You may remember the story we posted several months ago announcing a new competition for countertenors. This âfirst of its kindâ competition just took place in Lugano, Switzerland from Sept. 8-11, 2011.
The Gianni Bergamo Classic Music Award was created to discover and encourag new young talent in various sectors of classical music. Gianni Bergamo, a retired CEO of various import/export, real estate, and finance companies in Switzerland and Italy, was originally a conducting and composition major in Milan at the Catholic University. After 30 years spent building a business career, he returned to his musical roots. In 1990, he began the Cultural Association âGli Amici Cantori,â an orchestra and chorus which performs sacred repertory throughout Italy. In 2007, he started the Gianni Bergamo Classic Music Award to be âa reference point and a solid support for talented young musicians from all over the world.â The competition alternates between composition, instrument/voice, and chamber music as its thematic category in any given year.
Countertenor hopefuls from around the globe sent in a rather demanding forty minute live demo DVD in hopes of claiming a portion of the 25,000 Euro in prizes. Â Gianni and his jury panel of two German countertenors, Daniel Gloger and Kai Wessel, and a director from Opernhaus ZĂźrich, Gudrun Hartmann, viewed the DVD submissions and selected twelve of these applicants to participate in the semifinals in Lugano, Switzerland.
These semifinalists came from all over the world, including parts of North and South America, Europe, and Africa. Most striking about this crop of countertenors was âthe level of musicianship and variety of programming,â as Gianni remarked at the end of the competition. A wide variety of countertenors were represented, in terms of vocal color, technique, and repertory. Some countertenors sang predominately lieder and mĂŠlodie programs, others more contemporary programs or music pre-1700, while others preferred sacred or operatic works. Whatever oneâs preference in a countertenor or their repertory, this competition revealed a rich cross-section of what the young countertenors of the world currently sound like. Sadly these proceedings were not well attended, perhaps not well advertised. Nonetheless, those who traveled to see (or sing in) this competition were in for a sonorous feast.
The Semifinals required each contestant to sing a public performance of 20-35 minutes in length. The program was chosen by the singers, but with at least 2 pieces composed before 1900 and one piece composed specifically for countertenor after 1900. Â Both a pianist and a harpsichordist were provided â pretty unique as competitions go! Most countertenors used both players for different pieces, depending on the stylistic demands. A few even chose to sing pieces a capella. These countertenors, displaying a resourceful nature, programmed music of fascinating variety. One would think that they would hear âI know a bank…â from Brittenâs A Midsummer Nightâs Dream in well over half of these programs, but the contestants pulled from modern repertory as widely varying as Argento, Adams, GyĂśrgy, and even Japanese songs by Takemitsu and Yamada. The pre-1900 repertory was delightfully diverse as well, chosen from such rarely performed composers as Broschi (Farinelliâs brother), Pistocchi (a 17th century Bolognese composer), Frescobaldi (rarely known for his vocal music) and Vivaldi (rarely performed only because of the lack of readily published vocal music). A few countertenors followed in the footsteps of Croatian countertenor Max Emanuel CenÄiÄ, programming pieces by Rossini â the typical pants role characters of Tancredi and Semiramide, but also Maometto II, which is rarely performed.
After two days of performances, the judges chose six finalists to perform a second program of similar length with no repertory restrictions. Third prize went to the American, Andrew Rader, a graduate of the Early Music Institute at Indiana University. Andrew sang an impressive program, predominately art song, with clear, crisp diction (especially his German), and a full resonant sound. His voice preferred the higher repertory. He also blogged his way through the competition. Â Second prize went to the young Polish countertenor Jan Monowid (not pictured, needs a website!) â who possesed a rather full alto voice well suited to the early Baroque â singing the impressive scena-like aria âE pur io tornoâ from Monteverdiâs lâIncoronazione di Poppea. First prize went to South African countertenor Christopher Ainslie, who is already enjoying a career in Europe and America. Ainslie possessed a full voice capable of great drama. He sang a wide variety of music, from Dowlandâs âIn Darkness let me dwellâ to the aria âDawn, still darknessâ from Jonathan Doveâs Flight.
In recent years, the countertenor voice has gained increasing acceptance in mainstream singing competitions. This was the first time, however, that a competition focused entirely on the countertenor voice-type, and we at The Countertenor Voice say itâs about time!
The prize-winnerâs final programs:
(FIRST) Christopher Ainslie:
J. Dowland: In darkness let me dwell (with harpsichord)
G.F. Handel: Furibondo from Partenope (with harpsichord)
W.A. Mozart: Vadasi…GiĂ daglâocchi from Mitridate, re di Ponto (with piano)
G. Mahler: Ich atmetâ einen linden Duft (with piano)
J. Dove: Dawn, still darkness from Flight (with piano)
(SECOND) Jan Monowid:
G. Frescobaldi: Cosa mi disprezzate (with harpsichord)
C. Monteverdi: E pur io torno from Lâincoronazione di Poppea (with harpsichord)
G.F. Handel: Vanne, sorella ingrata from Radamisto (with harpsichord)
Baird: Jakze podobna zimie jest rozlaka (with piano)
G. Rossini: O patria…di tanti palpiti (with piano)
(THIRD) Andrew Rader:
All selections with piano
Thomas: Me voici dans son boudoir from Mignon
Zemlinsky: I. Die drei Schwestern from Sechs GesĂ¤nge nach Texten von Maurice Maeterlinck
D. Milhaud: I. Chant de Nourrice from PoĂ¨mes juifs
E. Wolf-Ferrari: III. E tanto câĂ¨ pericol châio ti lasci from Quattro rispetta
T. Takemitsu: Chilsana Heya de
F. Schubert: Der Tod und das MĂ¤dchen
R. Strauss: Zueignung