Teen wins piano prize in Israel

JERUSALEM — On Wednesday of last week at 11 p.m. Israel time, 18-year-old Ukrainian pianist Igor Tchetuev tried to be as nonchalant as he could. He had just finished playing Chopin's First Piano Concerto in a most dazzling rendition, the final leg of the final stage of the Ninth International Artur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition, and he had to wait for the jurors' result.

The audience gave its unanimous verdict with thunderous applause, the likes of which had never been heard in this competition. Tchetuev tried to be calm, but of course he couldn't. The minutes kept passing and there was no sign from the members of the jury.

And then, after 90 nerve-wracking minutes, the results were announced. Some 2,000 enthusiastic music lovers waited to hear them.

First, it was announced that Tchetuev had won the Audience Favorite award. Then they announced the pianists who had won sixth, fifth, fourth and third place in the competition, and Tcetuev's name was not among them.

"It was very encouraging not to hear my name," he recalls.

When Vitaly Samoshko was announced as the second prize winner, at long last everything was clear.

But a glance at Tchetuev's face revealed nothing. At that moment it seemed more melancholy than elated. Wasn't he happy?

"Tolstoy wrote in one of his novels that you can't look the way you feel," he explains. "I know I didn't smile but when I feel good about something, I do not always smile; most of the time I don't."

Just a few days after winning the competition, Tchetuev admits that he is "very tired. I don't feel anything, I really don't."

And he doesn't even remember what his immediate reaction was to winning the most coveted prize.

"I was so confused."

Tchetuev says that on the whole, this was not an easy competition. "In the first round I played at 9 a.m., which meant getting up at 6:30. I was very worried."

He was much happier with his performance at the second stage — "that was very good for me."

But the Chopin concerto in the final round was less satisfactory, he admits.

"I didn't hope for anything after that. Some things went well, but some things were really bad. I definitely did not expect to win first prize."

Tchetuev began his musical studies at the encouragement of his mother. "She wanted me to know how to play the piano but nothing more. But when I was 12, I decided to take it much more seriously. It wasn't so much my decision but the overall situation. I was good at it and I thought it was worthwhile to invest in it."

That meant concentrating on practicing and avoiding the more ordinary children's activities. "I knew some children, but I had no time for friends. Now I will have more friends because I know I want to and it's very important."

Tchetuev has already performed as a soloist with orchestras in the Ukraine, the former Soviet Union and France. The award he just won will bring him many more concerts as well.

But he adamantly argues, "I don't care about my career. The only thing I care about is music."

What will Tchetuev do with the $35,000 prize money?

"I'm not a rich person so don't worry, I'm not going to buy a Porsche. I'll spend my time in Hanover [Germany], where I will start studying for the next five years. I will need the money for lodging, food and clothing. It won't be that easy for a Ukrainian boy to live in expensive Germany."