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Conversations with the cello preselection jury


Hard on the heels of the preselection jury entrusted with choosing pianists for the 2nd round of the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition came their counterparts in cello, who spent five days in Moscow in late January selecting twenty-five 2nd-round participants from among 140 young cellists applying to take part.

The four cello preselection jury members included two from Russia, St. Petersburg-based Sergei Roldugin and David Geringas, who has long made his home in Western Europe, plus Korean Young-Chang Cho and Finn Martti Rousi. All are active and highly experienced performers and all are slated to be members of the full jury that will judge the final two rounds of the cello competition next June.

During a break from reviewing the DVDs submitted by 1st-round applicants, the jury members shared a few of their thoughts on the selection process, the competition, and the art of cello playing in general.

“What I look for is quality,” said Sergei Roldugin, “the quality of [the applicants’] training, the quality of their performances, and the quality of their instruments.” Young-Chang Cho added that so far the quality had been very high. “It’s going to be extremely difficult,” he said, “to choose just twenty-five.”

Asked to comment on the assertion by a prominent Russian cellist that , if young cellists want to understand how to play, they need to listen to the recordings by great cellists made before the 1950s, Martti Rousi replied: “Yes, it’s good to listen to those recordings when you’re young. But then you should forget about them. It’s a mistake to think that everything was better then. Each generation adds a layer of its own to our playing.”  “Still,” commented Cho, “young people need to know where we came from and to respect tradition. But they also have to keep an open mind.”

Cho went on to say that, despite “the amazing quality of cellists today, we have a problem, in that it’s very difficult in listening to an unfamiliar performance to tell who is playing. Cellists today don’t have such strong personalities as great figures of the past like [Pablo] Casals, [Gregor] Piatigorsky, and [Emanuel] Feuermann.” To which Rousi added: “The cello is so much about personality, which takes a lot of time to develop. And winning a prize at the Tchaikovsky competition is just a start in that direction.”

Do any of the applicants seem to be imitating famous cellists? “Not so far,” said Rousi. “There isn’t much of that anymore. But I suppose if you are trying to imitate someone these days, it’s likely to be [Mstislav] Rostropovich.”

There was much discussion about national schools of cello playing, and it seemed generally agreed that they don’t really exist anymore. Roldugin noted that “the ‘Russian school’ began from zero,’ with the establishment of the St. Petersburg and Moscow Conservatories in the mid-19th century and that the early teachers there were largely from Germany. Cho found that “differences can still be heard depending on the country in which a cellist has studied. What I hear is that in Russia, for instance, cellists learn to play from the heart, in Italy, with very refined taste, and in Germany, in a very ‘orderly’ way.

Roldugin discussed at some length Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra,” which every Tchaikovsky Competition finalist is required to play. Tchaikovsky wrote the work for his friend and fellow Moscow Conservatory professor, the German cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, who proceeded to rearrange the order of the variations, omitting one of them, and to add much detail to the solo part. Fitzenhagen’s changes received the composer’s reluctant blessing and were incorporated in the published score. Only in the 1940s was Tchaikovsky’s original score finally revealed. Fitzenhagen’s version, however, is still preferred today by most cellists. At the upcoming Tchaikovsky Competition, according Roldugin, finalists are free to choose whatever edition they wish to play, including several that exist besides Tchaikovsky’s original and that of Fitzenhagen.

David Geringas noted that pianists, unlike cellists, have an enormous repertoire, with composers at their disposal like Beethoven and Chopin, each of whose works alone they can spend a lifetime exploring. The much more limited cello repertoire requires delving into music of many composers active in a variety of epochs. “Because of this,” he added, “it is very important that cellists understand the differences between epochs and look deeply into the performance style of each of them.” Geringas went on to say that in our time, because of the accessibility of scores, particularly by way of the internet, there is great interest in discovering new and different works that lie outside of the standard cello repertoire.


Conversations with the 2011 piano preselection jury


Four members of the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition piano pre-selection jury came to Moscow in mid-January– Marcello Abbado from Italy, Dmitri Alexeev from Russia, Sergei Babayan from the United States, and Jurgen Meyer-Josten from Germany — to choose 35 participants for the competition’s second round on the basis of DVDs submitted by some 160 first-round applicants.

