Bergamo European Countertenor Competition Winners Announced

By  | October 6, 2011 | 7 Comments | Filed under: Features

From South Africa, Christopher Ainslie, First Prize

From America, Andrew Rader, Third Prize

You may remember the story we posted several months ago announcing a new competition for countertenors. This ‘first of its kind’ 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 “Gli Amici Cantori,” an orchestra and chorus which performs sacred repertory throughout Italy. In 2007, he started the Gianni Bergamo Classic Music Award to be “a reference point and a solid support for talented young musicians from all over the world.” 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.  Gianni and his jury panel of two German countertenors, Daniel Gloger and Kai Wessel, and a director from Opernhaus Zürich, 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 “the level of musicianship and variety of programming,” 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 mélodie programs, others more contemporary programs or music pre-1700, while others preferred sacred or operatic works. Whatever one’s 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.  Both a pianist and a harpsichordist were provided – 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 “I know a bank…” from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in well over half of these programs, but the contestants pulled from modern repertory as widely varying as Argento, Adams, György, 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 (Farinelli’s 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 Cenčić, programming pieces by Rossini – 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.  Second prize went to the young Polish countertenor Jan Monowid (not pictured, needs a website!) – who possesed a rather full alto voice well suited to the early Baroque – singing the impressive scena-like aria “E pur io torno” from Monteverdi’s l’Incoronazione 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 Dowland’s “In Darkness let me dwell” to the aria “Dawn, still darkness” from Jonathan Dove’s 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 it’s about time!

The prize-winner’s 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…Già dagl’occhi from Mitridate, re di Ponto (with piano)
G. Mahler: Ich atmet’ 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 L’incoronazione 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 Gesänge nach Texten von Maurice Maeterlinck
D. Milhaud: I. Chant de Nourrice from Poèmes juifs
E. Wolf-Ferrari: III. E tanto c’è pericol ch’io ti lasci from Quattro rispetta
T. Takemitsu: Chilsana Heya de
F. Schubert: Der Tod und das Mädchen
R. Strauss: Zueignung

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Nicholas Tamagna is a countertenor based in New York NY. He regularly performs as a concert and operatic soloist regionally throughout the US. He was educated at Manhattan School of Music and City University of New York at Hunter College and is the recent recipient of the Nico Castel Mastersinger Award. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

  • Tosh

    Signor Monowid is one of the most talented Polish alto singers. Now he prepares for Tirinto in Imeneo – a role that demands almost 2-octave range and virtuosity.

  • Sergey

    Thanks for your article! It is a bit strange that there is so little information about this competition on the Web (no concert schedules, no competitors lists, etc.) so it is very interesting to read a first-hand review :) By the way, Jan Monowid’s picture could be found here, for example:

  • http://none H. M. Green

    I have greatly enjoyed the article on the CT winners. I enjoy reading about the newest countertenors today. I “grew up” listening to Russell Oberlin and have listened to him while in college (BA in music) and my military career. Please keep up the excellent work since this is one of the very few places to receive information on the countertenors of today.

    I never really used my music degree mainly due to military service, stroke and COPD. I’m now just an “armchair” musician and almost 70.

    Through the internet and you tube I have been brought “up to speed” in the music world and the countertenor voice.

    Bless you and your excellent work !!!

    • Nicholas Tamagna

      Thank you so much for your support for our journal. We truly appreciate your readership!

      Nicholas Tamagna

  • Giles Pilgrim Morris

    Thanks for a well-written and very informative article. Including the final programmes for the top three provides a useful insight, too.

    • Ian Howell

      Welcome Giles, thanks for commenting on Nicholas’ piece. I hope you’ll stick around and read some of our other articles. :-)


      • Nicholas Tamagna

        Thank you Giles! Hope you enjoyed this month’s issue!