MOSCOW'S MUSICAL COMPETITION
New York Times Review
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: December 3, 1986
TONIGHT'S presentation of ''The Eighth International Tchaikovsky Competition'' on Channel 13 at 10 doesn't hold many surprises. The competition ended last summer, and it is no secret that the winners were Barry Douglas of Northern Ireland for piano and Raphael Oleg of France and Ilya Kaler of the Soviet Union in a tie for violin. And, as is not uncommon in such art ventures, the production reaches for sports analogies as it focuses on the intense training and pressures connected with what has been called ''the Olympics of music.'' We have been through this territory before, not least in the documentary that was done four years ago, ''The Seventh International Tchaikovsky Competition.''
Nevertheless, as directed by Bill Fertik, this record of what are truly unusual proceedings does add up to compelling stuff. Mr. Fertik is perhaps best known for a film version of Ravel's ''Bolero'' that he did years ago. This new 90-minute documentary - co-produced by Robert Dalrymple and KCET in Los Angeles in association with Armand Hammer Productions - is another example of intelligent organization and pacing. Following several young performers through the grueling three rounds of the competition, spread over three and a half weeks, the film captures the intense emotions of the occasion while skillfully blending interviews with portions of performances.
The competition is held in Moscow, and the public's interest does appear to be keen. Radio and television cover the proceedings. It is little wonder that, as Mr. Douglas notes, ''if you win, people sit up and take notice.'' The performers must face not only some 18 judges but also audiences who are clearly knowledgeable and committed. A couple of the most memorable moments in this film are the most painful: a violinist finishing his piece to what sounds like one hand clapping, and a pianist having to leave the stage after failing twice to get beyond the opening notes of his presentation.
Old criticisms of the Soviet event and methods are rehashed. It is noted that a great majority of the judges are from the Soviet Union or Eastern bloc countries. One young Western performer delicately asks, ''Wouldn't you say the odds are somewhat against you?'' And then there is the argument about Western individualistic styles versus Eastern regimentation or homogenization. One American, on the side of self-expression, contends that ''if every note is perfect and it sounds like the sort of thing that, well, wins competitions, then it's not good enough.'' Another believes, for that same reason, that ''Glenn Gould and the young Horowitz would never get to the second round.''
Significantly, it is Mr. Douglas, 26 years old, who refuses to buy that view, maintaining that skill and personality are ultimately inseparable. He observes that ''Russian pianists are so fantastic you have to be jolly good to beat them.'' And, of course, he goes on to demonstrate what he is talking about in his playing of Mussorgsky's ''Pictures at an Exhibition'' and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. Actually, Mr. Douglas contradicts the ''do or die'' breathlessness of the film. In the 1982 competition he didn't get past the first round. ''I went for the experience, so I wasn't really disappointed,'' he says. Four years later, he displays the strength and sensitivity that leave many in the audience talking about how, for a foreigner, ''Doog-lass'' is so ''attentive'' to the nuances of Russian music.
Mr. Douglas would indeed appear to be jolly good. But then so do most of the others who have made it to this competition. The film captures quite vividly the heartbreak as well as the triumph.
DIRECTOR WRITER Bill Fertik
EXECUTIVE IN CHARGE OF PRODUCTION
Debra C. Horvath
EDITOR Brian Williams
MUSIC Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Moscow Radio Orchestra
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Juan A. Barrera