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The Pablo Casals Cello Competition,
reported by TESS CREBBIN


Hungarian cellist Laszlo Fanyoe has won the Second International Pablo Casals Cello Competition (PCCC), closely followed by the audience favorite, Julian Steckel from Germany, in second place. The award-ceremony took place on 4 September 2004 during the PCCC's traditional finishing gala concert in Frankfurt. Standing ovations for Kurt Masur, who conducted the concert at the sold-out Frankfurt Old Opera house, rewarded the maestro's elegant and refined version of Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor. It was a solid musical depiction of heaven and hell and everything in between, held together by Masur's skilled eyes, ears and hands, and a real present for Franck enthusiasts, for the symphony is rarely performed nowadays. The city of Frankfurt is only some twenty minutes drive from Kronberg and so the Kronberg Academy held its final (third) round of competition and the final evening's gala concert in Frankfurt because ticket demand was so high that the smaller Kronberg venue would have been unable to cope. Masur was an excellent pick since the competition is named for Pablo Casals, a humanitarian as well as a great cellist. Likewise, the celebrated Silesia-born maestro is known not only for his musical excellence but also for his humanitarian involvement (he has, for instance, taken part in peaceful demonstrations -- something that is rather unusual for a conductor) and his kindness.

The award ceremony, including Laszlo Fenyoe (left), Julian Steckel (2nd from left) and Sebastien van Kuijk (5th from left). Photo © 2004 Anja Ullrich
The award ceremony, including Laszlo Fenyoe (left), Julian Steckel (2nd from left) and Sebastien van Kuijk (5th from left). Photo © 2004 Anja Ullrich

Speaking of kindness: Masur could put his reputation to the test straight away. The cleverly constructed evening program called for him to open the concert by conducting Tchaikovsky's Fantasy Overture, to be followed by the official PCCC award ceremony, and then the other musical offerings of the evening: Dvorák's cello concerto showcasing the first prize winner and, after the break, Masur taking the baton again for the evening's highlight, Franck, which had been saved to last. During the first part of the concert, a young photographer's flash accidentally went off while the maestro was conducting. No sooner had this happened than thousands of eyes from the audience were on the hapless young lady who turned bright red, standing with the other photographers in the side-wings, and seemed to wish for the earth to part and swallow her. Thankfully, the program next called for the maestro to take a seat in the first rows, where the young lady had by now, still crimson-coloured, also taken her place. The friendly maestro walked off stage and demonstratively took his seat beside the young photographer, smiled at her kindly and said: 'Don't worry about the flash-mishap, that kind of thing can happen, it's not the end of the world'. Once the maestro was okay with it, so was everyone else. How very refreshing when those at the top of the music business remember that everyone must learn, and that making mistakes is only human.

'He is such a lovely man,' the young lady swooned in the break, following her encounter with Masur. 'Not to think of what some of the other conductors might have done. From complaints, to storming off stage and cancelling their performance, everything might have been imaginable!'

Masur had indeed kept his seat beside the photographer to watch his former student, the lovely Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro, work PCCC first prize winner Laszlo Fenyoe and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra through their paces in Dvorák's Cello Concerto B minor Op 104. Never has the difference between master and student been more obvious than when watching one immediately after the other. The young and very pretty conductor brought charm and female grace to the performance, but also some shortcomings connected with lack of experience: she referred to her score more than looking at the orchestra and spent a considerable amount of time smiling sweetly at the soloist's cello, hoping to bring the sound out. Masur joined into the conducting spirit, humming the instruments' and soloist's Einsatz whenever it was their time to go. Everything he had taught about conducting was translated by Carneiro into a very graceful type of interpretation, with much hand waving and feminine beauty. The young lady has potential and, at only 27, she is likely to be around for a long time yet. For the 2004/5 season, she will hold the position of 'conducting fellow' at the American Symphony Orchestra League where she will work closely with Esa Pekka Salonen. She also holds the post of musical director at the Los Angeles Début Orchestra. In 2003/4, she was one of only three conductors to be chosen for participation in the new 'National Conductor's Academy' in London and it was there that she had occasion to study with Kurt Masur and Christoph von Dohnanyi as well as conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra. The Kronberg Academy is big on giving women their fair share and it was certainly refreshing to see a woman conductor handle such an important event as the PCCC gala concert, and then in a large venue like the Frankfurt Opera.

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Copyright © 11 September 2004 Tess Crebbin, Kronberg, Germany


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