Tchaikovsky Competition Gets Makeover
Tchaikovsky Competition Gets Makeover

The world-renowned Tchaikovsky competition is shedding its controversial image this year with a new chair, new rules and a foray into the digital age.

The "Tchaikovsky," which starts on June 14 and runs until July 1 and is held simultaneously in Moscow and St Petersburg, has long been regarded as one of the major classical music events. Running for the last 50 years in Moscow and held once every four years, it's offered major opportunities to its winners, who have included American pianist Harvey Van Cliburn, Russian conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy and American operatic soprano Deborah Voigt. Previous chairs have included composer Dmitri Shostakovich and Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.

Originally just for piano and violin, new instrumental categories have been added over the years and now the competition is open to cello, violin, voice and piano. There are five prizes in each category ranging from €20,000 (about $28,730) for a Gold Medal to a chamber concerto performance prize of €2,000 ($2,873) and diploma.

Controversy has surrounded the competition for some years, with its seeming predilection for Russian winners or winners selected from jury members' students. However, the appointment of Russian conductor Valery Gergiev to the role of chair of the organizing committee sees a new move towards voting transparency, along with a new set of rules to mirror those of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and an independent set of international jurors.

There are changes in the prize too. Says Richard Rodzinsksi, the competition's new general director, "In the past they just gave you a medal, said 'Good luck' and hoped commercial management would pick you up. Now we are focusing on offering the laureates three years of guaranteed management [from U.K and U.S-based Opus 3 and Intermusica] and hundreds of engagements [at performances conducted by Gergiev]. We are opening the door to a career now."

A digital door will be opened this year as the competition will be streamed in high definition from two cities and seven venues via ParaClassics, a new platform designed specifically for international classical music events.

Viewers will be able to register for a "follow" option which will send them email messages about performances by particular composers. There will be "behind the scenes" documentary videos about the competitors and activities happening off stage during the competition as well as interviews with world-renowned musicians. The webcast will also stream live (and on-demand) rehearsals with conductors during the semi-final and final rounds of the competition.

Molly McBride is the webcast's producer. She says, "The webcast will expose an International audience to the extremely high level of musicianship." Though they have no predicted figures yet, says McBride, "Based on the viewership of the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition [Total of 422,765 visits to the site with 158,096 absolute unique visitors from 157 countries/territories, according to the organisers], which I also produced, our viewership grew daily as new viewers joined repeat viewers."

Importantly for the reputation of the competition, which this year is sponsored by Russian telecoms company Rostelecom, the mechanism for selecting competition winners has been made transparent through short documentaries.

"There has always been a huge following of the competition in Russia but we expect huge viewership from the US, Western Europe and Asia, which are all represented by over 40% of the performers in the competition," says McBride, "We expect International viewership to make up over 50% of our web audience."

Because all performances and documentary videos will be available for on-demand viewing, the international audience in any time zone will be able to follow the competition at their convenience, without losing the excitement of watching the competition from beginning to end.

Says McBride, this is just the beginning of the competition's transformation to a true 21st century contest. "Bringing the competition to an international audience is our main goal."