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Favoritism At Tchaikovsky Contest?

July 08, 1986|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — More than 100 Americans competed last week in the International Tchaikovsky Competition but only eight of them made it to the finals and none took a first prize.

A decided home-field advantage and nearly a year's preparation helped the Soviet contestants to win the top prize in five categories and sweep most of the other awards as well.

In the piano competition, Barry Douglas of Northern Ireland won the gold medal and the hearts of the audiences at the Moscow Conservatory.

Americans David Buechner and William Wolfram placed sixth and eighth, respectively. Soviet artists took second and third places and shared fourth place.

Daniel Pollack, who won a bronze medal at the first international Tchaikovsky contest in 1958, the year another American, Van Cliburn, won the top prize, was vice chairman of the piano jury this year.

"Buechner should have been higher, either third or fourth," Pollack, a member of the faculty at USC, said in an interview after the judging ended Thursday. "He gave a marvelous performance."

Wolfram was clearly disappointed with his eighth-place award. He said he was assured before the results were announced that he might finish third and certainly no worse than sixth.

"I just don't know what happened," he said.

In other categories, Americans did somewhat better. Barbara Kilduff won second prize in voice, cellists John Sharp and Sara Sant'Ambrogio shared a third prize and Bion Yu-Tsing Tang won a fifth prize.

American violinist David Kim of New York City placed sixth and Frank Almond of San Diego received a diploma.

One European juror in the piano division referred to "bloc voting" by the 14 judges from the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries. There were eight judges from Western or nonaligned countries on the panel.

Pollack said the Soviet contestants began with a big advantage since they had to qualify in a national contest last fall, performing much of the same music that is required in the Tchaikovsky competition.

As a result, he said, they were more familiar with the music and had a chance to perform on concert tours for at least nine months before the international competition began.

Pollack said he disagreed with some of the early eliminations in the piano competition. "We lost some very talented people along the way, from the United States and other countries." he said.

But he also criticized some of the American contestants for being poorly prepared for what he termed "the Super Bowl of music competitions."

"Whoever is competing here should see it as a launching pad for a concert career," he said. "It's not a place to get your feet wet."

He said musical talent in the Soviet Union is nurtured from a very early age, and the best performers are carefully groomed for international competition.

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