In the course of conversations, the four jury members expressed their views on the value of musical competitions and the criteria for selecting competitors and eventual prize winners, as well as on the subject of what constitutes the so-called “Russian school of piano playing.”

“Competitions have always been important for young pianists,” said Marcello Abbado. “In any case, they are the most widespread means of starting a career. Today, it’s true, that there are fewer and fewer competitions that offer an opportunity for a real start. I can count them on the fingers of one hand. It also seems to me that a contestant needn’t aim at being the absolute leader in a competition. A person who receives second or third prize can also count on a future.”

“I took part in many competitions,” said Dmitri Alexeev. “Not all of them were successful. I’m not a fan of competitions. They’re sporting events. I consider them a necessary evil. Nevertheless, competitions can add something useful to the development of young musicians. Extreme concentration is needed for success in a competition. It’s necessary to bring together the very best that a musician is capable of producing. The same is true on the concert stage. Therefore, competitions, by their very nature, are excellent training for a future concert career.”

“The secret of any competition,” said Sergei Babayan, “has nothing to do with the orchestras that play or with luxurious pianos. The secret is the honesty and decency of the jury, and, of course, its level of artistry.”

“Becoming acquainted with future contestants by means of DVDs is, of course, not just a matter of listening,” continued Babayan. “A DVD helps one to understand the artist and to get a feeling of his energy. But, in principle, I sometimes prefer only to listen, since certain things can be annoying, like clothes or outward appearance, and can influence you. When you close your eyes, you sense purely the music.”

Abbado declared that he had not changed his criteria over all the years he has judged competitions. “First,” he said, “is the sound. Second is faithfulness to the composer. We also must not forget about technique. That is extremely important. But the critical things are individuality and charisma. It is also very important to be able to communicate with the audience.”

“I fear,” said Jurgen Meyer-Josten, “that present-day pianists have lost a sense of fantasy. Some of them clatter like machines. Do you remember Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” – clack, clack, clack? I recall how Vladimir Horowitz played, what he did with music, how he colored it. Today, very many pianists limit themselves to a range of ‘black and white’.”

Alexeev finds the question of who belongs to what school of piano playing a very complicated one. “For example,” he said, “my teacher was Dmitry Bashkirov, who belonged to the school of [Alexander] Goldenweiser. At the same time, there existed the school of [Heinrich] Neuhaus. And it seems to me that Bashkirov, by his very nature, was more attached to that school. Of course, he received much from Goldenweiser and I, in turn, received much from Bashkirov. But I have the idea that it really isn’t necessary to ask to which school a pianist belongs. Everyone decides that question for himself. I, for example, consider Neuhaus to have been European, both by descent and in relation to traditions, including family traditions. Yet, for Europeans, he represented the Russian school. Just like Richter, and just like Anton Rubinstein, the founder of Russian pianism.”

To that, Babayan added the thought that “the greater a pianist, the less sense one has of his belonging to a particular school. Can you really say that Glenn Gould was of the Canadian school, or Richter of the Russian school?”

Application tips for Tchaikovsky hopefuls


Before Beginning the Application

To prepare for the new online application process, it is recommended that you gather required documents and other information ahead of time and become familiar with the competition’s rules and regulations. When you are ready to begin click here to get started.

Required Materials

  • A photocopy of the applicant’s birth certificate, or equivalent proof of age;
  • A current one-page biography or resume;
  • List of concerti in the applicant’s repertoire, together with indication of at least four concerti that will be ready for performance during the 2011-2012 season (for pianists, violinists and cellists);
  • Two full recital programs that will be ready for performance in the 2011-2012 season;
  • List of major solo works and chamber music (or opera roles for singers) in the applicant’s repertoire, together with the dates most recently performed (if applicable);
  • Color photographs, preferably in digital format with a resolution of 300 dpi, including one head-shot, approximately 13 cm x 17 cm (5 inches x 7 inches), suitable for publicity purposes. These can be submitted on CD, emailed, or physical copies can be mailed;
  • Photocopies of any awards from other competitions;
  • An unedited DVD of a fifty-minute recital recorded between November, 2009 and November, 2010. Preselection by an international jury will take place in Moscow prior to February 20, 2011.

Payment Information

Together with the completed application, or not later than December 1, 2010, all applicants must submit a nonrefundable application fee of 100 Euro payable by wire transfer, Visa, MasterCard or American Express credit cards.

