The Well-Tempered Ear

The famed International Tchaikovsky Competition has been expelled from the World Federation of International Music Competitions

April 25, 2022
9 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the granddaddies of all international music competitions — probably the best known and most prestigious — has been disowned.

The International Tchaikovsky Competition — the one that catapulted the young American pianist and first winner Van Cliburn (below, during the competition) to worldwide fame during the height of the Cold War, for which he received the only ticker tape parade in New York City ever given to a musician — has been expelled from the World Federation of International Music Competitions, which was founded in 1957 and represents 110 music competitions and programs to help young musicians build a career.

The move comes in response to recent events in Ukraine — including alleged Russian war crimes during its brutal, deadly and unprovoked invasion.

The famed Tchaikovsky Competition — which started in 1958 and is now for pianists, violinists, cellists, vocalists as well as woodwind and brass players — is held in Moscow and St. Petersburg and is financed and organized by the Russian government. It has launched the careers on many great musicians.

It is co-chaired by the discredited Russian conductor Valery Gergiev  (below right, in 2014), a close friend and avid supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin (below left) and of the conflict in Ukraine.

The expulsion came about because the Tchaikovsky Competition refused to condemn the Russian invasion, as the federation requested.

Here is a link to the story that was published on the website Classical Music, an online publication of the BBC Music Magazine. It contains background on both the competition and the current state of affairs regarding Russian musicians and the Russian conflict in Ukraine. It has a lot of noteworthy links:

https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.classical-music.com%2Fnews%2Finternational-tchaikovsky-competition-expelled-from-world-federation-of-international-music-competitions%2F&data=05%7C01%7C%7C6c24b49a0d734e9d8cba08da23b1b885%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637861543449919994%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=RO2i3yy3HKXFxzEBotr4wTvrEONBM0%2FqUjxqt5CPhQc%3D&reserved=0

And here is the response from the organizers of the Russian competition, which takes place every four years. The 16th competition was held in 2019, and the 17th is still scheduled for 2023. (The announcement of the 2019 piano winners — by the Russian former piano winner Denis Matsuev, who has been boycotted because of Ukraine — is in the YouTube-Medici.TV video at the bottom.)

The response — which accuses the federation of “persecuting” Russian musicians and promises that it will be held as usual and remain open to contestants worldwide — is posted on the competition’s website:

https://tchaikovskycompetition.com/en/news/415.htm

It makes one wonder what the effects on the next Tchaikovsky competition will be.

Will potential jurors outside Russia boycott the competition?

Will non-Russian contestants — with the exception perhaps on Chinese and Belarusian performers — avoid participating?

And what will be the effect on the inaugural Rachmaninoff Competition for pianists, composers and conductors that is scheduled to take place this June in Moscow?

What do you think?

Is it the right call by the international federation?

Or the wrong call?

Why do you think so?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Can American film director Ron Howard make a sensitive and accurate biopic of Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang? Or is it a cultural appropriation that deserves to be condemned?

September 27, 2020
6 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

The self-appointed PC diversity police have struck again.

This is getting silly and tiresome, insulting and embarrassing.

Some advocates of cultural diversity are crying foul over the latest project of the American and Academy Award-winning Hollywood film director Ron Howard: making a biopic of the superstar Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang (below).

The script will be drawn from the pianist’s bestselling memoir “Journey of a Thousand Miles” — which has also been recast as an inspirational children’s book — and the director and scriptwriters will consult with Lang Lang.

It seems to The Ear a natural collaboration, as well as a surefire box office hit, between two high-achieving entertainers. Check out their bios:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lang_Lang

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Howard

But some people are criticizing the project in the belief that because Ron Howard  (below) is white and Western, he cannot do justice to someone who is Chinese or to Asian culture.

Here is an essay, found on the website of Classic FM, by one objector. She is Chinese film director Lulu Wang (below), who says she has no interest in doing the project herself: https://www.classicfm.com/artists/lang-lang/pianist-biopic-ron-howard-faces-criticism-lulu-wang/

Talk about misplaced alarm over “cultural appropriation.”

Don’t you think that Lang Lang will have a lot to say about how he is depicted?

Do you wonder if Wang thinks cultural appropriation works in reverse?

Should we dismiss Lang Lang’s interpretations of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Bartok simply because he is non-Western and Chinese rather than German, French or Russian?

Of course not. They should be taken on their own merits, just as the interpretations of any other Asian classical musician, and artists in general including Ai Weiwei, should be.

But however unfairly, cultural appropriation just doesn’t seem to work in reverse.

