Andrey Lebedev also took the prize for his performance of the commissioned work at Germany’s top music contest.

Australian guitarist Andrey Lebedev has won Third Prize at the ARD International Music Competition in Munich. With no First Prize awarded, the Second Prize went jointly to Junhong Kuang from China and Swiss Italian guitarist Davide Giovanni Tomasi. Lebedev also won the prize for the Best Interpretation of the Commissioned Piece – Interfret für Gitarre by the Slovenian composer Vito Žuraj.

Andrey Lebedev

The ARD is the largest international classical music competition in Germany and has been a fixture on the circuit since 1952 (and held annually for the last 24 years). In the past, the ARD has featured singers, pianists, violinists, violists, brass players and oboists, but this was the first year it was opened up to guitarists. Lebedev was one of 89 participants and the only Australian aside from oboist Zhiyu Xu, who finished unplaced.

“I try not to take competitions too seriously,” the Adelaide-born Lebedev told Limelight following his win. “Competitions are an imperfect medium to encourage artistic excellence, and although they offer golden opportunities for recognition, being a successful artist in the long term requires much more. On the one hand it is a nice boost of confidence to gain this kind of acknowledgment, but on the other, I don’t want to become complacent in my skills as a guitarist or creative thinker.”

The ARD is well known for its ambitious and strict repertoire requirements. In addition to the commissioned work and two pieces of their own choosing, each competitor had to perform one work each from lists of Renaissance repertoire, Classical/Romantic repertoire, Sonatas and 20th/21st century contemporary works, as well as a quintet by either Eugène Bozza or Castelnuovo-Tedesco. If they made it to the final, they also had to choose one of four concertos by Ohana, Ponce, Villa-Lobos or Rodrigo. With the exception of the commissioned piece, all works had to be played from memory.

ARD 2017 Winners (Lebedev second from right)

“My solo repertoire was Fantasia 1a by Dowland, Réverie Nocturne by Guilio Regondi, Sonata for Guitar by Alberto Ginastera, Sonata No 5 by Leo Brouwer, Sequenza XI by Luciano Berio and Collectici Intim by Vicente Asencio,” Lebedev explained. “I was the only competitor in the semi-finals to choose the Bozza Quintet. Learning the Bozza was quite a journey in itself because there was not a single recording available, online or commercially, so I had to discover it from the ground up.”

Having made the final, Lebedev chose the Rodrigo, not so much for its popularity but for its inherently musical qualities. “It was the concerto on the list for which I think the sound of the guitar is integral to the concept,” he said. “If you replaced the guitar with a piano or a violin, you would lose the essence of the music. And of course, the second movement is incredible! I think it is the most moving piece in the entire guitar repertoire.”

“I communicated the piece as I had imagined it,” he said when asked how he felt it had gone. “It’s not every day one has the chance to play with an orchestra of such a level and I wanted to use the chance to shape the piece as I think it should be.”

Lebedev playing Eugene Bozza’s Concertino de Camera with the Novus String Quartet

Lebedev recently came fourth in the GFA (Guitar Foundation of America) but placing in the ARD is possibly his most significant win to date. “It is certainly my biggest win on an international platform,” he said. “I have won several important prizes around Australia and NZ (notably the Gisborne International Music Competition in 2013), but the reputation of ARD is unparalleled by any international competition for which the guitar is eligible.”

Indeed, previous ARD winners have included Ivan Rebrov (in 1952) Heinz Holliger (1961) as well as Jessye Norman, Francisco Araiza, Mitsuko Uchida, Thomas Quasthoff, Yuri Bashmet, Christian Tetzlaff and Maurice André.

“The ARD Competition provides an independent approval of quality, which I hope will mean audiences trust me as I venture into more adventurous territory,” said Lebedev, whose reputation in contemporary music has seen him premiere solo works by Harrison Birtwistle and Leo Brouwer as well as introducing chamber music by Australians from Peter Sculthorpe to Brett Dean.

Playing Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranguez at the finals with the Münchner Runfunkorchester

“Over the last few years, as well as exploring the classical repertoire, I have become fascinated by improvisation, composition, and the intersection of genres (classical and jazz in particular). However, this musical area is often met with scepticism and reluctance from concert promoters. Programming a concert, which does not neatly fit into a genre-category is a huge risk for organisers – it’s safer to programme a Schubert quintet for a classical audience, or a piano trio for a jazz audience – so my hope is that, with this acknowledgement by the ARD, organisers might be willing to take a risk on a new project of mine.”

“I also hope it might give me a platform to perform more regularly with orchestra,” he added. “It’s a rare opportunity as a guitarist, but an extremely powerful platform to move an audience. The dynamics, scope of colours, timbres, interlocking parts, and unity of vision is electrifying!”