XI Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition
"Frederick Kempf, an unbelievable musician who was able to offer his own unique interpretation of whatever he played Kempfs performance was full of energy, expressive force and frenzied passion. Suddenly it was so clear what Gods gift actually was."
- Nikolai Petrov Cultura, Moscow 2 July 1998
Celebrated Russian pianist
"Frederick kempf not only won the bronze medal but also the hearts of the audience, becoming the hero of the competition. He was the only one who played with an inner energy and with such deep emotional impact which touched the soul of everyone who listened to him."
- Tatiana Galperovich Cultura, Moscow 8 July 1998
"But then came an absolute wonder. The Great Hall hasnt witnessed such applause for a very long time. Kempf is a living example of the saying The artist becomes great through his own inspiration. In this competition, through Russian music, the 20 year old showed things no one else could either hear or hope to do."
- Moscow Evening News 30 June 1998
"The fierce passion and radiant lyricism which he brought to the largest Russian war-horses, the glowing intimacy of his Schumann, the darting misterioso hues he found in Prokofievs 6th Sonata, the nobility of his phrasing in Bach such rare qualities made for performances of startling imagination and moving humanity."
- Pianophilia column International Piano Quarterly Autumn 1998
"Kempf is enormously individual and highly creative a young Horowitz. In the years ahead it is Frederick Kempf, the third place winner of the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition, whose name will endure."
- Daniel Pollack Clavier July 1998
Juror, XI Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition
Freddy Kempf in Moscow for the Tchaikovsky Competition
The Sunday Times of London
July 19, 1998"This year's Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, which came to a controversial climax in Moscow three weeks ago, saw the explosion of a shining new British talent on the international piano scene. While other pianists marched off the stage of the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire to polite applause or - on one or two painful occasions, complete silence - Frederick Kempf, 20, won ovation after standing ovation, and became the hero of the competition.
Kempf, educated at St Edmund's School in Canterbury and taught by the great Ronald Smith before becoming a star pupil at the Royal Academy of Music, first came to widespread attention when he won the 1992 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. But none of this had prepared him for the emotional buzz of the Tchaikovsky competition.
"The applause after my Tchaikovsky concerto went on and on for about 10 minutes," he recalls, almost with a sense of wonder. "This was always my dream. Not to win a competition, but to bring that much pleasure to an audience. It took the announcer some time to calm them down. By the time I got to halfway through the last movement of my Rachmaninov 3, I decided just to enjoy myself. It was like a roller-coaster ride towards the end. It was so exciting. And then I had to wade through the crowds, with everyone trying to touch me, and the audience still clapping even after the lights were turned out and the janitors were sweeping up."
"The Russians simply jumped out of their skin," confirms the American pianist Daniel Pollack, a prizewinner in the first Tchaikovsky competition 40 years ago and a member of this year's jury. "Any time Freddy's name came up, they went bananas. It's not because he's from Britain, or because he's so young. He was simply head and shoulders above anyone else, and he touched them. That's what a Russian audience looks for. They really fell in love with him."
For Pollack, and several other jury members, Kempf was the obvious first-prize winner. And when Tikhon Khrennikov, the 85-year-old chairman of all the Tchaikovsky competitions - for piano, violin, cello and voice - chose to single out just one performer for special mention, it was Kempf. Here, he said, was a young talent worthy of what the competition was promoting. After a secret ballot, however, Kempf was judged to have come third. Two Moscow-trained Russians took the first two prizes. "This didn't come as a surprise," snarled the Moscow Cosmopolitan. "The mafia knows what it's doing. Whoever was supposed to receive a prize, with the money that entails, did so. The competition has always been plagued by controversy, but this year set new records: the hall was filled to its absolute limit; the level of disgrace was like never before."
According to Michael Glover, the editorial consultant of Gramophone magazine's International Piano Quarterly: "People are aware of the politics behind the scenes, and how difficult it is to win. You have to have the patronage of one of the influential Russian teachers. Freddy Kempf demonstrated this very well: he has the kind of talent we are lucky to find once in a generation. He is, without doubt, one of the finest young pianists in the world. By all accounts he was implausibly better than anyone else. And he still didn't win. No matter how good you are, the politics remain an insurmountable barrier."
