Toronto Star, Canada
May 31 2008

Contest a key to success

Winning Canadian music competition could open many doors for young Armenian

May 31, 2008 04:30 AM
William Littler


Her name is Nareh Arghamanyan, she is a 19-year-old Armenian pianist
and if you have never heard of her, just wait.

Last Tuesday evening she became the latest winner of Canada's
highest-profile music contest, the Montreal International Music
Competition, with $30,000 in prize money to her credit, plus a
contract for an internationally distributed Analekta debut recording
and a list of recitals and orchestral engagements potentially
stretching over the next few seasons from London and Paris to
Vancouver and Victoria.

Although she has won other prizes in her young life, this is the
literally long-haired pianist's first career breakthrough, the event
that promises to open doors for her internationally and lay the
foundation for her future career in music.

Will she ultimately make it as a major soloist? Judging by her
performance of the Tchaikovsky B-flat minor Concerto with the
Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal in the
competition's final round, I shouldn't have thought so.

While there was much musicality and pianistic talent on display, her
playing was also patchy, full of technical slips and an imperfect
interaction with the hard working but minimally rehearsed orchestra
under Jean-Marie Zeitouni's direction.

On the other hand, the nine-member international jury made its
decision not simply on the basis of the competition's concerto
round. In the quarter- and semifinals - which I did not attend -
competitors had to present short recitals embracing a variety of
music, including a compulsory, specially commissioned piece by Toronto
composer Alexina Louie.

Having sat on international juries myself, in places as far afield as
Tokyo, Japan and Sydney, Australia, I know how differently young,
relatively inexperienced musicians can perform from round to round. By
the time they came to play their concertos, the six finalists in
Montreal had already presented a list of credentials to the jury. As
its president, André Bourbeau, explained to an enthusiastic
audience in the Salle Maisonneuve, their performances in all three
rounds had to be taken into consideration.

A former minister in the Robert Bourassa government in Quebec,
Bourbeau, together with Joseph Rouleau, the distinguished bass and
president of Jeunesses Musicales of Canada, revived this competition
in 2002, after years of suspension, with an obvious awareness that
identifying and exhibiting the best young talent is a complicated

Not even first-prize winners are guaranteed careers. And the jury's
decisions are sometimes trumped by subsequent events. The Canadian
tenor Joseph Kaiser came in only third in 2002 (the annual competition
rotates among piano, violin and voice), yet he turned out to be the
one singing in Gounod's Romeo and Juliet opposite Anna Netrebko at the
Metropolitan Opera in New York this past winter.

What competitions offer is a momentary spotlight, a showcase, in some
cases no more than Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. They represent an
opportunity rather than a guarantee. And as Brazilian pianist Arnaldo
Cohen, one of this year's jurors in Montreal, explained, they also
help establish the parameters of excellence to which aspiring young
professionals can look to measure their own accomplishments.

Cohen, now a professor at Indiana University, instructed his own
students to tune in to the Montreal competition by means of the
Internet. CBC Radio Two also broadcast the various rounds from coast
to coast and the European Broadcasting Union plans to include them in
this year's festival series.

In short, Arghamanyan and her colleagues (23 pianists were chosen to
participate from 28 countries) have already had the kind of exposure
difficult to imagine in generations past. Whether she, Russia's
27-year-old Alexandre Moutouzkine or Japan's 30-year-old Masataka
Takada (the tied second-place winners) or Sergei Saratovsky, the sole
Canadian in the final, will establish a significant career is now a
matter of individual initiative and luck. A big door has just opened
for all of them. e/433688

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress