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What a different sound the same orchestra produced when, after the break, the maestro took to the stage again for Cesar Franck, almost as though we were listening to different musicians. Masur knows all of his orchestras intimately, is perfectly attuned to every individual instrument's sound, and his ears and eyes seem to be everywhere. No score in front of him, of course, since he has the music in his heart and his soul. He seems to have a thousand hands with about as many fingers as he tells the violins to quieten down, brings the bassoons out of the middle of the orchestra, motions to the harpist to liven it up a little, while at the same time with minute finger movements controlling the celli at the back of him without eyes on them, but with all of his very astute ears. And the man has authority: his conducting of Franck was so outstanding that even the reserved German audience could not hold its horses, and burst into spontaneous applause after the second movement, but one slight movement with his hands behind his back sufficed and everyone obligingly stopped clapping to let the maestro get on with it.

Kurt Masur conducts Franck. Photo © 2004 Anja Ullrich
Kurt Masur conducts Franck. Photo © 2004 Anja Ullrich

The evening's award ceremony brought lots of smiling faces as the proud young cellists accepted their prizes. Somewhat of a surprise was a late turn of events that saw a reversal of the favourites for first and second prize. Pergamenschikow-student Julian Steckel, 22, who had been the favoured for first place throughout, took second place to the Hungarian professional cellist Fenyoe who has been solo cellist with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2001, and prior to that had worked as solo cellist with the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. For Frankfurt, it was a great honor that one of their professional orchestra members won the competition. Fenyoe, born in 1975, is at the upper limit of the age bracket (the qualifying cut-off age is 29) and this was his last chance to enter the competition. For the evening concert on 4 September, the PCCC rules called for the winner and the runner-up to both perform but that evening the rules were changed and only Fenyoe played, because both cellists had chosen Dvorák for their showcase piece and neither was willing to budge. So those who wanted to hear Julian Steckel had to wait until the next morning for the last concert, a matinée held at the Kronberg City Hall showcasing the five finalists.

The jury for the last round of judging had been joined by the widow of Pablo Casals, Marta Casals Istomin, and by Mstislav Rostropovich, which perhaps accounts for the surprising turn of events in the finals. 'It was very close,' said one jury member about the voting. 'So close that there wasn't even a millimetre between them. Very difficult to decide, indeed.'

The PCCC jury. From left to right: Gary Hoffman, Michael Flaksman, Frans Helmerson, Natalia Gutman, Raimund Trenkler, Bernard Greenhouse, Graciane Finzi, Young-Chang Cho and Julius Berger. Photo © 2004 Annette Wittkopf
The PCCC jury. From left to right: Gary Hoffman, Michael Flaksman, Frans Helmerson, Natalia Gutman, Raimund Trenkler, Bernard Greenhouse, Graciane Finzi, Young-Chang Cho and Julius Berger. Photo © 2004 Annette Wittkopf

With such a high standard, everyone was looking forward to the matinée given by the finalists. The concert was sold out and at the entrance desperate people tried talking ticket-holders into selling their tickets to them. Needless to say, those lucky enough to have tickets held on to them with all their might and so plenty of people were left standing outside. And while on the subject of standing: observed just before the concert started was a very gallant Frans Helmerson who offered his own seat to the seat-less composer Graciane Finzi and then was one of those standing on the sides.

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Copyright © 11 September 2004 Tess Crebbin, Kronberg, Germany

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