At the Tchaikovsky showdown, it’s not Lucas vs Lukas any more

At the Tchaikovsky showdown, it’s not Lucas vs Lukas any more


norman lebrecht

July 01, 2015

Our observer Marina Evreison Arshinova has been watching the third round of the piano competition with mounting excitement. In her expert view, there are now only two likely winners left in the pack. Here’s her midnight report at the end of the third round, ahead of the judges’ decision tonight.

moscow cons


In the smell of fire

The third round of Tchaikovsky Competiton flourished a constellation of talents. The Big Hall of Moscow Conservatory was sold out for all the three days of the final and there was hardly room to breathe.

Sergey Redkin played first. There’s not too much to add about him. His second piano concerto by Prokofiev was definitely better than Tchaikovsky’s First. He seemed to be not charismatic enough for the music he played.

The performance of the second contestant, George Li, was sensational. He played Tchaikovsky First and Prokofiev Third with astonishing intensity, clarity and rhythm. His emotions were on the edge and virtuosity was beyond the edge of the conventional highest level of world class competitions performances. The audience reception was truly ecstatic, especially after Tchaikovsky. George seemed to be three heads higher than the others.

george li1


The next day brought the main intrigue of the Competition, namely, Lucas vs Lukas. The favourite of the previous rounds, French pianist Lucas Debargue played the second concerto of Liszt and the first of Tchaikovsky. Unfortunately, it became clear very soon that it’s only the second time in Debargue’s life he played with orchestra.

The first time was a few days ago, at the second round, when he created a small miracle, delivering Mozart’s 24th concerto with inimitable grace and elegance. The audience awaited another miracle, but it was not to be. Debargue lost his grip on first prize, but will remain in the hearts of those who heard him this summer in Moscow, for ever.

Lukas Geniusas had chosen for the final the 2nd Tchaikovsky concerto and mighty Rachmaninov 3rd. Unfortunately, for all his merits, he was unable to handle the tension of the occasion and had some slips that are incompatible to competition standard. Tears were in his eyes when he bade farewell to the audience.

moscow cons fire


In accordance with Bulgakov traditions, typically for Moscow, the night before the Piano Competition climax a fire broke out in the Moscow Conservatory.. There was quite strong smell of fire in the hall when Daniil Kharitonov entered into the stage to play two Firsts Concertos – by Tchaikovsky and Liszt.

Daniil Kharitonov is 16 years old, still a schoolboy. He demonstrated some qualities as a pianist and played almost withut flaws throughout all the rounds . He is a young, vigorous, accomplished talent who is in the running for the  highest prize.

Dmitry Masleev was the last participant to play. One can say only good things about him. The First Tchaikovsky was fine, but in Third’s Prokofiev he was bested by George Li.

On the final night, Valery Gergiev and Denis Matsuev turned out to watch the Russian candidates.

So,the die is cast. The Lucas vs Lukas contest has changed into Li vs Kharitonov. We’re anxiously waiting for results of this fantastic Piano Competition. Less than 24 hours to go.


  • Richard says:

    The reporter is serioisly downplaying Geniusas, I think he’s also still in the run. He played the longest program of all, he put an interesting and singular Tchai 2 performance, his Rach 3 could’ve been better but the slips weren’t that serious.

    Also, considering Gergiev sat through Kharitonov’s concert, at the jury table (next to Matsuev, with whom he was awfully chatty), I wonder if it’s really going to be a “vs” between Li and Kharitonov.

    • Pianist says:

      Lukas Geniusas performance was solid and big. He is a big musician, supposed to be 1-st prize winner. Even if the tears was seemed in his eyes, that’s because of his deepness in music (Opposite than Kharitonov, who has no connection with music at all). George Li was fantastic too. They both are not only fabulous brilliant pianists but also big personalities. Masleev was much lower them. With this decision the competition lost his value. The world will choose whom to listen, and will know, who is who.

  • Pianoman says:

    I can’t possibly understand the downplaying of Geniusas, either. He had the most demanding program of all finalists, yet handled it better than quite a few others. He also appeared to be calm and in control, and whatever slips there were, they were small and mostly insignificant.

  • AlexT says:

    The first photo is the Rachmaninov concert hall, no the Great hall of Moscow conservatoty

  • Cello Reporter says:

    The stage heated up in St. Petersburg as well for the cello competition! Pablo Ferrandez Castro of Spain was looking like an obvious choice for 1st place until last night when Russia’s Alexander Ramm took the stage. Ramm’s Prokofiev brought the house down, with the audience applauding until well after the orch. had left the stage and the judges were walking out. They refused to stop applauding until Ramm returned to the stage, alone, for a solo bow.

