Guest article by Shirley Smith Kirsten

Facebook was abuzz with reminders of George Li’s touchdown in the Bay Area’s glittering Davies concert hall, a venue that absorbs a splash of pastel beams from the neighboring flagship government building. Glass panels reflect back montages of color that provide a rush of excitement for ticket holders slipping into seats right under the bell.

FB “friends” and faithful George “followers” were page-alerted to a ‘meet and greet’ event in the lobby following the recital. It would be a shower of support for a pianist we’d seen and heard by livestream from exotic locations including Moscow and Verbier. Frames in progress had included George’s Silver Medal triumph at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, magnified on computer screens around the world!

***

The Back Story

From my humble perch in Berkeley, I’d set aside 75 conscientious minutes to get to Davies Hall. It was a conservative travel measure, given lax Sunday train schedules and my propensity to get mired in Civic Center traffic as a clueless pedestrian in foreign urban terrain. (San Francisco’s maze of complex street crossings and intersections, bundled in congestion, had always seriously confused me, impeding on-foot progress in any direction).

Yet, despite well-intended, precautionary travel efforts, I couldn’t have anticipated a vexing single platform BART crisis that launched a crescendo of complications right up to my shaky finish line arrival at Davies. There, at its entrance, my concert companion/adult piano student stood patiently, dispatching block-to-block text messages to keep me on track.

With good luck and concerted teamwork, we made it to our first tier balcony seats just as George advanced toward a shining model D Steinway grand.

It was a pure bliss erasure of prior travails:

Melted deceptive cadences rippled through a crystalline rendering of Haydn’s B minor Sonata (No. 30) as trills and ornaments immaculately decorated clear melodic lines in a liquid outpouring of phrases. The middle Minuet movement was charmingly played passing with grace to a culminating Presto in brisk, bravura tempo with unswerving attention to line, shape, and contour.

Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata in F minor, op. 57, followed with tonal variation and keen structural awareness. The performance was both gripping and directional, wrapped in ethereal tonal expression.

Li’s singular sound autograph permeates his performances amidst an array of varying nuances and articulations. He has what pianist, Uchida terms “charisma” and a singular tonal personality.

Meaning and musical context are core ingredients of Li’s artistry and his wide palette of colors are at his liquid disposal through deeply felt effusions of expression. (While Li is a natural, intuitional performer, his sensitive fusion of aesthetics and intellect is always on display, exposed, as well in media interviews.)

A Presto Classical set of queries elicited thoughtful responses.

http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/interview/1893/George-Li-Live-at-the-Mariinsky

***

The Davies Hall recital, continued after Intermission with a rippling roll-out of works by Rachmaninoff and Liszt, all imbued with a permeating spirit of mature music-making that’s intrinsic to Li’s ongoing ripening process. And as a cap to a memorable evening of inspired artistry, George played his final encore – a pyro-technically charged Bizet/Carmen transcription that drove listeners to their feet in a chorus of BRAVOS!!!

(This snapshot was provided by a friend who had permission to publicly post it, thanks to Li’s generosity and that of his representatives)

In a culminating MEET and GREET event, post-recital, audience members had an opportunity to share IN PERSON enthusiasm and appreciation of George’s artistry, while purchasing the artist’s newly released CD.

For me, a tete a tete with George, provided an opportunity to thank him for his generosity as a teen when he delivered well-conceived responses to my reams of technically framed questions about practicing, technique, and repertoire.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/my-interview-with-george-li-a-seasoned-pianist-at-16/

Finally, here’s an encore of gratitude to George for his inspired love of music, and for his reach into our hearts with each memorable performance. Come back soon!


 

Shirley Smith Kirsten is an American pianist and teacher who blogs at arioso7.wordpress.com


Turkish pianist Can Çakmur has been named the 11th winner of the Scottish International Piano Competition (SIPC).

The 20-year-old receives £10,000, the Sir Alexander Stone Memorial Trophy and the Frederic Lamond Gold Medal, and will perform with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in their 2018/19 season.

Born in 1997 in Ankara, Can Çakmur has studied at the Hochschule für Music Franz Liszt Weimar, and with Diane Andersen in Belgium. He had won a number of international competitions and awards, appeared in major festivals throughout his native Turkey, and performed as soloist throughout Europe.

Held as a triennial event, the Scottish International Piano Competition this year welcomed 23 competitors from 15 countries across 3 continents. The panel of 8 jurors included internationally acclaimed pianists Steven Osborne and Olga Kern and was chaired by Head of Keyboard at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Aaron Shorr.

Second Prize of £7,500 and the Lawrence Glover Silver Medal went to Florian Mitrea, 27, from Romania. Florian also won best performance of Gordon McPherson’s The Pounding Room, a new work commissioned as the test piece for this year’s competition. Georgian born Luka Okros, 20, now based in the UK, took home the Third prize of £5000 and The Douglas McKerrell Memorial Prize. Finalists prizes were supported by SIPC Patrons and Friends, Merchants House of Glasgow, the McKerrell family and Arnold Clark.

