It is symptomatic among music's young to decry the tyranny of The Competition in one breath and then start laying plans to enter yet another one in the very next. Dmitry Feofanov, 25, and Michael Lewin, 27, turned out to be no exceptions, even though they were the winners of the 12th annual University of Maryland Piano Competition on Saturday night.
The high-strung Lewin, who recently returned from Moscow's Tchaikovsky competition where he made it to the semifinals, bemoaned the plight of the artist in an interview yesterday:
"Nobody forces me to enter a competition. But it is necessary for the kind of career I want. I have to accept it on its own terms. I have won when I should not have won and lost when I should have won."
The qualified terms of their victory in the Maryland competition clearly rankled both men on the day after. Feofanov and Lewin were two of the three contestants (out of 41) who made it to Saturday night's finals. After much deliberation, though, the nine members of the jury decided to award no first prize and awarded Feofanov and Lewin each a second prize. Their colleague, Daniel Lessner, came in third.
"I admit I did not play as well in the finals as in the earlier rounds," said Lewin, a Juilliard student who is from New York. "In general, though, I disapprove of not giving out a first. After all, they chose us for the finals. And there should be a first unless things turned out to be a travesty. It's sort of insulting, as if to say you're not as good as you ought to be." Lewin clearly thought he should have been the one to win first but granted that he did himself no favors with two memory lapses Saturday night while playing the Tchaikovsky B-flat concerto for the first time with an orchestra.
Feofanov, a Russian e'migre' who came to the United States four years ago, was only slightly more restrained in his view. The Maryland competition went better than usual for him, he observed, "because I am the sort who usually gets eliminated early. Competitions are inherently unfair. They reject something if it is unusual. I am told that I am too individual. In the recent Bach competition here in Washington there were two judges who liked me very much and two who disliked me very much. So I did not make it."
On Saturday night Feofanov broke the rule that you hit the judges with a pianistic blockbuster in your concerto selection. Instead, he played Mozart's exquisite 23rd Piano Concerto. It brought more applause and resulted in more curtain calls than any other performance of the evening.
"I don't regret playing the Mozart," he reflected. "Some would say it was foolish, but I love that piece and I wanted to play it." It is that rule of playing the showpiece, Feofanov contended, "that is so disgusting. But these competitions are the only way to launch a career. And I'm trying. But up to now I haven't gotten very far."
Part of Feofanov's $5,000 prize money will be used to pay moving expenses for him and his American wife from their present home in Urbana, Ill., to Lexington, Ky., where he will join the University of Kentucky faculty in the fall.
While maintaining that he is not the type to win competitions, Feofanov argues that there is such a thing as a stereotypical type and that the proliferation of this type is bad for music. It is the kind of player "who is always moderate in tempo, moderate in expression, moderate in everything. Thus the competitions end up encouraging mediocrity in music."
Both winners remained confused about what the immediate rewards of their second-place victories would be. Lewin had yet to get his check, and both were concerned about the concert opportunities that would come with the prize. "Those are more valuable to me than even the money," said Lewin. Feofanov nodded his assent.
By that point in the conversation, the two pianists had made a pretty convincing case that winning the Maryland contest is no Cinderella story. So was it really worth all their trouble?
Suddenly they changed their tunes, as it were. "Well, you see," said Lewin, "it is very much to our credit, because we both received the top prizes in what is a very well regarded international competition. I entered two years ago and made it to the semifinals and the competition was much tougher this year.
"And, then, we both got some money, which is very necessary.
"And we both were heard this week by people we needed to be heard by, and who would not otherwise have heard us. And we will get concerts, and so on . . ."
Feofanov, whose English is fluent with a fine midwestern twang, retreated into a Russian proverb. "We say, 'Don't move your fists after the fighting is over.' So this is over and let's forget it." With Photos by Milbert Orlando Brown