round. An original talent, extremely musical and intelligent and by no means a typical “competition pianist”.

  • Christian Lindberg says:

    I have listened carefully to George Li, and also had the opportunity to work with him closely. His artistic qualities are incredible, and how on earth can anyone say that his Campanella was a wreck? It was incredible!

    • Karen says:

      I agree, George Li is a force to be reckoned with.
      I suspect Bob did not actually watch and listen to George Li’s entire performance of La Campanella at the Tchaikovsky Competition (Round 1).
      Lastly, everyone should take note of what Pavel Kolesnikov wrote recently and just stop being so critical of any of the competitors : http://pavelkolesnikov.tumblr.com/post/121874965253/tchaikovsky-competition-important-information

    • PolarBear says:

      True, it’s not right for someone to say Li’s La Campanella was a wreck, but put it into perspective by doing a side-by-side comparison with any of the top pianists. YouTube came up with Kissin when I did a search. Kissin makes Li sound like an amateur, albeit a profoundly talented one. I think Li needs to brew a bit more. He is technically amazing, but where is his soul? What are the goals of the TCH top prize? Does it go to someone who is already career-ready or to the person who seems to have the greatest potential to be a superstar? If the latter, then Li might be a good pick.

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Mazo…Schism and a jury member pupil to boot…

  • Tamara says:

    My pick right now is Sergei Redkin. Does anyone else like Maria Mazo? I find her playing very appealing, powerful, clear, perfectly paced, and without excess. Superficially, I also like her flat facial expression. I enjoyed Labargue’s Gaspard de la Nuit but I found it oddly phrased and rushed, but it was definitely exciting. George Li isn’t doing much for me, he’s obviously a very fine pianist, he sounds young. I want to hear more of Nikolay Medvedev. And I’m excited that Mikhail Turpanov will be playing a movement from Messiaen’s Vingt Regards. It’s amazing to have the Cliburn Junior Competition going on at the same time as the Tchaikovsky, what a great piano week!

    • Victor says:

      Does anyone else like Maria Mazo? Yes, me and one more person – Menahem Pressler of the legendary Beaux Arts Trio in a documentary “In the Heart of Music” of 2005. Mr. Pressler praised Maria Mazo’s performance emphasizing his admiration “for someone that young being capable of playing Beethoven on such a high level that we have not heard from anyone”.

      • Sanda Schuldmann says:

        NO! I can’t believe she is in the 2nd round.
        I thought Masleev was pretty impressive. Tons of fingers!
        George Li should listen to some gipsy music. I thought his Liszt Rhapsody was pretty dull.

    • Tamara says:

      Pardon my typos. I should have written “Sergey” Redkin and “Debargue”.

    • Tamara says:

      Medvedev is starting his second round strongly, with his beautiful Prokofiev 6th sonata. He’s playing it straight and clean, love it!

  • Alexandra Jones says:

    Also no mention of American Reed Teztloff. He’s a crowd pleaser and he blew me away. George Li as well. So much talent among this dozen, I’m glad I’m not on the jury.

  • Arthur says:

    Regrettably, I don’t share your enthusiasm for the American candidate Reed Tezloff. His playing is one dimensional and, sorry to say, a typical American approach to music making, big on technique and extremely limited in life experience and intellectual curiosity. So many born and bred Americans show an astounding lack of pathos, of sensuality of nuance in their playing. This candidate Tezloff is no different, actually even worse, playing with a naive approach to details that other, more full blooded and passionate individuals, would get every last drop of juice out of. This boy needs to experience life, live a romance and perhaps then his playing will show more than good fingers and standardized approaches to passion.

  • VotedStraw says:

    I hate this. “Li´s depth has yet to be proved” Ok..why? Because he is 19? Yes, only because he is 19 years old. If he would be 28, nobody would question that, because he has an incredible technique – but he also obviously is a absolute world class musician. I hate this “oh-he is 19 years and he plays better than most of the others, that can´t be..wait! I got it! He is not mature enough and still needs to find the depth in the music, yeah..that sounds good”-attitude.
    If George Li won´t reach finals, it is a scandal.

    • Tamara says:

      I think he sounds 19. I’ve been watching the Cliburn Junior Competition and Li sounds like some of the junior competitors. Extremely talented, no question, but lacking the maturity required for such a prestigious award and for a professional career as well. The question is, will he be better in subsequent years?

    • kuma says:

      George played Bach like Czerney sound. His Russian pieces are still like excellent Czerney or Beethoven. WHat’s so good about being so mechanical on a piano. I do not feel touch of fresh leaves from his music..sorry for being honest, just my onion, forgive me.

      He is young and still has a lot of room to learn. Outstanding mechanic efforts, but even less technique thats what I see on george, after seeing Masleev today. OM Goodness Russian pianists are so amazing…they’ve just been hidden on youtube.

