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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No First Prize in Piano but a Scolding for Belarus

APMayuko Kamio of Japan, a first-prize winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, performing Saturday.
The 13th International Tchaikovsky Competition ended Saturday with no first prize awarded in piano, but also with no major controversies like those that have tarnished its reputation in the past.

Once again, however, as in 2002, the competition was overwhelmingly a showcase for talent from countries of the former Soviet Union and the Far East, which together fielded more than three-fourths of the 202 contestants.

Of the 26 prizes handed out Saturday -- six each to pianists, violinists and cellists and four apiece to male and female vocalists -- half were awarded to Russian contestants. South Korea placed second with three prizewinners, while Germany and Ukraine tied for third with a pair each. The remaining half dozen prizes were split among musicians from Armenia, China, Georgia, Hungary, Japan and Switzerland.

Only twice before in the competition's 49-year history has its piano jury failed to award a first prize. Following what was reportedly a heated debate that lasted well into the early hours of Saturday morning, this year's 15-member jury eventually voted to make the second prize its top honor. The recipient was Miroslav Kultyshev, 21, a native of St. Petersburg and a product of that city's Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory. Remarkably enough, for a contest traditionally dominated by pianists trained at the Moscow Conservatory, third prize also went to a contestant born in St. Petersburg and trained at the same institution, 20-year-old Alexander Lubyantsev.

Judging from audience reaction during the competition and at Saturday's awards ceremony, this year's most popular winner was Japan's Mayuko Kamio, 21, who took first prize in violin. A student of jury member Zakhar Bron, the teacher of such renowned figures in the violin world as Vadim Repin and Maxim Vengerov, Kamio clearly distanced herself from the other finalists with her sterling performances of concertos by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Jan Sibelius.

Second prize went to Nikita Borisoglebsky, also 21, a student at the Moscow Conservatory and surprisingly the only one among 11 Russian violinists in the competition to reach the final round.

One violinist who nearly made the final round was Artyom Shishkov, 23, the sole violin contestant from Belarus. What held him back, according to violin jury chairman Vladimir Spivakov, was his instrument. "He played very well," Spivakov said at a news conference last week, "but on a catastrophically bad instrument. So we simply couldn't advance him."

As a result of the debacle, the jury last week fired off a letter to Belarus' president, Alexander Lukashenko, proposing that his government supply Shishkov with a violin worthy of the young musician's considerable talent.

Russia and the Moscow Conservatory both came out on top in the cello contest, with Moscow-born and trained Sergei Antonov, 23, taking first prize. Antonov studies with Natalya Shakovskaya, who served as chairman of this year's cello jury and was herself a first-prize winner at the Tchaikovsky Competition of 1962. Moscow Conservatory-trained cellists also came away on Saturday with second, fourth and fifth prizes.

Due to its required interpretations of songs and arias by Tchaikovsky, the competition's vocal contest inevitably favors singers from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. This year's contest was no exception, with all eight awards going to representatives of Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.

First prize among the women was taken by coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova, 27, a native of Uzbekistan but representing Russia at the competition, whose performance of arias from operas of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Giuseppe Verdi brought a storm of applause and cheers at the vocal contest's final round.

Asked at a meeting with the press on Saturday whether winning the Tchaikovsky Competition would really help to advance her career, Shagimuratova unhesitatingly answered: "Absolutely. You have no idea how many proposals to sing I've received since the results were announced last night."

A graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, Shagimuratova now centers her career in the United States, where next season she makes her debut at the Houston Opera.

Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk, 31, took top honors among the male vocalists. Born and trained in Odessa, Tsymbalyuk has principally sung in Germany for the past five years, as a member of the Hamburg State Opera.

Up until 2002, the Tchaikovsky Competition regularly took place at four-year intervals. By way of exception, the 13th competition was moved forward to 2007 due to a planned, but later canceled, closure of the Moscow Conservatory's premises for much-needed repair and renovation.

Initially, the competition's organizers planned to use 2007 as a new base year, with the 14th installment to come four years hence, in 2011. But the date has now been moved back to 2010, due to a possible conflict in dates with the equally prestigious Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition in Brussels, which the Tchaikovsky Competition is bound by contract to avoid.