Review of Moscow Performance, April 1999
28 April 1999
YOUNG PIANIST CONQUERS MOSCOW
By George W. Loomis
Moscow - A young musician has won the hearts of Muscovites. The British pianist Freddy Kempf came to prominence here last summer at the International Tchaikovsky Competition, perhaps the world's best known musical tournament and surely one of the most grueling.
From all accounts, the 21-year-old was the odds-on favorite of the audience, but he placed only third. Soon the competition was awash with charges of Russian bias on the part of the jury and other angry accusations.
That all seemed like ancient history on Sunday night when Kempf, as a full-fledged artist, gave his first solo recital in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.
One was reminded that competitions achieve their best results when they simply bring a vital artistic personality before the public. And, whatever its faults, last summer's competition accomplished this much. Tickets for the recital were gone almost immediately. A concerto appearance a few days before sold out as well, with an orchestra that probably couldn't have sold half the seats on its own.
Kempf is now the toast of Moscow, and the parallel to Van Cliburn, who won the Tchaikovsky in 1958, is hard to overlook.
His competition videos, as well as an incandescent performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto with the Moscow Symphony last September, are regularly aired on the city's cultural television channel. And it is doubtful that even Cliburn won a comparable following among the city's young women, who bestow flowers on Kempf in the time-honored Russian fashion for artistic idols, then, less conventionally, converge on his dressing room as if he were a rock star.
They are captivated by distinctive looks traceable to a Japanese mother and a German father, an unassuming informality of dress (black turtleneck beneath a dinner jacket), and a willowy, almost fragile presence that is hard to reconcile with his fearsome displays of technique. (It turns out he is already married - to a pianist from Moscow, no less.)
Lest there be any mistake, Kempf's artistry is the real thing.
He is clearly in another league from the many gifted young pianists who routinely emerge on the scene. Schumann's "Carnaval,'' Opus 9, was full of vivid, imaginative touches, brightly impetuous in the outgoing portions but especially rich in evoking the dreamy "Eusebius" side of Schumann's personality.
Here the languid melodies were shaped with unfailing poetry, as repeats served to reveal new levels of expression or test the melodic potential of inner voices. His exquisite playing in the haunting slow movement of Mozart's Concerto in A, K. 488, in the earlier concert was the product of a similar temperament.
Kempf's gift for lyricism almost made you forget that Beethoven's Sonata in E Major, Opus 109, is a late work with the implication for probing interpretation.
His slightly brisk, almost matter-of-fact statement of the theme of the third movement's sublime variations aroused concern, but what followed spoke with an eloquence that duly reflected the import of the music.
And his account of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Sonata Opus 36 proved to be an event of almost seismic proportions. The first few measures take the pianist all over the keyboard, and there is little respite thereafter. At one point the piano sounded as if transformed into a giant carillon pealing forth huge, descending clusters of sound.
The composer later blushed at the sonata's excesses and prepared a leaner version. But Kempf goes in for the unexpurgated original and managed to impress an element of musical architecture onto its ungainly elements as well.
Until now, Kempf has been best known in England, despite appearances abroad. He made his debut with the Royal Philharmonic at the age of 8, and in 1992 he was named BBC Young Musician of the Year. Yet his career seems to have developed in an orderly manner without undue attention at the child-prodigy stage. His first record, an all-Schumann disk, will appear next month.
Asked about his reaction to the competition decision, he mentions only the anxiety he felt at the semifinals and a degree of nervousness greater than anything he experiences with a normal performance.
If his career continues to progress as it has of late, he won't have to face anything like that again.
George W. Loomis is a music writer based in Moscow.
For those who haven't heard Kempf yet, Neil Tingly has posted, on his Freddy Kempf site, streaming-mp3 sound files optimized for normal modems. These are entire pieces. Read the paragraph below first, however.
The sound files stream easily upon a click with Internet Explorer.
However, with Netscape, you need to RIGHT-click and then select "Copy Link Location" -- then open your mp3 player and Paste (ctrl-v) the copied Link Location (changing the ".m3u" to ".mp3") into the "Play Location" or similar field to hear the sound file.
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