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(Image courtesy: Queen Elisabeth Competition)

Why Queen Elisabeth Competition’s 2024 Winner Declined Juror’s Hand Shake

Ukrainian violinist Dmytro Udovychenko did not shake Russian jury member Vadim Repin’s hand after winning, telling The Violin Channel that “ethically, [he felt it was] not the right thing [to do]”

 

Also a former major prize winner at the Montreal, Sibelius, Singapore, and Joachim International Violin Competitions, 25-year-old VC Young Artist violinist Dmytro Udovychenko was awarded first prize at the 2024 Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition, in Belgium, this week.

After the final round with the Belgian National Orchestra and conductor Antony Hermus, Udovychenko was announced as the first-prize winner at the award ceremony. As per decorum, he approached the jury to shake the hands of each panel member. 

Though he shook the hands of the other jury members, Udovychenko openly did not shake the hand of Vadim Repin, a Russian-born Belgian violinist. At the age of 17, Repin was the youngest violinist to win the Queen Elisabeth Competition, which had an indelible impact on his career.

 

 

In an interview with The Violin Channel this week, Dmytro told us, "this is just not a matter of any politics for me and I have personally nothing against Maestro Repin himself. He is a wonderful musician and part of the great history of this competition. But just ethically, I felt this was not the right thing to do.

“For me, whose parents are probably right now under bombing in the City of Kharkov (also known as Kharkiv) by the Russian Federation, to shake the hand of the person who [directs] a festival in the Russian Federation, supported by the Cultural Ministry of the Russian Federation...I just didn't feel that [it would be] the right thing [to do],” he said. 

 

In April 2022, Vadim Repin received the People’s Artist of Russia from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Rubryka News, in Ukraine, also reported that Repin’s wife, the Ukrainian-born Russian prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova, is a member of Putin’s United Russia party — the country’s ruling party that supported its invasion of Ukraine. She has been closely associated with the Putin administration and was scheduled to perform at the Seoul Arts Center in April when the shows were withdrawn.

In 2014, Repin became the founder and Artistic Director of the annual Transsiberian Arts Festival — a Russian forum held in Russian cities and abroad, which is funded by the Governor and the government of Russia’s Novosibirsk region.

 

 

Additionally, Udovychenko’s father wrote on social media, further explaining the situation. “Allow me a short comment for those who think Dmytro's actions during the award ceremony are unworthy. When Dmytro was already in Brussels, we sometimes talked with him in the evenings. At this time, another Russian offensive on Kharkiv was actively underway, shelling the city with rockets and bombs."

During these phone calls, Dmytro "repeatedly heard the sounds of explosions… Naturally, Dmytro was stressed and worried," his father added.

“Thank goodness, a week of isolation before the final allowed him to be in silence and off the internet .. although... it’s unlikely that he stopped thinking about what is going on in his home,” he concluded.

 

 

The outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2022 drew polarizing reactions worldwide. In the classical music industry, artists such as Russian Soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev were pulled out of concerts unless they publicly condemned the war. Over March 2022, Gergiev was dropped from various festivals and orchestras, as well as from other cultural institutions. Netrebko was also withdrawn from multiple concerts in Europe and the U.S., and was later withdrawn from engagements in Russia. In 2023, she sued the Metropolitan Opera for defamation

 

Udovychenko’s decision not to shake Repin’s hand at the award ceremony has since prompted differing responses from those in classical music.

“The level of competition is great!!” posted Alexei Moshkov, Concertmaster of the Belgian National Orchestra (which played with the finalists), on Facebook. “The behavior after ranking - shitty! Disgusting….”

Conversely, Georgian-born German violin soloist Lisa Batiashvili on Facebook: “Congratulations to Dmitro Udovychenko on winning first prize of the 2024 Queen Elisabeth Competition! If the European society accepts the attitude of Russian artists who have not clearly expressed themselves against the aggressions of the Russian government and their military — particularly during the invasion in Ukraine — and are residing European cities, getting fees, raising children, and at the same time are still active in their homeland Russia, where all cultural events are more or less strongly tied with Putin and his allies, why don’t we accept and respect the decision of a young Ukrainian musician, whose country has been by now entirely destroyed, hundreds of thousands killed, tortured, deported to Russia, etc … to refuse shaking hands with a Russian jury member?”

“As a European citizen, I hope we can be grateful for what we have and protect the values that we aspire to represent,” she continued. “Skepticism, ignorance, indifference, or false and naive statements have no place in today’s world.”

 

In March 2022, a few days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Queen Elisabeth Competition made a statement condemning the conflict, and later announced that Russian pianists would be allowed to compete, citing that it has been “renowned for its openness and for bringing people together through sharing music,” and that “artists from all over the world have always found a warm welcome here, even in the toughest days of the Cold War.”

Dmytro trained at the Kharkiv Specialized Music Boarding School under Ludmila Varenina and the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, studying with Boris Garlitsky. He has also attended the masterclasses of Ana Chumachenco, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Stephan Picard, and Leonidas Kavakos. In 2022, he was accepted into the class of Christian Tetzlaff at the Kronberg AcademyFor his performances at the 2024 Queen Elisabeth Competition, click here.

While other Ukrainian artists such as violinist Oleksii Semenenko won second prize in 2015, and cellist Oleksii Shadrin won the fourth prize in 2022, this year is the first time that a Ukrainian violinist has won first place at the Queen Elisabeth Competition. 

 

The Violin Channel has reached out to the Queen Elisabeth Competition and to Vadim Repin's management and has yet to receive any comment.

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