    Pablo Ferrandez was the first candidate to play on Sun. night. His elegance, technical mastery and sheer musicality were breathtaking in the Rococco Variations. Dvorak followed, a magnificent interpretation which showed his passion, power and brilliant sense of ensemble playing.The last movement duo with the concertmaster was extraordinary! Ferrandez has a warm and fluid quality of sound which set him above the other candidates.

    Rumania’s Andrei Ionita played next with a technically correct but rather dry Rococco. But then he pulled out Shostakovich and nailed it! It was a brilliant performance – exciting, and impressive technically. Excellent choice and the audience loved it.

    Day 2 began with Seung Min Kang, the only woman finalist, who played with power and confidence. In an Alyssa Weilerstein-red gown, she was visually stunning and showed passion and assurance in her performances, although she tended to be a bit too agressive at times.

    The 2nd candidate of day 2 was the Russian Alexander Buzlov. He gave respectable performances although his sound was slightly brittle and he appeared to be nervous. His intonation suffered considerably, probably because of the nerves. He was warmly received by the audience.

    Day 3 opened with Jonathan Roozeman, competing for Holland. Roozeman was born in Finland to a Finnish mother and Dutch father and has previously competed as a dual national for both countries. Roozeman, at 17, was the youngest of the finalists. He was technically competent, understated and refined musically, but despite his calm appearance, nerves seemed to affect his sound which was at times thin and shaky, esp. in Prokofiev.

    The last finalist to play was Alexander Ramm of Russia. He looked to be the most experienced, the most comfortable in the concerto genre of all of the candidates. He displayed a refined elegance, similar to Ferrandez’ in the Rococco, then a complete about-face of mood and style in Prokofiev, where he was powerful and commanding. His technique and intonation were flawless. The Prokov is a much less known work than Dvorak, and it’s Russian. It was a very smart repertoire choice on Ramm’s part.
    Although he lacked the special warmth and sound and fluidity of Ferrandez, you simply cannot argue with Ramm’s performances. They were excellent.

    So the cello contest looks to be a case of Pablo Ferrandez of Spain vs. Alexander Ramm of Russia. It will be exciting to see the results this evening!

  • Fred says:

    George Li definitely was extraordinary. And the Mozart of Daniil Kharitonov had much depth. His Liszt was more convincing than his Tschaikowsky. But overall he has to be considered as one with huge potential with his 16 year.

  • Nolatune says:

    The playing of the finalists has been stupendous across the board. IMHO a tie-breaker or deciding factor can be made by answering this question: Which of these candidates will best represent the heart and soul of music, the glorious image of the Tchaikovsky XV competition in future performances world-wide? It is obvious–George Li.

  • Erwin Poelstra says:

    I listened to both performances of Prokofiev’s Concerto no. 3 on and I disagree that George Li outplayed Dimitry Masleev. Li’s tempi were faster and there was perhaps more fire in his playing, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better. Masleev had far more (dynamic) nuances and could better convey Prokofiev’s sarcastic style. The beautiful lyrical second theme of the third movement was wonderfully shaped.

    Kharitonov is a true prodigy and has an amazing inborn facility, but I think it would be premature and even unfair to some other finalists to reward him a first prize, because he is musically (still) quite immature.

    In any case, the six finalists were very well chosen…tough decision for the jury!

    • Valery says:

      Totally agree!
      Dimitry Masleev played much better, respectful towards to the composer, than George Li. Dimitry, beautiful finale of the competion, should win!

    • Diana Ventura says:

      First, a fine pianist must be able to master the arduous technicalities of the Prokofiev 3rd–you must be able to play the composition with relative ease without obvious major mistakes. When you can do that, then you have to master the subtle nuance of the composition. IMO, Li has far more potential than his fellow competitors. I feel his ability to sail through one of the most difficult concertos with ease at his young age is indeed impressive. To me, he is the clear winner.

    • David G says:

      Spot on observations, Erwin Poelstra! Taking a slower tempo in the 3rd mvt. of the Prokofiev allowed Masleev to show us detailing seldom heard when this is just beaten out and misses the sardonic element you mention. The orchestra was responding to Masleev’s performance too – they lifted here because it was more interesting music making. The 2 Prokofiev’s were in different dimensions in my opinion.

