Unbelievable hiccup during the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition

The International Tchaikovsky Competition finished on 27 June with a French victory in the Piano category. However, an unfortunate incident also occured during the competition: a change in the performance order of pianist An Tianxu's works, a hiccup that severely influenced his performance.

Unbelievable hiccup during the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition
Unbelievable hiccup during the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition, © Medici.tv

One of the competitors of the International Tchaikovsky Competition held in Moscow on Tuesday 25 June, the Chinese pianist An Tianxu arrived on stage, ready to perform Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in b minor, followed by Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninov. However, an administrative error in the performance order completely disrupted the pianist's performance. 

Sat at the piano, Tianxu throws a nod to the conductor Vasily Petrenko to signal that he is ready. However, to his surprise it is not the great introductory chords to Tchaikovsky's concerto that resonate from the orchestra. To his surprise, Rachmaninov's fast-paced theme opens the performance. And since the piano entry to this piece is almost immediate, it is impossible for Tianxu to attract the attention of the maestro (the video is available on the Medici.tv website).

Despite the sudden fear and stress, the young 20-year-old pianist did not let himself be distracted. He continued his performance and caught up with the orchestra as best he could. The International Tchaikovsky Competition quickly apologised, explaining that it was a "gross error" in the order of the works.

The employee responsible has been suspended

Following the mistake, the jury (presided by Denis Matsuev) invited An Tianxu to perform his program a second time, but the artist declined. He therefore left the competition with a low score, unfortunately far behind the 22-year-old Frenchman Alexandre Kantorow, who distinguished himself with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2

In the process, the Symphony Orchestra of the Russian Federation announced that the employee responsible, who had switched the scores on the musicians' stands, had been suspended. Meanwhile, An Tianxu was awarded the "special prize" by the jury, praising his confidence and his courage following the events.

A rare case, but not unheard of

An Tianxu's reaction to this false start of the orchestra is reminiscent of Maria João Pires' stressful experience back in 1999. For a performance during a lunch concert in Amsterdam, the Portuguese pianist had prepared Mozart's Piano Concerto No.9 "Jeunehomme" in E flat major. The orchestra, however, began playing another concerto by the composer, the concerto no.20 in d minor.

Maria João Pires reaction is instantaneous and clear for all to see. Her head in her hands, she calls panicked to the maestro Riccardo Chailly, who is immediately reassuring: "I'm sure you can do it. You know it so well!

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Indeed, several moments later, the pianist performs the "wrong" concerto with the orchestra, using only her fantastic muscle memory. 

Corruption and altercations, the chaos of the 1990 competition

The worst year for the International Tchaikovsky Competition was undoubtedly 1990. A strike was spreading throughout the Moscow orchestra and Russian society was in chaos. Not only were there not enough performers to accompany the competition's candidates, but a lack of translators made things even more chaotic for all involved, resulting in countless confusions on stage and misunderstandings amongst the artists.

The documentary "The IX International Tchaikovsky Competition" by American film director Bill Fertik shows a helpless pianist playing an untuned piano during an open rehearsal. The documentary also follows another soloist who, during a particularly surprising scene, attempts in vain to follow the orchestra's abnormally fast tempo set by the Soviet conductor. The Belgian soloist Johan Schmidt finally confronts the maestro at the end of the performance.

During the same competition in 1990, attempts to bribe jurors were revealed. Some members also admitted to having received bribes from several parents of the candidates. These scandals resulted in Oleg Skorodumov, the chairman of the organising committee, suggesting that this could be the last Tchaikovsky competition. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the competition was fortunately continued by the Russian Federation, under the auspices of the Russian Ministry of Culture.