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  • Peter Donohoe

Archive: Introduction to Tchaikovsky Competition Diary (1982)

I am not an habitual diary keeper. However, during the Tchaikovsky competition in 1982 I wrote as much down as I could find time for – which was quite a lot, as there was little else to do other than practise. In any case, my memory for past events – and phone numbers, road numbers, bus route numbers and all manner of other useless things - is infintely greater than the one concerning future dates. [As readers will see, we were all kept careful watch over. In any case, try as one might, it was very difficult to find anything to do outside the confines of the hotel, save attending art exhibitions and ballet performances etc. - which were mostly, by the way, unbelievably great.] The result was an extremely scruffy - and sometimes not easy to understand in retrospect - collection of bits of paper and notes written in the backs of pieces of music etc. I thought it might be of interest after thirty years. For one thing, it is very rare that an artist who has been through the rigors of the competition route ever gets the chance to speak openly and honestly about the experience. For one thing, the whole process is and needs to be shrouded in secrecy by the competition organisers themselves, and also there is a serious chance of undermining one’s colleagues’ careers if one reveals too much at the time. However, a lot of time has now passed, and there are many reasons why I want to post these pages. It is not only a reflection on the way I felt and my experiences at the time, but more importantly, it goes some way towards conjuring up the atmosphere of a bygone era. For musicians of my generation, the International Tchaikovsky Competition held such significance during Soviet times that sometimes, even now, I almost find myself pinching myself to check that my being involved in it was not just a fantasy. I thought I would type it all up in a more coherent form, edit out the swearing and cursing, remove some of the names, and occasionally try to fill in one or two gaps from memory. I have also added a few website links and some retrospective notes composed recently. The result is as accurate as I can make it at this range. I am not sure that the dates are exactly correct, but they are certainly very close. I do notice as I reread it now that I seem to have arrived in Moscow in a bad


mood, and that as the competition progressed I got into a better one, culminating in a kind of trance-like delirium. This progession I think I remember feeling, partly obviously because I did well in the competition, but not only that. I did not like Russia when I first saw it, and I had been conditioned to mis-trust the system and the people. Later I learned to love the Russians and I still do, and as far as the system is concerned – well I have written a lot elsewhere on this site to convey how I feel about it, but in a nutshell, it was very complicated, and had every extreme of good and evil rolled into one. And this massive country, with its extremes of climate and its influence in all manner of ways upon the whole world, is reflected in its wonderful music in a way that one can really only fully understand when one has been there and soaked up the whole experience. My intention is to one day finish a book and to include it – there are several other chapters written. But for now, I thought I would post it in the blog to celebrate the 30th anniversary of my extraordinary experience. It is, of course, several times larger than most blog entries. I hope you enjoy reading it. Your comments would be most welcome. Incidentally, I did the same when I returned to Moscow for the 2011 competition as a jury member. However, the detail in which I feel able to post my impressions then has to be very carefully selective. I am not able to comment on individual performances for obvious reasons. This will appear presently in some future blog instalment.