Report

18th 2018 Tokyo International Music Competition for Conducting
Judge Interview

When I asked what his overall impression was in taking part as a time-consuming judge, Mr Lazarev replied, “I enjoy judging at a competition. It makes me happy just by listening to wonderful music.” “It is more so as they levelled up even further in comparison to when I was involved as a judge 6 years ago.”

The applicants from Mr Lazarev’s home country, Russia, was 25, the second largest number after Japan. However, regarding the fact that none of them ended up winning a prize, he commented as follows: “As there are very few high-quality conductor’s competitions that are held on a global scale continuously, the recognition of this competition is high in Russia. Unfortunately, the applicants from Russia just did not reach the prize-winning level. On the contrary, the capability of the Japanese contestants stood out.”

“It’s only natural to have many Japanese applicants as the competition is held in Japan, but the reason why all three winners were Japanese is that they had the ability and appropriately express them in the form of performance. I felt that the “School of Conducting”, which was built by the chairperson of the panel of judges, Mr Yuzo Toyama, and my fellow judges, Mr Tadaaki Otaka, Mr Junichi Hirokami, Mr Ken Takaseki and other wonderful Japanese conductors, was firmly established in Japan. It reminds me of the “Russian School” which continued to foster excellent young conductors during its Golden Age back in the days of Soviet Union.”

Although I wanted Mr Lazarev to share his impressions of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize winners, Ms Nodoka Okisawa, Mr Kanade Yokoyama and Mr Masaru Kumakura, respectively, he dodged it and said, “I want them to savor the results of their effort and use it as a nourishment towards their next step. So all I want to do is shower them with lots of congratulations and refrain from commenting otherwise.” However, he did add, “Having said that, Ms Okisawa was indeed charming” and winked at me. No one except Mr Lazarev, who have struggled and established his firm status in the world of music through his strong willpower and rebellious spirit amidst the system of Soviet Union, can come up with such unique comment.

“If I may say, all three of them made the pieces their own. They had the concrete image of the performance and could properly convey them to the orchestra members. They were in good contact with the orchestra. Under the guidance from the former mentioned meisters of conducting, I could see that they developed their musicality and individuality. As long as they continue to study earnestly as conductors, there is no doubt that they will attain significant growth.”

Regarding the selection of the pieces, Mr Lazarev said, “The judges chose the piece from the 3 pieces submitted from the contestants. As the pieces were originally selected by themselves, we could see through their individuality and musicality like an X-ray. It was just like a handwritten letter.” “It is better to avoid the pieces that would make the orchestra struggle as the good qualities of the conductor will be less visible, but that was properly maintained, too.”

So, are there difficult / easy pieces to the conductors?
“In fact, there are no 'easy pieces' existing. In any given piece, there are a climax and melodic highlights you have to read from the score and express it. In a piece demanding a complex orchestration and ‘traffic control’, the only requirement is a high technique of conducting as that piece is no musically different from another. Some of the worldly renowned conductors say that classic pieces, which seems easy to conduct with no changes in the tempo, are beyond their abilities. Unless you don’t understand the work deeply and exactly have in mind what to express, you cannot conduct.”

Mr Lazarev states that he acquires energy from the passionate performances from fully motivated young conductors, just like from this competition.
“That is also one of my pleasures. However, they lack experience. On the other hand, I have plenty of experience but have lost my youth. Whatever age you are, everybody lacks something. But that is why you can advance in order to fill in those imperfections. The three prize winners have their shortcomings, but I think they have accumulated a certain amount of study and have great talent.”

When I asked him about the ‘shortcomings’, he responded, “They know what their shortcomings are well enough. What they need now is to make lots of mistakes over and over again and to relive the regrets and self-hatred so much that they want to bang their heads on the rostrum. Therefore, in a good way, the conductors need to be ‘cunning’. For example, they need to deceive the orchestra members so that they will pay attention to him/her, and trick the audience and make them listen to your musical expression.” I suppose such an answer cannot be given unless you have built a long list of experience.

The Tokyo International Music Competition has two debut concerts prepared in line for the winners. Mr Lazarev stressed, “I’d like them to have more opportunities to perform if possible. It would be better if each prize winners are given the opportunity to conduct an entire concert.”

“After I won the Karajan Foundation’s International Competition for Conductors in 1972, in addition to several concerts I was offered a contract from a major management company in Berlin. It was a contract for a 3 month tour but I gave it up as I could not leave the Soviet Union for a long period of time then. As Tokyo International Music Competition has accumulated its competition 18 times so far and the winners’ subsequent activities are also wonderful, I think it would be brilliant to gain that opportunity to spread worldwide.”

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