Russia asks for Texan's help in reviving music competition

Fort Worth Star-TelegramOctober 29, 2009 

Just a few days before the April telephone call, Richard Rodzinski had read a lengthy profile of famed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev in The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

The maestro, described as tireless and charismatic, was the head of the prestigious Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, principal conductor of the London Symphony and frequent guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He was also a close personal friend of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

So when Gergiev himself placed the call to Fort Worth, he had Rodzinski's full attention. The Russian master, as it turned out, was asking for help. The Tchaikovsky International Music Competition, once a premier cultural event where Van Cliburn made his name a half-century ago, had recently fallen into disrepute and it was Gergiev's task to restore it.

"Gergiev said he had just been appointed the chairman of the Tchaikovsky," remembered Rodzinski, the longtime head of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

"He decided to take this very seriously, not be a figurehead but really get personally involved because he knew they had been in serious trouble. He said it would be extremely helpful to them if I could be there for the first meeting of the Tchaikovsky organizing committee."

That call led Rodzinski to travel to Moscow last June, just days after he presided over his final Cliburn competition in Fort Worth. But what Rodzinski expected to be a one-time consultation quickly turned into much more. At a crowded news conference in Russia last Monday, Gergiev announced that Rodzinski had agreed to serve as a senior adviser to Russian music officials and head the planning committee for the next Tchaikovsky competition, scheduled for June 2011.

The event includes prizes for piano, violin, cello and voice.The 64-year-old Rodzinski, who announced his retirement from the Cliburn over the summer, plans to commute to his new job in Russia from his home in Fort Worth and do some work via the Internet. In the past few months, he has attended Tchaikovsky meetings along with Gergiev, top officials in the Russian Ministry of Culture and senior aides to Putin.

Monday's announcement was rich in romantic irony, given that Cliburn, Rodzinski's friend and namesake of the prestigious Fort Worth competition, made his name by winning the first Tchaikovsky competition at the height of the Cold War in 1958. In recent years, however, the competition that Cliburn himself calls "a jewel in the crown of Russian culture," had faded toward irrelevance because of a lack of funding and corruption in the jury process.

"There is a general recognition that they (Gergiev and other Russian officials) were trying to do a perestroika, a reconstruction of the whole (competition) and to try to bring it back to its glory days," Rodzinski said this week.

"I'm thrilled with the opportunity," Rodzinski said.


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