The José Iturbi International Music Competition completed its inaugural edition this past weekend at the University of California at Los Angeles, with young pianists and singers from 15 countries contending for a total of $268,000 in prize money.
The new event is not to be confused with the José Iturbi International Piano Competition, founded in 1981 and held every two years in Valencia, Spain.
In keeping with the mission of the Los Angeles-based José Iturbi Foundation "to make classical music accessible and enjoyable to people of all ages and walks of life," audiences were invited to attend the competition rounds free of charge. In addition, the Foundation made a point of including Spanish works in the mandatory repertoire, and the vocal contestants were required to sing music by George Gershwin and Cole Porter in addition to more standard opera and art song fare.
In reporting on the first Iturbi Music Competition, the Associated Press described the event as incorporating elements of the wildly popular television show American Idol. In fact, the report was referring to the vote for an audience prize (here called the People's Choice Award), a feature common to many music competitions.
In the vocal category, which held finals on Friday night (June 22), 31-year-old soprano Karen Slack won the $50,000 first prize. A native of Philadelphia and a graduate of the Curtis Institute, Slack has already won the Rosa Ponselle International Competition and a George London Foundation Award (both in 2000); in March of 2006 she had a notable success at the Metropolitan Opera as a short-notice substitute in the title role of Verdi's Luisa Miller, broadcast internationally on the radio.
26-year-old tenor David Lomelí of Mexico City won both the $25,000 second prize and the $10,000 People's Choice Award. Last fall he took the top prize for male singers in both opera and male zarzuela categories at Plácido Domingo's Operalia competition, the first contestant ever to do so.
Third prize for singers ($15,000) went to 28-year-old Jamie Chamberlain, an alumna of the graduate school at UCLA and the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco. A $10,000 prize for the best performance of Spanish music went to 29-year-old American baritone Michael Todd Simpson.
Among the pianists, both the $50,000 first prize and the $10,000 People's Choice Award went to 30-year-old California native Rufus Choi, who has bachelor's and master's degrees from The Juilliard School. Anastasia Markina, a 29-year-old native of St. Petersburg, Russia, who now lives and studies at the University of North Texas, won the $25,000 second prize. 26-year-old Evgeny Brakhman of Russia took the $15,000 third prize, and 29-year-old Spaniard Angel Cabrera received the $10,000 Spanish Prize.
The judges for the inaugural Iturbi Music Competition were a famous bunch. Chairing the vocal jury was countertenor superstar David Daniels; his fellow jurors were baritone Rod Gilfry and soprano Juliana Gondek, both Los Angelenos. The piano jury included international concert artist Daniel Pollack (chairman), pianist and pedagogue Vitaly Margulis and composer/pianist Bruce Sutherland.