Prize-Winner from Mongolia

Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar, winner of first prize in the male-vocalist category in the fifteenth International Tchaikovsky Competition, held in Moscow and St. Petersburg last summer, and winner of the competition’s Grand Prix, for over-all excellence, is a tall and rangy young guy. Offstage, he wears jeans, a dark shirt, a thin quilted vest, and shiny black ankle boots. Onstage, he wears black tie, which his shock of black hair complements. He walks with the confidence of someone whom the world is discovering and vice versa. No Mongolian has ever won the competition before. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Ganbaatar made his American début at Carnegie Hall, in the Tchaikovsky Competition Winners’ Recital, along with the first-prize recipients for cello, female vocalist, and piano.
He talked to reporters in his dressing room beforehand. A young woman, Nomundari Baatar, who is a junior at N.Y.U. majoring in math and economics, translated from Mongolian. He said he was born in a rural area west of Ulan Bator, in 1988. His father named him Ariunbaatar, which means “Pure Hero.” His friends call him Ariuka. The family are nomads, herding cows, sheep, and goats over a range of about four hundred kilometres on the steppe, except in the winter, when they move to apartments in Ulan Bator. They use horses, and motorcycles of Japanese and Chinese manufacture, which he knows how to repair. He began singing folk songs when he was seven. The Mongolian people have hundreds of folk songs about nature, love, and loneliness; some of them are many centuries old and go back to Genghis Khan.
When he was seventeen, he was admitted to the Mongolian State University of Culture and the Arts and began to take singing lessons. Because of a lack of money, he left after two years. He then became a traffic policeman. The police department of Ulan Bator has a men’s chorus that performs all over Mongolia and sometimes in Russia. He became a soloist in the chorus. During a performance in Ulan Ude, capital of the Republic of Buryatia, in Siberia, staff members from the Buryat State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre heard him and invited him to join. For the past year, he has been a singer at the theatre, dividing his time between apartments in Ulan Ude and Ulan Bator. He has been to New York City once before; on that visit he stood in front of the Metropolitan Opera House and put his hands together and prayed that someday he would sing there. Now, he said, he needed to eat his lunch—a paper cup of soup and half a sandwich from a nearby deli—so that he would have an hour between when he finished eating and when he performed.
Valery Gergiev, the conductor, who is the co-chair of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, hosted the sold-out recital. He told the audience that in eleven million viewing sessions people in a hundred and eighty-six countries had watched the competition on the channel and had spent an average of an hour and twenty-nine minutes on each visit. He introduced the winners: Andrei Ionuț Ioniță, from Romania, on cello; Yulia Matochkina, from Russia, vocalist; Dmitry Masleev, also from Russia (and, remarkably, also from Ulan Ude), on piano; and Ganbaatar. All got big applause and callbacks for their performances. Ganbaatar sang “Silence of the Secret Night,” by Rachmaninoff, and “I love you beyond measure,” from Tchaikovsky’s opera “The Queen of Spades.” In the exuberance afterward, admirers said, “Ganbaatar goes inside the music,” and “He’s got soul,” and “If the Met knows what it is doing, it will grab him.”

At a post-concert luncheon at the hall’s Weill Terrace, the radio host Naomi Lewin interviewed Ganbaatar as prelude to a brief encore. She asked what was the first opera he ever saw. He said it was an opera on television. She pressed: which opera? He did not want to say. Then he admitted it was a cartoon: “Tom and Jerry.” Baatar, the translator, explained that the “Tom and Jerry” episode in which Jerry, the mouse, sings “Figaro” appears often on TV in Mongolia. Ganbaatar, a baritone, then sang the “Figaro” aria for the guests. Somehow the “Tom and Jerry” influence showed—he rocked the joint. An American composer at Table 7, who had to turn his chair around to watch, turned back to the table with tears in his eyes and declared Ganbaatar the real thing. As the afternoon ended, Gergiev told the guests, “These young musicians will come back to New York and to Carnegie Hall many, many times, and this will be remembered as the first time that they were here.” 

Source:New Yorker


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