• U.S.

Music: Jolly Good Bash

2 minute read

“I think I’ll just have to take the gamble,” said the pianist.

‘Fine,” said his wife. “Go and have a jolly good bash.”

The ”jolly good bash” was Soviet Russia’s Second International Tchaikovsky Competition, first to be held since 1958, when Louisiana-born Van Cliburn captured the prize—and Russia with it. The “gamble” for gifted young English Pianist John Ogdon, 25, was whether to go into hock and cancel several engagements in order to compete in Moscow. Last week, Ogdon won his gamble, and shared first place with veteran Soviet Pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Although the Tchaikovsky Competition is open to applicants up to the age of 32, Ashkenazy seemed an outright ringer—an obvious hedge against another talented foreigner’s running off with the prize. Only 24, he was already far more seasoned in the concert hall than most of the contest’s applicants. But, as it turned out, the home-town hero was no shoo-in.

Rated only a shade below Ashkenazy and Ogdon last week were Philadelphia-born Pianist Susan Starr, 20, and Chinese Pianist Yin Cheng-tsung, 21, tied for second place. Playing before swarming crowds—tickets were so prized that one old lady who died during the winter willed hers to her niece—the contestants worked their way through three nerve-wrenching rounds before entering the finals.

Prizewinner Ogdon, a pianist with a strong surging style, began slowly (he stood only eighth after the first two rounds), but finished fast, particularly with a performance of the Liszt First Piano Concerto that astounded the judges.

Whether he won at Moscow or not, Ogdon’s principal at the Royal Manchester College of Music was sure he was bound to “make an international impression very soon.” Enrolled at seven as the youngest student in Manchester’s history (usual age: 16), he progressed at a “simply staggering” rate for four years, then, amazingly, chucked the whole business for five years while he went back to his academic studies. He had an excellent but not widespread reputation when he decided to tackle Moscow. Before the week was out, the invitations from symphony orchestras were already beginning to come in.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com