The three finalists all performed a concerto on a Fazioli piano with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, under Thomas Søndergård, at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Sunday 10 September. This is the first time a Fazioli piano has been the choice of piano for 100% of the finalists in an international competition.

The concert, dedicated to the memory of Lady Marion Fraser, was recorded by SIPC media partner Classic FM for a Full Works concert to be broadcast at 8pm on Tuesday 19 September 2017. Videos of the performances can be watched here: 
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDefVF-0-xILpoh-Sxki9xA/videos

Since launching in 1986, the competition has enabled many talented young musicians to gain recognition at an early stage in their professional careers, many of whom have gone on to international acclaim including Tom Poster (2007), Katya Apekisheva (1998), Charles Owen (1995), Susan Tomes (second prize 1986) and Graeme McNaught (first ever winner 1986).

Held under the auspices of the World Federation of International Music Competitions, SIPC is only one of three major international piano competitions held in the UK, and the only one in Scotland.

Source: Vicky Pitchers Arts PR

Photo ©Robin Mitchell 

Applications are now open for the Dudley International Piano Competition 2017

2017 marks 50 years since the Dudley International Piano Competition (DIPC) was first suggested. It then evolved in 1968 from piano classes at the Dudley Festival of Music and Drama, with a concerto final, and was held annually until 1989 when it became a biennial event and from 1991 to 1995 it was opened to competitors from overseas. The Dudley International Piano Competition then took a break and re-emerged in 2000 as a competition with a recital final open to pianists of all nationalities studying or resident in the British Isles.

Many past winners, including Benjamin Frith, Andrew Wilde, Graham Scott, Paul Lewis and Mishka Rushdie Momen have gone on to establish successful careers and past competitors have included internationally acclaimed pianists Ian Hobson, Peter Donohoe, Joanna MacGregor and Timothy Horton.

The 2017 competition once again features a concerto final at the world famous Symphony Hall, Birmingham, accompanied by the internationally renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Seal.

The jury, chaired by Gordon Fergus-Thompson, consists of distinguished pianists and teachers, including John Humphreys, Andrew Wilde, Siva Oke and Lucy Parham.

The deadline for entries for the 2017 competition is 9th June 2017. Please visit the DIPC enter page for more information.

PRIZES 2017

Concerto performance opportunity for the three finalists at Symphony Hall, Birmingham with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

£4,000 1st Prize
£3,000 2nd Prize
£2,000 3rd Prize

£750 4th Prize

£250 Audience Prize

£250 each semi final prizes

Somm Debut CD Recording
(to be offered at the discretion of Siva Oke)

Full details of the competition can be found on the DIPC website

winner14

The next edition of the Scottish International Piano Competition will take place 1-10 September 2017. This prestigious competition, which takes place every three years, attracts many of the world’s brilliant young pianists to Scotland.

Thirty competitors, aged 18-30, will take part in a series of recital programmes and a concerto final before an international jury of musicians and pianists chaired by Professor Aaron Shorr, Head of Keyboard and Collaborative Piano at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS).

Ten competitors then take part in the semi-final and from these three are selected to play a concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Sondergard, in the final round. The first prize of £10,000 carries with it the Frederic Lamond Gold Medal and an invitation to perform with the RSNO in their 2018 season.

Each round of the Competition will be played on a different piano: a Bosendorfer, a Fazioli and a Steinway, each generously provided by the manufacturer, which creates a variety of experience for the competitors and the audience.

The semifinalists will also perform a newly commissioned work by Gordon McPherson, Head of Composition at RCS, which provides a particularly intriguing challenge as pianists will have to interpret the new piece through the printed music alone. Commissioning new works has been an integral part of past Scottish International Piano Competition and has involved composers including Thea Musgrave and Rory Boyle.

logoSince launching in 1986, the competition has enabled many talented young musicians to gain recognition at an early stage in their professional careers, many of whom have gone on to international acclaim including Tom Poster (2007), Katya Apekisheva (1998), Charles Owen (1995), Susan Tomes (second prize, 1986) and Graeme McNaught (first ever winner, 1986)

The closing date for applications is 31 March 2017.

www.scottishinternationalpianocompetition.com

 

Competitions are for horses, not artists

Bela Bartok

Whether or not you agree with Bartok’s statement, or indeed approve of music competitions, they are an integral part of the culture and landscape for today’s up and coming musicians. Major competitions such as the International Tchaikovsky Competition (held every 4 years), the Leeds International Piano Competition (every three years) or the Chopin Competition (every five years) reveal new talent and have launched the international careers of some of the finest pianists active today. The competition format is by no means perfect – for some it is a highly subjective and artificial way of judging musical talent – and it comes as no surprise that some feel moved to comment on the system, including these recent observations on a blog by Pavel Kolesnikov, the young Russian pianist who himself was Prize Laureate of the Honens Competition in 2012.