      And agreed about Daniel Kharitonov. It will be with interest that we watch his career. I feel he will grow further and has a cool mind so as to not get carried away too much as some did.

  • Nolatune says:

    All of the pianists in the concerto competition are phenomenal. The deciding factor, the “tie-breaker” is the answer to this question: Which competitor will project to the world in his future appearances the heart, soul, the joy of music & the best image of the spirit of the Tchaikovsky XV competition? Answer: George Li

  • Prix D'Excellence says:

    Are we suggesting that the prize will be awarded on the performances of two technically difficult concerti. Of what value then is the musicianship in the earlier rounds ? How often do we witness the musical indigestion of two piano concertos in one performance? Who so ever decided to perform Tchaikovsky 2 and Rachmaninov 3 back to back is clearly taking steroids !! I mentioned in an earlier post that we might once again be in for a Russian stitch up, and stand by that suspicion. Given the level of animosity on the political front I can’t imagine the Russians awarding it to an American. Debargue was the musician across all rounds, and hopefully that will count for something. He certainly wooed the audience. Let’s all hope that politics does not have the last word and that music, for music’s sake prevails ! Let’s also have one Tchaikovsky concerto in the final and not two, and save us all musical dispepsia !

    • Irend says:

      i agreed to what you said. Debargue was the best no matter what. He is a true artist who has his own thoughts and put the composer first, he understands the musical works very well. The jury should consider hoe the other rounds as well. But not just based on the concerto final. If Debargue wins, it will change the climate of the classical music, more genuine artists will be noticed.

    • Branimir says:

      “Given the level of animosity on the political front I can’t imagine the Russians awarding it to an American.”

      Come on, I think that the level of animosity was much higher when Van Cliburn won.

  • Karen says:

    Prix D’Excellence said: [quote] “Given the level of animosity on the political front I can’t imagine the Russians awarding it to an American.” [unquote]

    The above sentiment represents my worst fear throughout this piano competition. I fear that George Li would not be given the first prize because of geopolitical tensions between Russia and the USA. I truly hope that the Russian jurors will be fair, let the music transcend geopolitics and decide simply on the basis of artistic merits.

  • Jeffrey Levenson says:

    Cello should be Kang, Roozeman, Romanian. Win , place, show.

    • Prix D'Excellence says:

      In total agreement. The Korean girl is a mature musician with a well focused, extensive sound palate. She has my vote to win, the other two not far behind her. Let’s hope the prizes are awarded for musicianship and not based upon politics ?

    • Anon2 says:

      My bet is 1Ramm, 2.Ferrandez, 3. Ionita, 4. Kang, 5..Roozeman, 6.other Russian guy.

  • Piano911 says:

    There is only one huge truly individual and suggestive artist, but I suppose thats not the most important for a competition. If the worst have won the competitions I do not expect a miracle this time too.
    I only hope that people are get off the technique perfection and brilliant scale passages, I think there are enough virtuous wonderkids who can play it on the highest level.
    All six competitors are very good, but does not have mature and truly honest emotion and modesty.

  • Olga says:

    And a gold medal goes to : George Li or Dmitri Masleev. Both were super in the finals. Hope for the best decision of the judges, hope that they will decide non regarding geopolitics. It is music, first of all.
    It is a regret that Debargue did not do well with the orchestra, he is a brilliant pianist with a wonderful ability to penetrate into the soul of musik. He should be prepared better for playing solo with the orchestra.
    Kharitonov is a tremendously gifted teenager, but he has still to grow. However it is a great success to be in the finals of such competition.
    As for violonists, I think that the1st prize will go to Clara-Jumi Kang or Haik Kazazyan.
    I am eager to know the final results.

  • joseph says:

    6 (including a former Russian) out of the 12 jurors are Russian. I certainly wouldn’t call this an “international” competition. Russian nationalism is carried to an impossible height by Mr. Gergiev and his colleagues.

  • Pianist says:

    Lukas Geniusas performance was solid and big. He is a big musician, supposed to be 1-st prize winner. Even if the tears was seemed in his eyes, that’s because of his deepness in music (Opposite than Kharitonov, who has no connection with music at all). George Li was fantastic too. They both are not only fabulous brilliant pianists but also big personalities. Masleev was much lower them. With this decision the competition lost his value. The world will choose whom to listen, and will know, who is who.