  • Musicmatters says:

    George Li demonstrated considerable musical depth in Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 111 and Rachmaninoff’s Corelli Variations. Ms. Arshinova would do better to leave the judging to the jury, as her comments are shallow and musically uninformed.

  • Prix D'Excellence says:

    Lucas Debargue has chosen his repertoire carefully and to play into the hands of certain jury members. For example Beresovsky is a great exponent of Medtner and will be refreshed to see a candidate offering a work close to his heart. Equally the Gaspard de la nuit, a virtuoso piece of French writing, showing Debargue’s facility to perform music of his homeland in an atmospheric and stylish way. He is out to satisfy both camps, Russian and French, and as an outsider with something slightly different to say musically, may well excite those who have heard enough of the technically sharp and steely Russians, alongside the somewhat musically vacant Americans. Debargue is definitely a communicator, able to bring you into his sound world. I really hope he goes far in this competition, since he is one of the few that have actually have gone beyond the technique of playing the piano and is revealing the intricate musical tapestries in the repertoire that he has wisely chosen to play. Let’s hope we are not in for another Russian stitch up !!

  • kuma says:

    Just finished Franz Liszt. Totentanz, S. 525 of Masleev. He is the only one here played Liszt as a Liszt.

    Both Masleev and Debargue would make Tchaikovsky..who said Mozart as musical Christ… happier on Thursday. Can’t wait!

  • All Keyed Up says:

    Why are so many folks threatened by George Li’s prospects for success? If these naysayers would listen with their EARS instead of with their eyes (and put aside their bias that “all Asian kids sound alike”) they might hear Li’s natural musicality and communicative gifts — which are to be commended. Whether he passes to the finals or not, George Li isn’t going to disappear: A talent like his doesn’t need competitions to make a career.

    • Karen says:

      I agree and cannot understand these attacks either. There is simply no need whatsoever to attack any one competitor. You are free to offer your support to your favourite musician, but there is no need to put another competitor down with such hurtful and mean-spirited comments. These 12 are all highly accomplished artists – they have all worked very, VERY hard to be at this competition. At least show respect, if not admiration, for their hard work and dedication.
      At this point, it is largely a question of one’s individual musical tastes as to whom one might have a preference for.
      Again, please be gracious and understand they are all under tremendous pressure – I hope people will be kind in their comments about any individual artist. I doubt any of us here who are commenting has come anywhere close to having performed at such a high level while under such extreme pressure.

    • Karen says:

      I agree and cannot understand these attacks either. George Li performed extremely well – several well respected professional musicians have written on their own facebook pages praising George Li’s performances at the Tchaikovsky Competition.
      There is no need whatsoever to attack any one competitor. You are free to offer your support to your favourite musician, but there is no need to put another competitor down and certainly shows poorly on those who engage in hurtful and mean-spirited language.
      These 12 are all highly accomplished artists – they have all worked very, VERY hard to be at this competition. At least show respect, if not admiration, for their hard work and dedication.
      At this point, it is largely a question of one’s musical tastes as to whom one might have a preference for.
      Again, please be gracious and understand they are all under tremendous pressure – be mindful that the competitors may read your comments . I doubt any of us here who are commenting has come anywhere close to having performed at such a high level while under such extreme pressure.

  • Alexandra Jones says:

    I am a passionate music lover who doesn’t know anything about music (as a mathematical language). I can read music and play some piano, but “I just know what I like.” My response to music is largely emotional. I am a Bach freak. I am also a snob, when it comes to performance quality, as I grew up with the Philadelphia Orchestra. When I saw ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabakuro in concert, I got the chills realizing that I was in a room with someone, of the 7.2 billion people on earth, who is among the best at something. And so it is with the competition. These are some of the most talented people on earth. It’s nothing but a delight and I am inspired to attend the 2019 competition to be in their company. When the San Francisco Symphony was on strike in 2013, people made comments like “Where do they get off?” “I’d be happy with half that.” “I don’t make anywhere near that–why should they?” Why? Because they are among the top 1% in excellence in what they do in the world. They have won 15 Grammys, including “Best Orchestral Performance” that very year! I respond more to some of the Tchaik. performers than others, but I am just watching, listening, enjoying. Truly exciting. Cheers to all candidates! (Can’t wait to see Yundi Li at Carnegie Hall in July!)

  • Hugh Wilson says:

    Has nobody noticed that there were four great pianists (Masleev,Li,Debargue and Kharitonov in this competition and all rightfully were awarded top prizes?The order of prizes is not particularly relevent when all four are geniuses and have great careers ahead.I do not think Genusias and Redkin are quite in the same league.Perhaps there has never been such a high standard in the piano competition before.