No Gold Medal Awarded for Violin in 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition

June 30, 2011 at 08:59 PM ·

 Here are the results of the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition (with thanks to The Colburn School for providing the info):

Gold medal: Not awarded

Silver medalists: Sergey Dogadin, Russia and Itamar Zorman, Israel

Bronze medalist: Jehye Lee, South Korea

Fourth: Nigel Armstrong, USA (a Colburn School graduate)

Fifth: Eric Silberger, USA

Congratulations to all participants!

Here is the news page for the competition:

Replies (25)

June 30, 2011 at 09:24 PM ·

Cello gold medal: Narek Hakhnazaryan, Armenia

This is the same cellist who was the subject of racist remarks (captured on video) by Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia, Mark Gorenstein. The conductor later apologized, and Narek accepted the apology. 

Piano gold medal: Daniil Trifonov, Russia (He is a student at the Cleveland Institute).

July 1, 2011 at 03:35 AM ·

 Itamar Zorman is (or was) a student at Juilliard. He won the Alban Berg competition and played the concerto with the Juilliard Orchestra last March. (He's phenomenal!) I watched the concert from the orchestra section and saw Joshua Bell watching from the box seats with Sylvia Rosenberg. You know it's a rising star when Josh Bell drops by to hear him play.


July 1, 2011 at 12:50 PM ·

 Why do they do this at music competitions?  No gold medal, that is.  Can't imagine not handing out a gold medal at the Olympics just because the field was weak.


July 1, 2011 at 04:34 PM ·

 So the field was weak? Really? I wasn't there, I haven't been able to watch. Do people think the field was weak? And if so, why isn't the Tchaik competition attracting more talent? Are other competitions becoming the more relevant ones?

I wonder if there aren't some political reasons, as there have been historically in this competition.

July 1, 2011 at 04:54 PM ·

 The official rules state: The First Prizes are always to be awarded.

So what's up with this? 

July 1, 2011 at 05:19 PM ·

 I'm making this a weekend vote topic.

Remember the controversy with Eugene Fodor, back in the 1974 Tchaikovsky Competition? Fodor one the "top prize" and had to share the honor. It was another one of those "no gold" years, I do believe. Certainly much of the public attributed that decision to politics, with an American doing so well during the Cold War.

July 1, 2011 at 06:47 PM ·

E. Smith, good catch!  I just posed that question to the competition's facebook, and let's see if they will answer it.

July 1, 2011 at 08:55 PM ·

E. Smith, and Joyce - good catches, indeed! Sonny, I can imagine the reasoning for not awarding the gold as going something like this: in the Olympics, whoever runs, or swims the fastest, or jumps the farthest etc. at that particular Olympics wins the Gold, whether it sets a record or not. The idea in a world-class performing competition for the top prize is to say that we the jury feel that this person, by virtue of having demonstrated throughout all the rounds of the competition, top-level technique, beautiful sound, fine musicality, consistantcy in the face of extreme pressure, fine stage-presence and comportment - and maturity, etc. is ready right now for an international career. To that end our Gold medal symbolizes this, and on a practical level, to help launch a major career, the top prize includes a cash award, a number of high-level international concerts, management (for a while) a recording contract with a major label, etc. (The details vary with different competitions.)

Maybe the jury honestly felt that none of the finalists had every single attribute I enumerated. And indeed I'd not be surprized if politics entered into it - when doesn't it? I certainly don't feel that the field was weak, from the little I heard. I confessed elsewhere that I was rooting for Eric Silberger, having met him once, knowing his grandfather for a long time, and  being a fellow student of Glenn Dicterow (Eric, a prize pupil, I an erstwhile one!) But that didn't stop me from  being quite impressed by a few other finalists as well. I've caught Zorman recently on Youtube and was very impressed, and I found Jehye Lee's Bartok riveting.

There are few eternal verities in competitons. Some sucessful competitiors indeed, went from strength to strengh, and developed and sustained major careers. I'm thinking of Elmar Oliveira, the only American violinist so far to win a Gold Medal at the Tchaik. Many of the most talented and most successful performers never, so far as I know, entered any - eg Juror Mutter, Hahn, Ehnnes, Midori, Chang, and so many of the older generation,  or didn't fare too well in them - eg Friedman. Some very successful competitors had nerves of steel together with a middleing musicality that managed not to offend any judges with too strong an interpretation. But these same qualities often don't translate into a memorable persona for an audience. Sometimes a competitor would do brilliantly but not be able to handle the stresses and expectations of a full-blown solo career suddenly thrust upon them, or didn't or couldn't take the time to mature and develop a large repertoire - Van Cliburn comes to mind.

But notwithstanding all of that, if the Tchaik. rules stipulate that a 1st prize is to be awarded, this is definitely worth investigating.

July 1, 2011 at 09:39 PM ·

Excellent work, E. Smith and VComers!

Yes, the judges have violated competition rules, as the rules state twice: "First Prizes are always to be awarded."  

Strings is still awaiting comment from competition officials, but we've updated the original article:

July 1, 2011 at 10:42 PM ·

 Oy, that youtube clip of the conductor Gorenstein is hard to watch, as is the response of the orchestra corps who are eyes cast and squirming.

i agree with Bill, music competition is pointless and divisive.  Perhaps an artistic competition can only be an oxymoron. turn it into a music festival, bring along the jury in another capacity, that gives the opportunity to work with the musicians rather than trying to choose between them.

July 3, 2011 at 05:46 PM ·

This is what the person in charge of the competition's facebook came back with:

"As Valery Gergiev* said, 7 of 11 violin jury members voted for no first prize in violin discipline. And Gergiev supported this decision because if such great musicians really decide it, he considers necessary to concur with them."

