Malkovich wins prize
by John Lloyd
He moves across the airport concourse like a
cardinal, dispensing blessings as he goes. Finally, after many hugs,
kisses, handshakes and benedictions, he lands up in front of a
smaller, overcoated figure clutching a violin case. Distinct
American hellos drown out a mumbled Russian greeting.
The impresario has met the maestro and they are
on their way to Uralsk.
Mark Malkovich III and Marat Bisengaliev are off
to the second Uralsk International Violin Competition held in
January in the frozen west of Kazakhstan. Just outside of this town,
found north of the Caspian Sea, lies the border between Europe and
Asia. It is a meeting place.
Here the Kazakh Bisengaliev, who now lives in
England, is a superstar. “They don’t clap me in at home,” says
Malkovich. “I should train them; it would be fun.”
And fun is what is to be had during the
competition week. Mark is among friends – everyone is soon a
Malkovich friend; strangers are just friends waiting to be met. But
steady, it is not all fun and jollity. Hard decisions are to be
Ten young violinists will be playing for their
lives. Only one can be the winner. Only one will get the prize. Only
one will fly to Newport with money and a recording contract in his
or her pocket to give a recital at that most wonderful of all
American music festivals; The Newport.
Last year Bisengaliev, transformed with a violin
under his chin and bow in his hand, brought over Naaman Sluchin,
winner of the first competition. This year there is another treat in
Malkovich has won the prize for Newport. His hard
work as a competition jurist has paid off. Another “dear soul” has
come into his orbit and will be shared with the people of his town.
He is one of five members of the jury, under the
chairmanship of Bisengaliev, along with a Japanese violin virtuoso
and teacher, a Georgian pianist who is principal of a music academy,
a top British record producer (who counts the King of Thailand among
his artists) and a critic, musicologist and publisher.
Quite the senior statesman, even in such exalted
company, Malkovich shines. Forget ‘working the room’; this man can
successfully work the whole concert hall. All whom he embraces are
But that’s not yet the contestants. They must
remain separate from those who will judge them. Nervously, quietly
sitting in the corner or loudly regaling the company, the violinists
wait their time. The youngest, a Kazakh just 15, seems the most
seasoned competitor. His mother pecks round him like a hen, anxious
and ambitious. The Japanese girl, delicate as a china doll,
rehearses in her head. The Russian, now studying in England, talks
wildly, his violin case clutched to his chest. The little Korean,
nearly 20, but looking 12, sits as if in a trance. Others from the
home countries chat animatedly, grateful for their shared language.
The tall, reticent Portuguese boy looks gaunt and tired from his
journey. He is on first.
So the work begins. Over two days one after the
other performs for the jury and a young and attentive audience from
the town. Then the jury retire. Even Malkovich is thoughtful and not
so full of his expected bonhomie.
Later in the day the result of this round is
announced. Seven are into the next, final round.
Sunday is a day off. The inexhaustible Malkovich
continues doing the rounds. When you direct an international music
festival there’s always someone to meet and sweet-talk for the
Monday begins on the frozen banks of the Ural
River. This is a different kind of music altogether. It is a
religious feast day and a local custom is to cut a hole in the ice
and for the faithful members of the Orthodox Church to plunge three
times under the water. Cold, even when wrapped up, Malkovich and his
fellow jurists look on in horror and wonder.
Thankfully a priestly procession comes down to
bless the proceedings and all is once again warm.
Come the Monday and Tuesday afternoons a
different group are taking the plunge into the icy waters of the
final round of the competition. A Mozart concerto and specially
written piece by the 50 year old Boston-based Kazakh composer
Serkebaev allow each one to strut their stuff and to demonstrate
artistry and musicianship.
The jury are attentive, as is the apparently
knowledgeable audience, many from the five music schools that the
Seven mini-concerts later and the jury retire to
deliberate. Acknowledged as an elder statesman in the group, here in
the jury room Malkovich is an equal among greats. The standard of
debate is high.
One competitor takes everyone’s vote for first
place. Atsuko Sahara from Japan gets the first prize. Others
variously are ordered, with an interesting choice for a joint second
prize. Technique versus fire; the jury cannot decide. They value
both aspects of music-making and so reward both.
At the press conference the following day
journalists and broadcasters question Marat Bisengaliev and the
jury. Mark Malkovich shares his wisdom, giving an American view of
the competition and especially of the audience. He brings particular
attention to the abundance of young people in the concert halls,
their knowledge and their enthusiasm. “In my country the audience is
a lot older.”
The final concert later in the day has its fair
share of grey hair in the audience. On stage, however, youthfulness
prevails and the prize winners play with the strings from the Uralsk
Philharmonic Orchestra for the delight of all. Prizes, gifts and
speeches are given before the concert proceeds. Its finale is the
premiere of a new piece by the British composer Mark Emney. The
haunting work was inspired by images from deep space returned by the
Hubble and Chandra telescopes.
Truly all are in a global, even, it seems, a
cosmic world. Music has once again brought people together, moved
and entertained them.
Mark Malkovich III will return home with more
experiences, more contacts and, in Atsuko Sahara, with another great
prize for Newport.
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