British pianist Peter Donohoe, recipient of the Silver Medal in the 1982 International Tchaikovsky Competition, serves on the juries and adjudicating panels of many piano competitions worldwide and has years of experience in this particular sphere of the international piano world. Here he responds to Pavel Kolesnikov’s comments:

I think the anti-competition lobby needs to be very careful not to tar us all with the same brush. Competition prizes have sometimes been won by people who have gone on to make great contributions to the world of music, and in most cases they would not have been in a position to do so without those prizes. On the other hand, some juries have obviously been better than others, and results speak for themselves.

The degree to which the organisers of competitions have been clueless, thoughtless, arrogant, self-important, financially motivated, and interested in neither young musicians nor indeed music is variable, and needs to be balanced against the number of genuinely concerned people who want their competition to contribute to the music world, to make a good future for those who enter, to help those who do not win, and to work tirelessly to improve year after year the way their events are organised.

I have to say that the majority of those who have invited me on their juries have been members of the latter group, and I may have many faults, but naïveté is not one of them.

I have had issues with certain of the results to which have contributed a single vote, but that is either because I was wrong – or at least in a minority – or it is a flaw in the democratic voting system, which is, I promise, virtually impossible to make work totally fairly. After all, my own country has just had a referendum, so many people have had a taste of what happens when you consult a group of people with varying degrees of knowledge about a specific result.

We are trying, I promise, to make the system better and better. There is after all now no effective alternative for young musicians – other than comprising yourself of a good business opportunity for large companies, connections, financial backing, networking and good luck. There are too many, for sure, there are some very strange results sometimes, and jury members vary in their ability to spot potential long term talent – the choice of jury members is of course a testament to the quality of those running the competition.

But by and large they are good things, they are occasionally great things, they create goals for young people, stimulate media and public interest, and are a representation of life in the real world once you leave the protection of family and teachers.

That some people let the system down is almost inevitable, but please don’t give the impression that all prize winners have won because of their teacher being a jury member, or that we are all as stupid and manipulative as that unfortunate minority who apparently spoil it for everyone else. I could point out that I had never met any of the 1982 Moscow jury – in fact I had never even heard of most of them, and there was no jury member from the UK at all – so I have a personal reason for railing against the widely-held view that competition prize winners are by definition well connected.

Two more points:

It is obvious that no jury member should try to excuse some poor decision on the basis that someone either included the posthumous variations of the Etude Symphoniques or didn’t, or any similar ludicrously irrelevant observation. That is a truly pathetic and self-important issue when you are there to try to discover and support a young talent. That sort of person should never ever be on a jury.

The second is to mention that if someone is a genuinely great teacher, they are quite likely to be invited onto several juries, their students are likely to enter multiple competitions, and those students are likely to be very good ones. That a student of one of the jury members is in the competition must not place that competitor at a disadvantage; that would like a boss refusing to give a job to a woman because she is attractive. If you exclude teachers from competition juries where their pupils are entering, there will be virtually no one left worth asking; that I have no one-on-one students myself – because I am not really confident to be a good private teacher – makes me an exception; the vast majority of good jury members are experienced teachers. How could it be any different?

(source: Peter Donohoe, via Facebook. Reproduced with Peter’s kind permission.)

Here is a very considered response to both Pavel Kolesnikov’s article and Peter Donohoe’s comments by my friend and colleague Andrew Eales via his Piano Dao blogPiano Dao blogPiano Dao blog

album_coverLucas Debargue: Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt Ravel (Sony)

Escape all the noise and fall out of Brexit and the Conservative Party leadership wrangling with this exquisite debut disc by Lucas Debargue, the young French pianist who came fourth in the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 2015.

Weightless elegant Scarlatti opens this album which was recorded live at the Salle Cortot in Paris, Debargue’s first concert in his hometown after the competition. His sense of pacing, evident in the Scarlatti sonatas, really comes to the fore in his reading of Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, where he balances delicacy and poetry with drama to create a performance which is both intimate and expansive. The real impact comes when he holds the music in suspense: it feels natural and unpretentious. His performance of Gaspard de la Nuit, the work for which he received much enthusiastic acclaim during the competition, is equally impressive. His clarity of touch and tone combined with that wondrous pacing brings a silky sensuality to ‘Ondine”s watery arabesques while ‘Scarbo’ is less grotesque, more puckish and playful, though no less dark for it. In between these movements, ‘Le Gibet’ is seven minutes of restrained desolation. His Liszt is a proper waltz instead of the headlong frenzy some pianists give to this work. The Grieg is like an encore, a calming salve after Liszt’s twirling rhyhms. The Schubert is as intimate as you like, as if Debargue is playing just for you – and playful too, reminding us that Schubert was a composer of dances and Ländler. And in a neat piece of programming the album closes with Debargue’s variation on the Scarlatti Sonata in A which opens the album.

At the Tchaikovsky Competition, the Moscow Music Critics Association awarded him their prize for “the pianist whose incredible gift, artistic vision and creative freedom have impressed the critics as well as the audience”, and his debut disc demonstrates these attributes in spades.

Highly recommended.

Lucas Debargue’s performances at the Tchaikovsky Competition are still available to view on the Medici TV site

If you would like to contribute a review to ‘If You Listen to One Thing This Week….’ please contact me here