Now THAT was a long day.
We started at 10.30 this morning and heard ten 45 minute oboe recitals which had 2 set works, a piece of italian fluff by La Gioconda composer Amilcare Ponchielli, and Echo by S Baiterekov, which was the winner of a competition for pieces for solo Oboe. I don’t know which was more painful on repeated hearing!
Baiterekov seems to have studied several of the books of contemporary Oboe techniques and not fully digested any of them. The piece was a concoction of different effects strung together with not enough clarity of instruction to the performer or systematic through thought to make it successful or enjoyable . It was SO hard for the performers to be motivated enough to learn and make something of it but a couple did, and one of those has won the award for the best performance of it-to be revealed after the final. When they complained to me about it I said, you want me to take a 50% salary cut? Half my money is made working hard playing new music, 3 World premieres in October this year alone. It was a good test of their gumption and commitment to insist they play it.
The other work was a choice from a list, we heard Pierre Sancan, Duttileux, Hindemith, Poulenc and Pavel Haas.
As we go through this competition our job as jurors certainly gets harder even if we get closer as a panel, and I realised this morning that doing it scrupulously professionally and fairly takes a lot of self awareness and some flexibility. The cycles of the day, the morning sleepiness, we are 3 hours ahead of the UK here, the zipp of a post coffee upper, the weight of the post lunch downer, trying to refresh ones ears after an out of tune or harsh sounding performer in time to be at a calm, open level for the next one, all those events require one to notice them and adapt one’s concentration forthwith. I noticed the buzz of the post Russian coffee, leading to both a lack of concentration but also to the slight intensifying of the listening after the first sip. Salutory.
One major aspect of this competition is memory. All pieces except the new piece were to be played without sheet music, and the general level of memory was very high indeed, occasionally impressively so. This round was a big test for memory, especially for those performers from outside the Russian system, which is more familiar with memory playing.
The average age of the five finalists we have unanimously chosen is 18 years 7 months. 4 of them are teenagers, and one is 21. They are all male, there were 2 female semifinalists but they didn’t make it. 4 are from Russia, one from Korea, my 17 year old pupil Kyeong Ham, 3 are pupils of Alexei Utkin here in Moscow, and one is a student of Dimitry Bulgakov, a young professor here at Tchaikovsky who studied partly in Germany. Yes, not only Policemen are looking younger but teachers and highly gifted oboists too!
Its not surprising that Alexei’s students are in the final, he is a great and a major teacher here and a powerful benevolent force in Russian music. He has a wonderful calm mystique, disappearing every evening somewhere mysterious, probably to play, when we finish work and go out to have fun. Its unusual that such a powerful person politically is such a good person and such a talented one. I can only think that the politics fell his way by accident and he is making the best of it, but maybe I’m naïve, he probably worked hard for it! He and I are loving sitting next to each other and sharing high note and trill fingerings between performances, we are finding ourselves in deep accord about our perceptions, which is reassuring.
A whiff of scandal floated up today when it turned out Alexei’s students who had prepared Henri Duttileux’ Sonata had not prepared the 3rd movement. This is because Duttileux personally told Alexei (and me and Laszlo Hadady incidentally) that he thought the last movement was like ‘bad Poulenc’ and would prefer us not to play it. One has to bear in mind that his manuscripts have to be wrestled out of his hands by his wife, so self critical he is, and he is famous for writing little and destroying much. A sort of modern day Henri Duparc.
My student Mr Ham had prepared all 3 movements and we had to scrabble around discussing as we could whether other people should leave out last movements and whether Kyeong should play it too. There was a lot of flapping around and in the end I just said ‘Niet’ and he didn’t play it.
The same veto goes for the insane idea of suddenly combining the oboe jury with the horn jury for the concerto final. Lots of talk on that subject then I just said ‘niet’. I’m very friendly all the time, very easy, optimistic, positive, but occasionally a light goes on and I’m the tough one!
This afternoon the owner of my Oboe Company, Alain de Gourdon from Loree, arrived from Paris and was instantly beseiged with star struck Russian and Belorussians. He is a delightful, elegant, charming and quietly spoken man with a genius ear and pair of hands. My oboe literally sighs and purrs after he works on it. We had a dinner with the jury gang without Alexei who had mysteriously glided off somewhere, and it was great to talk oboes and geeky stuff and, I admit it, bitch a tiny bit about the mistakes some other makers make with their instruments, mostly getting them less and less focussed and more dark, colourless and floaty, the same as Boosey and Hawkes did after the 2nd War with Clarinets- now thankfully reversing itself.
Apparently Loree are in a bidding process to sell over 230 Oboes to Venezuela and the S Bolivar Youth Orchestra. That’s a massive order for any of these makers. Loree are so consistently good and reliable and long lived, I’m sure they would be the best investment. It will be decided in early December.
We have a day off tomorrow, I may try and find a church service and see the little body of Lenin again if I can face it. So far its been 11 degrees warmer here than in the UK, but snow has just arrived and the temperature is dropping quickly. I have the Lapland furry hat all ready….
The finalists names, in playing order:
Ivan Kobylsky, 18, Russia.
Emil Miroslavsky, 19, Russia.
Ivan Fefilov, 18, Russia.
Maxim Khodyrev, 21, Russia
Kyeong Ham, 17, Korea.
The final is on monday.