Which pianist does not dream of being the new Rubinstein? Or at least Emanuel Ax, winner of the first prize at the very first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv forty-three years ago?
It is claimed that ‘the public’ is crazy about competitions, and I certainly believe that. Already in ancient times, people managed to keep their minds calm with bread and games; and all kinds of competitions were organized, also for singers, poets and philosophers. One wants to be entertained and the tension is tempting. Also for the spectators, but first and foremost for the participants, for whom a lot is at stake: commitments, record contracts and – who knows? – a great career and eternal fame.
The world is getting tougher, so are the competitions. Rivalry, not only among the participants but also among the competitions themselves, is increasing. In that world, the Tel Aviv competition feels a bit like a warm bath, at least that is what is claimed.
Idith Zvi, artistic director of the Competition for thirteen years, likes that: “We want to be a competition with a human face. It is – and remains – a competition, but we must not lose sight of the human aspect, it is stressful enough for the participants.
It was Jan Jacob Bistrizky, himself a pianist and – before he emigrated to Israel in 1971 – one of the leaders of the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, who took the initiative to found a similar competition in Tel Aviv. His main intention was to enrich Israeli cultural life, but also to honour the name and artistic heritage of his friend Arthur Rubinstein.
Since its foundation, the competition has also focused on promoting the work of Israeli composers. All participants are obliged to study a work of an Israeli composer ordered by the competition. There are always two of them, a man and a woman (in 2014 there were Ella Sheriff and Benjamin Yusupov) in Israel gender equality is more than important.
The enormous success of the first three editions led to the founding of the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society in 1980. The year 2014 took a special place in the history of the competition: it was forty years ago that the competition was founded and ten years since the first ‘Piano Festivities’ had taken place. In 2014 it was also five years since the death of Bistrizky.
A few figures: in forty years fourteen competitions were held, there were six hundred participants, 43 pianists have won prizes, 180 often world famous musicians have been a member of the jury and the prizes amount to more than half a million dollars.
Idith Zvi is a famous pianist. She was the founder and director of the chamber music festival in Kfar Blum in the Upper Galilee, director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra and for many years head of the classical department of Kol Israel (Israeli radio). She became involved in the competition fourteen years ago.
How did it all start?
“In 2000 I was approached by Arie Vardi, chairman of the jury but also a well-known pianist and piano pedagogue. Among his students he counts among others Yundi. Was I interested in becoming Deputy Director? With the promise that I would succeed Bistrizky after his withdrawal. However, I first had to be interrogated by the members of the Supervisory Board and Bistrizky himself. I was elected. Three years later Bistrizky retired and I took his place as Director General.