Finding out he was the winner of a Russian classical music competition was a bittersweet experience for a Mexican pianist given his opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Anthony Tamayo won first place in the 19-30 age category of the Empire of Russian Music competition, for which musicians submitted their entries online. He also won a special prize for the best performance of a piece by an Italian composer.
The 29-year-old told the newspaper Reforma that he was notified of his victory on March 1, just five days after Russia began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“With the war, finding out I was the winner was a bucket of cold water,” he said. “On the inside I felt very proud but cold at the same time.”
Noting that he received some negative comments when he shared news of his victory on social media, Tamayo acknowledged that it’s not the best time to win a Russian competition.
He was also advised not to travel to Moscow, where prizes will be awarded and competition winners are scheduled to perform later this year. The pianist is supposed to receive a cash prize of 2,500 euros, but the competition organizers have warned there could be a delay due to the recent devaluation of the ruble.
Tamayo told Reforma that he condemns war and supports the people of Ukraine, including two Ukrainian musicians he met at previous international competitions.
“I’ve thought a lot about this prize, my first in Europe. I believe that art has nothing to do with war. I’m against war,” he said.
“I don’t think that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin needs to be murdering people in this way. I would say that he is a murderer,” said Tamayo, whose piano teacher is Russian.
Irina Shishinka is also a professor at the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City and was a member of the Empire of Russian Music jury, although she was barred from adjudicating her student’s performance.
When Tamayo submitted his entry to the competition Russian war drums were not yet beating, and the pianist was still recovering from a nasty injury.
When he recorded his solo piano piece, Tamayo was still in therapy for a serious fracture of a finger on his left hand that he suffered when he was hit by a bus. He needed surgery and without medical insurance had to come up with 70,000 pesos (US $3,450) to pay for it.
It was his last chance to participate in the Empire of Russian Music competition as Tamayo turns 30 this Friday and will be too old to participate in the next edition.
While it’s unlikely that he will travel to Moscow, the pianist hopes to perform at another concert the competition winners are slated to offer in Rome, Italy, in September. He made it clear that he believes that music – and art more broadly – is a force for good in the world.
“Artists are not causing this war,” Tamayo said. “Music knows no wars, borders or religions.”
With reports from Reforma