Brazil's New Villa-Lobos Piano Competition Marred by Scandal Before It Begins

Classic Arts News   Brazil's New Villa-Lobos Piano Competition Marred by Scandal Before It Begins
The new Villa-Lobos International Piano Competition in Sê£o Paulo, which was announced last December and began on Monday (August 14), was intended to promote the Brazilian composer's music. Unfortunately, reports The New York Times, it is allegations of unfair practices, rather than talented young players or Villa-Lobos's music, that the fledgling event has brought into the spotlight.

The competition, which is being organized by the Sê£o Paulo State Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) and supported by the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, opened on Monday amidst accusations that OSESP's director had manipulated the list of contestants, according to the Times.

The event's former director, Israeli pianist Ilan Rechtman (who was dismissed in April), said that John Neschling, the orchestra's conductor and artistic director, had significantly tampered with the selection process.

The Times writes that Rechtman says Neschling told him, "This is to be a political selection, with one from each country. Let's select three Chinese, but we must make sure there are more Brazilians than Chinese. After all, this is a Brazilian competition."

Neschling denied making the comments in an interview with the paper, adding, "Of course it's political, but only cultural politics ... We work hard and produce enormously. So to suppose that an institution like this would mingle with some low-class scheme, some dirty game to cheat musicians, is ridiculous and can only come from a sick mind."

He claimed that Rechtman was sacked for "morally unacceptable" behavior — in particular for changing the rankings of contestants made by another judge, the Brazilian pianist and teacher Gilberto Tinetti. Rechtman admitted that he did tamper with Tinetti's rankings, according to the paper, but he claimed that he did so only to protect the reputation of the competition, which he felt was being undermined by political intrigue. "If everything had been meticulously categorized with Price Waterhouse certification, believe me, I wouldn't have touched a thing. But everything around me was corrupt," he told the Times.

American judge Jeffrey Moidel, a pianist and opera director who teaches at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, was also dismissed, according to the Times, for having too close a relationship with Rechtman. "I do not want to be too simplistic and say that Neschling put in who he wanted to put in," he told the newspaper, "but the results do not correspond to the evaluations I made." Moidel was replaced by Rosana Martins, who was subsequently appointed OSESP's artistic administrator.

There was also speculation about the inclusion among the finalists of Olga Kopylova, who is the Sê£o Paulo orchestra's own pianist. Rechtman told the Times that Neschling said, "Let's put her in, it will look good for the orchestra," which Neschling denied.

Rechtman, Moidel and Tinetti all claimed that they heard edits in some applicants' qualifying CDs (a violation of competition rules), according to the paper, but two of those pianists were still were accepted as finalists.

Seven of the eleven original judges have now dropped out of the competition, including Robert Moir of the Pittsburgh Symphony; Loie Farris of the Toronto Symphony; David Lockington, a former music director of the Long Island Philharmonic; and James Keller, formerly the music editor of The New Yorker magazine, according to the Times. One finalist has also withdrawn due to concerns about the integrity of the competition.

The competition runs through August 20. The first prize winner will receive $30,000, concert engagements with major Brazilian and international orchestras and a recording; the second, third and fourth prize winners will receive $10,000, $5,000 and $2,500, respectively.

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