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Shared Glory

For the first time, the Van Cliburn competition named co-winners. But the pianists aren't complaining: It's a chance to spread the opportunities.

July 15, 2001|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles is a Times staff writer

The Pacific Symphony had long planned to make this a summer of Van Cliburn competition winners. The quadrennial Fort Worth, Texas, event, one of the most important contests in the classical music world, would name its winners in June and the three medalists--gold, silver and bronze--would be introduced to Southern California first via the orchestra's summer season at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.

And so they will be--sort of.

For the first time since its inception in 1962, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition this year named co-recipients of the gold medal--Olga Kern, 26, of Russia and Stanislav Ioudenitch, 29, of Uzbekistan.

As if that wasn't surprising enough, the competition also had two winners for the silver medal--Antonio Pompa-Baldi, 26, of Italy and Maxim Philippov, 29, of Russia. (No bronze medal was awarded.)

The co-awards arose from a new scoring system that allows splitting honors when score totals are statistically close. John McBain, an Indianapolis computer programmer and engineering manager, spent thousands of hours designing it.

When the results were announced, however, the Pacific Symphony was unable to adjust its summer schedule to fit in more than three players.

"What we worked out, date-wise and in terms of repertoire, accommodated two gold medalists and a silver," Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte said. "Our hope is to bring the other silver medalist in the future."

The summer Cliburn lineup begins Saturday with Ioudenitch, who will play Mozart's Concerto No. 21. "By many people's acclaim," Forsyte said, "his was the finest classical performance."

Next comes Pompa-Baldi, on Aug. 11, with Grieg's Concerto in A minor, a good fit for what Forsyte calls the "great lyric gifts" he displayed in Texas.

Finally, Kern, who "made a tremendous impression" playing Rachmaninoff during the competition, will play that composer's Concerto No. 2 on Aug. 25.

The three of them spoke to The Times about their new status as Cliburn winners and what it means for the future.

Kern had unfinished business with the Van Cliburn competition when she showed up to start the competition May 25. In 1997 in Fort Worth, she had failed to get past the preliminaries.

"Last time, everything was different," she said by phone from the Cliburn Foundation offices in Fort Worth. And not the least of it is her name. She was Olga Pushechnikova then; now she uses her mother's simpler maiden name--Kern.

But that's not all. "I was younger," Kern said. "Now I am more professional. I'm studying in Italy, and I've met a lot of really great pianists, and I'm a mother, and things are different."

Born to a family of musicians in Moscow (her father is a pianist for the Bolshoi Theater, her mother is a piano teacher, and her brother is a trumpeter in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra), Kern always wanted to be a pianist.

"I was crazy from 3 years old, crazy about the piano," she said.

She would go on to win awards at several international competitions and to play with the Moscow State Symphony, the Moscow Philharmonic, among others.

She met her ex-husband, Dimitri Teterin, at the 1997 Cliburn competition, where he also competed. They divorced in August and have a 21/2-year-old son, Vladislav, who stayed in Moscow with Kern's mother while she competed in Fort Worth.

"For more concentration, I needed to be alone," she said.

This time around, Kern was called "ferocious and relentless at the keyboard" (Tim Madigan in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) and praised for her "voluptuous charisma" (Paul Horsey in the Kansas City Star). Many in the audience were swept up in what quickly was dubbed "Olgamania." She received standing ovations after every performance.

"The first time I played on the stage, the audience stands up immediately," she said. "After each piece, they stand. It was a really great success, and I feel this. They give me good energy. It's very important for musicians to feel the public likes them."

Not everyone was entranced, however. Scott Cantrell, music critic for the Dallas Morning News, wrote that Kern "didn't worry too much about observing composers' directions for speed and volume, consistently opting for maximum applause potential."

But even Cantrell was not entirely immune. "There was no denying [her performance of Rachmaninoff's Third was] of almost superhuman power and endurance. And that final reminiscence of the soulful motto theme was enough to rend the hardest heart in two."

As a result of her showing, Kern, along with the other winners, will get $20,000, two years of concert management by the Cliburn Foundation, a recording deal and a number of guaranteed concert dates--including the ones with the Pacific Symphony.

Beyond that, her plans are indefinite.

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