You might expect a competition named for a pianist who came to fame for not winning a competition to be unusual, and the Ivo Pogorelich International Solo Piano Competition is just that. Founded by Pogorelich and his wife Alice Kezeradze, with the Ambassador Foundation, the triennial competition will be inaugurated in December in Pasadena.
"We realized that there is a need for a totally new concept for a piano competition, with totally different aims," Pogorelich said in an interview at a Pasadena hotel following his recent concert at Ambassador Auditorium with the Russian National Orchestra.
This competition will be for mature recitalists rather than concerto-flashing prodigies. Unlike virtually every other competition, it has no upper age limit, instead demanding that applicants be 21 by the time of event.
"There are countless competitions, all more or less based on the same system," Pogorelich said. "They begin around age 16 or 18 and continue up to age 30--one or two go to age 35.
"I personally do not believe in the concept of the Wunderkind. There are no self-made men in arts. You must have the knowledge that you inherit from your teachers and the masters of the past--only then can you begin building on that foundation. You have to be able to re-create before you can create."
This competition may afford a second chance, Pogorelich hopes, for later-maturing artists and those who did not take the prodigy track, musicians "30-50, too young to be wasted, too old to be beginning."
The stress on maturity, artistry and collegiality at this competition comes from Pogorelich's own experiences. He became internationally known in 1980, when he was not advanced to the finals of the Chopin competition in Warsaw. Members of the jury resigned in disgust, a quick counter-competition recital for Pogorelich was organized and a subsequent recording became a best-seller.
"The Soviet Bloc authorities had decided months before the competition that it was politically necessary to have a North Vietnamese winner," Pogorelich said. "My decision to participate was not at all welcome. I was told I should wait a year, for the Tchaikovsky competition, when I would have the first prize guaranteed.
"It makes me laugh when I read about how different styles of Chopin--new Chopin, old Chopin--confused the judges. That's all nonsense--the winner was chosen in accordance with the policy of the government."
The major criterion for eligibility in the new competition is reaching the final round in another international piano competition, although tapes with letters of recommendation will also be accepted. The first prize is $100,000, and does not come with a string of concert engagements.
"We're taking a chance on setting up a totally different system of eligibility, that might create an environment where talent could be found--and protected. I wanted a high cash prize so that the winner would be able to buy time to make career decisions."
There is also an unusual freedom in repertory choices for the new competition. Four etudes of the participant's choice and a Bach suite are required for the preliminary round, but the only restriction in the semifinals and finals is length of the program.
"Some might be pleased, others quite concerned," Pogorelich said, to find that they will be judged on creating a program as well as playing it. "It is like the freedom of well-known artists, who work up their own ideas. Obviously, there is an emphasis on maturity."
The London-based pianist, 34, is involved with fund-raising, but will not play an active part in the competition itself. He notes that the repertory freedom and importance of program-building in the competition increases the responsibilities of the judges as well as the competitors.
The 11-member panel--including at least one European critic and one agent as well as performers and teachers--will come to its decisions through discussion as well as a more traditional point system. Georgian pianist and teacher Alice Kezeradze, Pogorelich's wife and former teacher, will be president of the jury.
Her authority will be final, but Pogorelich said he wants to demystify the adjudication and make the president and judges available for consultation by the competitors during the event. He hopes to change the more aloof traditional relationship between judges and competitors to one of senior and junior colleagues, with much advice on career options available to the entrants.
All rounds of the competition will be open to the public at Ambassador Auditorium.
"All of that appeals to us because we like to do things a little differently, and because it encourages a multiplicity of people, rather than just the usual ones going down that track," said David Hulme, vice president of Ambassador Foundation. "I particularly like the humanitarian side of the man. That philosophy will undergird the whole event, which should be refreshing and different."
Ambassador Foundation has sponsored the annual music festival in Germany that also bears Pogorelich's name, and in related discussions the idea for this piano competition came up. In addition to the support of Ambassador Foundation, Pogorelich cites the fine acoustics of the auditorium, the full audio and video recording facilities, the proximity of an international airport and a media center, and the climate as points in favor of locating the competition in Pasadena.
Hulme will also be executive director of the competition, with Ambassador Foundation providing basic support in terms of staff and organization. He said the foundation will be somewhat involved financially, and will be arranging benefit recitals by Pogorelich--possibly in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara--to help establish funding.
Pogorelich has been a regular visitor here, and last week received the sixth annual Ambassador Award for Excellence. He returns to Ambassador Auditorium for a pair of recitals in April.
Information about the competition can be had from Ambassador Foundation, (818) 304-6166.