Mind you, The Ear thinks that cultural appropriation is a valid concept and can indeed sometimes be useful in discussing cross-cultural influences.

But it sure seems that the concept is being applied in an overly broad and even misdirected or ridiculous way, kind of the way that the idea of “micro-aggressions” can be so generously applied that it loses its ability to be truthful and useful.

Take the example of the heterosexual Taiwanese movie director Ang Lee. He certainly proved himself able to depict American culture in “The Ice Storm” and the gay world in “Brokeback Mountain.”

Let’s be clear. The Ear is a piano fan.

But if he objects to the project, it is because he doesn’t like Lang Lang’s flamboyant playing, his Liberace-like performance manners and showmanship, and his exaggerated facial expressions.

Yet there is no denying the human appeal of his story. He rose from a young and suicidal piano student (below) who was emotionally abused by his ambitious father – shades of the lives of young Mozart and Beethoven and probably many other prodigies – to become the best known, most frequently booked and highest paid classical pianist in the world. 

Yet not for nothing did some critics baptize him with the nickname Bang Bang.

Still, the Curtis Institute graduate does all he can to foster music education, especially among the young and the poor.

And there is simply no denying his virtuosity. (See Lang Lang playing Liszt’s Paganini etude “La Campanella” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So there is plenty to object to about Lang Lang the Piano Star besides the ethnicity of Ron Howard, who also did a biopic of opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, in telling his story.

What do you think?

Is it culturally all right for Ron Howard to direct a film about Lang Lang?

Do you look forward to the movie and seeing it?

What do you think of Lang Lang as a pianist and a celebrity?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: Flutist and activist Iva Ugrcic is Musician of the Year for 2018

December 31, 2018
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

The classical music scene in Madison is so rich that it is always a challenge to name a Musician of the Year.

There are just so many deserving candidates. One obvious example is conductor John DeMain, who is completing his 25th year of outstanding stewardship in directing the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera.

But part of the intent behind such an honor is not just to recognize well-known figures. It is to encourage a broader awareness of those people who do a lot for local classical music but who often fly under the radar for many people.

That is why The Ear is naming flutist and activist Iva Ugrcic (below) as the Musician of the Year for 2018.

As both a performer and entrepreneur, Ugrcic is always very busy broadening her varied career. Being both a player and an activist, she is making a difference, musically and socially, that deserves to be recognized and supported.

Serbian by birth and educated in Belgrade and Paris, she came to Madison where she completed her doctorate in flute performance and also took business courses at the UW-Madison Business School.

She is a first-rate performer who has won a national prize for performing. While at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, she won both the concerto competition (below) and the Irving Shain competition for wind instruments in duets. (You can hear her amazing technique in the YouTube video at the bottom. In it Ugrcic performs “Voice” for solo flute by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.)

She now plays with the Black Marigold Wind Quintet and Sound Out Loud, both of which are based in Madison and both of which devote themselves to contemporary composers and new music.

This year, Urgcic also soloed with the Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by John W. Barker), performing to critical acclaim a relatively unknown concerto by 19th-century composer Carl Reinecke.

This year, Urgcic also took over as artistic director of the Rural Musicians Forum, which brings classical music, jazz, world music and ethnic music, played by outstanding performers to the Spring Green area, often at the Taliesin compound of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

But perhaps her most long-lasting contribution is her founding and now directing the LunART Festival that, in the same year of the Me Too movement, sought to present an all-women event that featured composers, performers, visual artists and writers.

Such was its inaugural success in 2018 that it won a national prize from the National Flute Association and a second festival will take place from June 9 through June 9, 2019.

2019 will also see the release of her second solo recording devoted to the music of the contemporary Romanian composer Doina Rotaru, even while she is working on a recording of “Beer Music” by contemporary American composer Brian DuFord.

And all that is just the beginning for such a promising talent. We will be hearing much more from her and about her in years to come.

To see her impressive biography, as well as updated activities, video and audio clips, photographs and other information, go to: https://www.ivaugrcic.com/bio

Here is one more thing that speaks to The Ear. It feels important, even necessary, to recognize the positive contributions of an immigrant at a time when the current “America First” administration under President Donald Trump seems so paranoid and negative, so xenophobic and afraid of foreigners.

The U.S government should be less intent on condemning or stigmatizing immigrants, whether legal or undocumented, and should put more emphasis on their contributions and on the long and distinguished history they have in the United States.

Iva Urgcic is yet another example of the talent we Americans stand to lose if we do not accept and encourage the gifts that immigrants bring in so many ways — from the arts, medicine, education and technology to everyday life and work.

Please join The Ear is expressing gratitude and congratulations to Iva Urgcic.


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