Ukrainian Pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk Wins Rubinstein Competition

Ukrainian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk, 20, was declared winner of the 11th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition last night, and awarded the top prize of $25,000. Second place, and $15,000, went to the Russian Igor Levit. Korea's Yeol Eum Son finished third and received $10,000,

Of the three finalists, Gavrylyuk's life has been most tumultuous. Six years ago, 14-year-old Gavrylyuk moved from the Ukraine to Australia with his teacher, Victor Makarov, and fellow students. Makarov was appointed head of the Australian Institute of Music in Sydney, and some of the gifted pupils who came with him lived in their teacher's home.

Gavrylyuk, who was born in Kharkov to a musical family (his parents work in folk music and his sister, 15, is also a pianist), excelled early and at 16 took first place in the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in Japan. A year later, his career was jeopardized when he suffered head injuries in a bad traffic accident in Australia. He recovered and continued playing.

Several months ago he was dealt another blow. His teacher Makarov, 51, married and with a daughter, was indicted on some 30 charges of raping and sexually harassing his male pupils. Makarov was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Gavrylyuk appeared as a defense witness in the trial and refuses to talk about the case.

He was accompanied to Israel by his girlfriend, a Yugoslav pianist who also lives in Australia, and his new teacher, a native of Belgrade who teaches in Nice, France.

The Russian pianist Igor Levit (who is Jewish) grew up in Nizhny Novgorod but has lived with his family for several years in Germany, where he is enrolled in advanced music studies in Hanover. His mother, Yelena Levit, is a pianist and his father is an architect.

Yeol Eum Son, just 18, came to the competition alone. She lives in Seoul, while her businessman father and high school teacher mother live in another city.

The jury of 12 listened to performances by 36 contestants, and received little pay considering the hours they put in: $3,000 plus flight and accommodation.

The judges with whom I spoke were impressed by the level of the contestants who made it to the semifinals, a very high level compared to previous Rubinstein competitions, they said. Two Israeli judges - Yoheved Kaplinsky, who heads the piano department at Juilliard, and Pnina Saltzman, Israel's first lady of piano - were not entirely satisfied with the list of finalists selected Tuesday. Saltzman fell ill during the second phase of the contest, but followed the performances on television. She returned to active duty only yesterday, in time for the final vote.

Kaplinsky said "there are judges' rulings that are hard to understand. I was sorry that the Chinese pianist Jie Chen was not among the finalists." Saltzman concurs: "I like Chen a lot. I was very surprised she didn't advance to the finals."

About the others, Saltzman said: "The Ukrainian is the only one with something demonic. The Korean has phenomenal technical ability. She played Chopin nicely, but Schumann's "Carnaval" amounted to nothing with her. The concerto in the semifinal was also not good." Igor Levit? "Very congenial." Tatiana Kolesova? "Played the Beethoven concerto very well. Yes, I was also sorry that she didn't make it to the finals."

The leading pianists among the finalists and semifinalists will appear in the coming days in recitals and concerts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.