*Chairman of the organizing committee and the Artistic Director of the Mariinsky Theatre.

July 3, 2011 at 06:29 PM ·

It's not the first time they have done this . If you look at  there history they've done this many times before. So if they have marks  for achievement;  +90 for first +, +80-90 for second, +70-80 for third etc.... If three musicians make it over 90+ shouldn't they give out three golds?Hypocrisy? It's not a real competition if someone is not worthy of first, qualifying for the competition should be enough. In other words anyone who qualifies should be allowed first, if deserving.

This competition has silly rules.


July 3, 2011 at 11:28 PM ·

It's very interesting, what they said to Joyce. If 7 out of the 11 felt that no 1st prize should be given, I'll bet that their reasoning was along the lines I surmized (based on material I've read elsewhere) in my post above.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the jurors, does the Tchaik. then have rules or merely suggestions? I would say to this - using up almost half my Russian vocabulary! - nye harosho (not good).

July 3, 2011 at 11:42 PM ·

I have no experience with playing competitions, but quite a bit with violinmaking competitions. When the rules allow, there may be no top prize awarded in a particular competition. Judges may have the opinion that the best submitted at that event isn't strong, compared to the big picture.

July 4, 2011 at 01:21 AM ·

There is one more factor in any competition - and that is the credibility of the competition itself.  The difference is I think that at some competitions first prize means 'best of whats there' but at other very prestigious competitions it means 'acme of the field'  I think the T can make a legitiamate claim to be one of the very best competitions in the world and hence, I think they have a right to maintain the standard of their competition by a comparison of the field against not only each other but also against previous prize winners. 

July 4, 2011 at 12:11 PM ·

Elise and David - I fully understand, as I indicated in my first post. And some music competitions indeed stipulate that they reserve the right not to award a 1st prize. But when T.'s own rules say one thing and then they do another, it's not fair to the competitors who are trying very hard to play - in more than one sense! - by the rules. Maybe it's time for the T. to simply change this item on their rule book.

John - lol! Though that doesn't explain the year that Fodor shared the Silver, with no Gold being awarded then, either. Let's see...who was in power in 1974 - Brezhnev?

July 4, 2011 at 12:30 PM ·

I guess they could argue (weakly I admit) that awarding two silvers was tantamount to giving one gold.... but you are right, get the rule off the book. 

July 5, 2011 at 11:33 AM ·

You never know. I heard this surprizing story that when Van Cliburn won the piano Gold at the Tchaik. and became a super star, initially - and in c.1958, I think - the comimittee din't know what to do with him and approached Kruschieff - he who banged his shoe on the table at the UN and threatened the USA with "we will bury you". Said Mr. K "so is this Cliburn fellow really the best?" "Yes", said the committee/ "Then give him the Gold Medal". I don't remember where I read this  - maybe in Pravda!  ;-)

July 5, 2011 at 03:00 PM ·


I do understand that there are traditions and precedence for not awarding first prize for many prestigious music competitions.  I've seen it even at pre-college (prep school) levels.

I'm not sure if I buy the argument regarding artistic competitions are special, need to uphold the standards compared to previous winners, etc.

Even some of the most snooty organization such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seem to award best picture, best actor oscars each year.  Perhaps they shouldn't on years when the movies are crappy?

Should Nobel Prize skip awarding the Literature prize when all the great writers have been awarded already?


July 5, 2011 at 06:27 PM ·

I can see it both ways. I think it's different, though, from both the Acadamy Awards, and from the Nobel Prize - not that those orginizations are free from politics. But let's pretend for a moment that all these orginizations are politics-free this year. Best Picture is Best Picture. The award can stimulate more audience attendance, more publicity and more future work for the stars, etc. But basically it's about what has already been accomplished. Somewhat similar, I think, with the Nobel.

But with a major competition like the Tchaik., it's more about the near future: who, if anyone among the finalists, do we want to sponsor  in a big push for a major a career? Who seems really ready as of next season to hit the ground running and never look back nor stumble? They should just be consisitent with their own rules or change the rules, so contenstants have a better idea what to expect, should they make the finals.

July 6, 2011 at 12:08 AM ·

It seems strange but these kind of competitions seldom launch big careers.  Many if not most of the previous winners fade into relative obscurity.  The ones that have big careers were generally child prodigies or already had careers by the time their peers would be entering these kind of competitions.  It is also a shame how little prize money and attention is given to music competitions.  The person who finished 49th in the Masters Golf tournament got about the same amount of money as a gold medalist in the Tchaikovsky.  Musicians just don't get enough respect.  I guess people find it more entertaining to watch someone smack a small ball in a hole than from 350 yards than listen to a great musical performance. Go figure?#!  How sad.

July 7, 2011 at 06:24 PM ·

I did agree with the jury. The artistry and technique levels of the finalists did not measure to the recent other 2 top level competitions: Indiana and Sibelius. No finalists in the violin section seem to me have the same level of artistry and technique of Clara Jumi Kang, the gold medalist of Indiana, and Nikita Borisoglebsky of Sibelius. But Nikita was placed 2nd in the 13th Tchaikovsky and now he matured to be more complete technically and artistically. Dogadin still quite young and has the potential to grow. Does Dogadin need a better violin?

July 8, 2011 at 12:29 AM ·

Arthur - is that really your name? We're you purposely named after the Arthur Grumiaux, the legendary violinist? Or is it a nom de plume?

July 8, 2011 at 11:31 PM ·

Rapheal, Grumiaux is my parents' favorite musician so I got the name.  

July 9, 2011 at 12:45 AM ·


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