*Note:  For those unable to complete the application via the online system, an Adobe PDF application is available here.  The application should be mailed with required documents and payment to the competition.

Tchaikovsky Competition to be shared between Russia’s two Cultural Capitals

July 19, 2010
Contact Information:
Richard Rodzinski, International Contact
Tel: 1-817-349-6604
Eugene Chernikov, General Inquiries
Natalia Uvarova, Russian Press and Public Relations
Tchaikovsky Competition to be shared between Russia’s two
Cultural Capitals

MOSCOW, RUSSIA—In a major break from tradition the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition is pleased to announce that the 2011 competition, June 14- July 2, will be presented simultaneously in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.  The competition’s Organizing Committee, chaired by Valery Gergiev recently revealed its noteworthy decision at a meeting in Moscow.  This is the first time in its prestigious 52-year-history that the competition will be held in another city.  Moscow will host both the piano and cello competitions, while St. Petersburg will present the violin and vocal competitions.

Moscow Conservatory’s Great Hall, an iconic venue of the competition, will soon undergo a major renovation which is scheduled to be completed just prior to the competition.  The four disciplines of the competition run concurrently and require four separate performance venues.  If the conservatory hall is not to be available in time, its resident competition will be displaced, disrupting the plans for the other competitions as well.  The predicament has, therefore, offered the violin and vocal competitions a new opportunity of performing in two of Russia’s most celebrated halls.

“The remodeling of the hall of the Moscow Conservatory is both welcome and important, but at the same time, it is worrisome.  There are serious grounds for being concerned about an extended period of renovation.  In St. Petersburg there are at least two important halls ready to impart to the competition the highest level of prestige, and there are certainly two orchestras, the Mariinsky and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic able to offer the same,” said Maestro Gergiev.

Besides its wide recognition as one of Russia’s great cultural capitals, St. Petersburg is closely connected with the life and career of the composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  Tchaikovsky began his musical career attending the St. Petersburg Conservatory and subsequently returned frequently to the city for premieres of his operatic works including the Queen of Spades and orchestral works including his Symphony No. 5. He later died in St. Petersburg and is buried in the Tikhvin Cemetery.

“The paramount concern of a competition must be to offer the competitors the best possible circumstances in which to perform.  This includes the foremost venues and orchestras in both of Russia’s cultural capitals,” said Richard Rodzinski, Chairman of the Working Committee of the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition.

The Tchaikovsky Competition has created a new website designed by, Dievision, one of Germany’s leading communications agencies.  The website,, is in both English and Russian and gives a fresh and informative approach to the competitions significant history and includes all new rules and regulations, repertoire requirements and an explanation of the new voting system for the fourteenth competition.   The website will also serve as a platform for a live webcast and blogs written during the competition.

“When creating the website, it was our goal to enthuse young aspiring musicians for the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition”, said Katja Kluge, account manager at Dievision. “We wanted to make the whole process of entering the competition – from gathering the first information up to the compilation of the application – as seamless and user-friendly as possible“.

The new, innovative application system will streamline and accelerate the submission process.  Those using the online application will have the ability to complete forms with the option to revise entries such as repertoire at a later time.  The application will also give users the ability to upload required pictures and documents in a digital format.

The deadline for all applications and submission of a DVD of a 50-minute recital will be December 1, 2010. An international screening jury will review all materials in January and February 2011 and select 30 pianists and 25 cellists to come to Moscow and 25 violinists, 20 male singers and 20 female singers to come to St. Petersburg in June 2011. The names of the selected musicians will be announced in March.

Cash prizes and a prestigious concert tour will be awarded to the top five competitors in each discipline of piano, violin, cello, and to each of the top four competitors in the men’s and women’s solo vocal categories.  Additional awards will be given for best performance of the chamber concertos and the commissioned new work.


The Scores of Harmony Processing System


This Scores of Harmony Processing System, created by John MacBain, is the process that will be used in tallying jury scores at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition.

Many of the recently approved rules and conditions are designed to conform to those adopted by the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. “There is no more important attribute a competition may enjoy than a reputation for being crystal-clean,” said Rodzinski. “The Tchaikovsky Competition, one of Russia’s great cultural icons, deserves to be restored to a position of international prominence and recognition.”

The XIV Tchaikovsky Competition is therefore proud to present it’s newly adopted scoring system in clear and easily understandable format.