My Life – a week with Martin T:son Engstroëm

I am in Moscow in my capacity as chairman of the violin jury of the XVI Tchaikovsky Competition. It’s an intense period and we feel the pressure to find that rare bird who will finally win the violin competition (in the past two editions, no first prize was awarded to a violinist). Today is a day off and all the jury members have been invited to visit Tchaikovsky’s datcha (a small country house) in Klin outside Moscow. The tradition is to plant a tree there, which I did. I also have to find a replacement for Mariss Jansons for the first weekend of my new festival in Latvia (together with Miguel Esteban). The Riga Jūrmala Music Festival is a major new event with four big weekends, each anchored by a leading international orchestra and conductor, with a range of symphonic and chamber concerts and solo recitals with leading stars. We settle on Susanna Mälkki, who is excellent and can do the same two programmes already announced with Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. I am looking forward to more time in the historic city of Riga and beautiful coastal resort of nearby Jūrmala this summer. The day ends on a rooftop terrace with some friends and a cognac from Armenia.

I spend half an hour in the gym before breakfast with jury colleagues. I read with concern about political unrest in Georgia. I am starting a new festival there in September with my old friend Avi Shoshani. It’s a small and wonderful country which doesn’t need instability. The festival is in Tsinandali, an hour from Tbilisi in an amazing region full of wineries and mountains. A little like Verbier. I work for a while before taking a bus to Tchaikovsky Hall for the finals. I really like the violinist Marc Bouchkov but he had a small memory lapse in the final movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto. A jury discussion follows about how much to take it into account when judging. We agree that this is up to each one of us to decide.

Another morning starts with 30 minutes in the gym, followed by breakfast with pianist Nelson Freire. The hotel where the violin jury is staying is also hosting the piano jury, so I keep bumping into lots of friends, especially at the breakfast buffet! I give an interview about the new Riga Jūrmala Music Festival. Later I place a flower at the statue of the ballerina Maya Plisetskaya and visit the Novodevichy Cemetery where most of the greatest composers, poets and other dignitaries of Russia are buried. Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s grave is carpeted in flowers. I head back to the hotel, change and then travel to the hall for more finals. The evening ends with dinner with Hervé Boissière from at my favourite Moscow restaurant, Pushkin.

Martin T:son Engstroëm© Aline Paley
Martin T:son Engstroëm © Aline Paley

I have breakfast with Akiko Suwanai, a fellow jury member. Our friendship goes back 20 years but I haven’t seen her recently so catching up is great. Three more press interviews, before tackling more emails on my crappy computer. Trying to think about which violinist I would like to see in top positions tonight. The jury is divided, so I consider how to manage a possible heated discussion. In the end it all goes smoothly without too much debate.

After the gym I have breakfast with another potential sponsor for the Verbier Festival. The pressure of finding over CHF10m (€9m) each year is major. I manage the fundraising mostly myself, it’s an ever present pressure. I take a trip to the supermarket to buy some black Russian bread, before catching the bus to the award ceremony at noon. All competitors, including those who competed in St Petersburg (cello, voice, brass and wood), are present. So many interesting young musicians are here: I really liked the young Japanese pianist Ma Fujita who took second prize in the piano competition and who I have been observing for some years. Back at the hotel I have tea with Jiatong Wu from China, a great friend and big promotor of classical music there. I catch the bus to Moscow’s new concert hall, the Zaryadye Hall, for the closing gala of the Tchaikovsky Competition and then take a 3am taxi to the airport.

I arrive back to my house near Vevey in Switzerland at 1pm. It’s boiling hot here, but I am happy to see my two girls Hannah and Rania. My wife, the violinist Blythe Teh Engstroëm, has concerts in Germany and will be back tomorrow. After some quality time together, we jump in the pool. The grass in the garden is too high for my liking so I cut it. I enjoy a late Swedish dinner with the kids.

Today starts early with catching up with the masses of emails I didn’t work on in Moscow. Then I have lunch with Hannah, Rania and also my oldest kids Sebastian and Jennie. Both have their own families now and I am a three-times grandfather.

Martin T:son Engstroëm is founder and director of Verbier Festival. He is also artistic director of the new Riga Jūrmala Music Festival in Latvia (19 July – 1 September) and the Tsinandali Festival in Georgia (8 – 22 September).

[On 29 June Sergey Dogadin (Russia) was named as the First Prize and Gold Medal winner in the violin category.]

This diary was published in the the August edition of IAM | |