Luigi Carroccia was the first competitor to close his recital with the Hamelin. I’m glad someone had the guts to do so. That’s your last impression you leave the jury with and most people opt to leave that impression as something standard that everyone in the jury is likely to appreciate. It probably worked out well for Carroccia that he came later in the Preliminaries, as most of the jury had likely developed their own thoughts on the Hamelin by this time.
Also that Gluck arrangement with which he began his recital was magical!
Ambrosimov was an alternate in 2013 and this year again. I’m impressed he had the motivation to get the Hamelin memorized just in case.
I was surprised to enjoy his Petrushka. It’s not that I dislike the piece, but I usually tire of how it’s played in the competition. Maybe I like Petrushka when it's played purely like an orchestral piece, with none of the agogic accents you can get away with as a soloist, but can't get away with in an ensemble (say after first three notes of the first movement). This music seems to make sense to me when it’s alll about driving rhythm and color.
Tchaidze played the third performance of Beethoven Op. 110. Perhaps it’s popular this time as virtuosity for performing the fugues without memory lapses. When I learned this piece, several people told stories of famous pianists they heard whose memory on the fugues faltered in live performance. It didn’t make me feel better, and I doubt it would make these competitors; young artists have a lot more at stake for a memory lapse than an established artist.
Speaking of feats of memory, there are 3 fugal pieces in Broberg's program: Franck, Bach and Barber. I’ve always had problems playing fugues from memory in performance, and I admire these people so much. One slight dip in concentration can change everything. In general there are so many different fugues in this competition, a record, I wonder?
EunA Lee’s Chopin sonata, first movement, second theme sat on the back end of the beat a lot, I really liked that restraint. It’s so easy in these slow expressive moments to surge forward and I think there’s a lot of artistry in making the audience wait. Also-this is different than keeping the tempo steady, she’s still doing a very subtle rubato.
Sergey Belyavskiy took a similar approach with Schubert, but I’d have preferred more drive in the first movement. The wandering aspect of the piece has to do with almost spinning out of control. Even when his rubato made the tempo faster, it’s like he contracted the beats, rather than arriving at the next beat a tad sooner than expected. I have no scientific proof, but I think it’s possible to hear these differences between these two kinds of rubato, the first is a more predictable “turn the dial” sort, the latter a more organic one.
There’s an element of fantasy in Op. 109, and Tony Yike Yang balanced that really well, paying close attention to slurs to give a variety of rhetorical gestures to his first movement. He also found some interesting polyphony in the second movement that I don’t believe I’ve ever heard.
For someone to be the youngest medallist in the Chopin history (just in 2015), he’s only playing Chopin once, in the semi-final recital, the 2nd Sonata. Amazing to have such breadth of repertoire already at the age of 18. In an interview after the Chopin finals, he indicated that he was caught off guard that he made it to the finals and didn’t have his concerto prepared completely. I’d imagine given that experience, and despite a few missed notes, he’s more than ready for Cliburn.
I love new music, but Elliot Carter’s scores scare me, never mind memorizing one and performing it as one of the rare pieces from the last few decades on the Cliburn. Not to mention that this is surely one of the most engaging performances of Carter that I’ve heard. Hans Chen has a lot of great repertoire, including Thomas Ades later on (even harder to memorize)!
Honggi Kim played one of Arcadi Volodos’s Liszt ‘improvements’. I bought Volodos’s Schubert CD when I was first getting into classical music and always quite enjoyed it. Later, when I knew Liszt better, I heard his own Liszt recordings and it’s always thrown me off. I can’t imagine Liszt would disapprove of of the transcriptions, but I’ve never found any of them convincing myself. I suppose it seems that Liszt had left enough room for color and virtuosity that I never saw a need to add more. Plus-so different than (at least my memories of) Volodos’s Schubert.
Rachel Kudo has no Liszt or Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev on her entire Cliburn program. I imagine most competitors have at least 2 of those 3, but I’m not about to check.
I’ve always liked Liszt’s 11th Hungarian Rhapsody. It always seemed to me to be the most evocative of a folksy origin, mainly given the opening instrumental. Glad to see someone giving it the performance, especially for not treating it as a show-piece.
Of the 20 quarter-finalists, there are 6 contestants without the “Big 7” Concertos in the finals (Prok/Rach 2 or 3, or Tchaikovsky 1). But, given my enjoyment of the Prokofiev 7th Sonatas in the Preliminaries, I’m not even worried about hearing 4 Rach 3s or Tchaikovskys in the Finals (there are a lot of Rach 3 and Tchaikovskys among the quarter-finalists). All in all there is some fantastic programming coming up in the Quarter-Finals!
Due to the immense number of performers and the long weekend in the USA, my listening was a little less consistent for the Preliminary round than it will be for the rest of the competition. I wanted to catch parts of almost everyone and I managed that, so I'm very happy. Onward to the Quarter-Finals!
Rarely does a major piano competition go by than we see social criticisms of the results. Check out recent discussions about the 2017 Rubinstein, the 2015 Leeds, and the 2015 Tchaikovsky. In the first and last case, we even had jury member Peter Donohoe wade (with some disdain) into the commentary (see, in particular, his exchanges in the Rubinstein link). Someone is always going to be upset about the winner’s style of playing, will wax poetically about the insufficient jury’s decision to choose a ‘consensus’ candidate instead of another finalist, the individualist, who some loved and others hated.
I’ll admit to having these criticisms myself. I thoroughly loved that the 2015 Tchaikovsky competition discovered Lucas Debargue, and while I was upset he didn’t win, he has clearly won himself an audience and likely a successful career. I wasn’t excited by either of the 2009 Cliburn winners, but I predicted in the first round of the 2013 contest that Vadym Kholodenko would be the winner. I never thought much of Allesandro Deljavan, the competitor many loved and thought it a travesty when he was eliminated. Before the medal announcement, I also rightly predicted the 2nd and 3rd place winners. With the 3 medalists, I thought the jury found the perfect balance between virtuosity, musicianship and unique choice of repertoire that wouldn’t turn off the die-hard or casual classical fan, and an individuality, an intentionality to each performer’s pianism.
This spring appears to be the season of major competitions with the Rubinstein and Montreal just completed, running virtually at the same time, then the Cliburn a few weeks later. Due to professional commitments I didn’t listen to much of either of the former two. But I’ve listened to the winners and at least one medalist at each.
To be candid-I wasn't excited by the winner in the Rubinstein. If we check out his repertoire through the solo rounds, we see Scarlatti, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin and Rachmaninoff (the standard fare, though at least with underplayed sonatas from the first three, and a diverse batch of Etudes from the latter), and some interesting Szymanowski to go along with the imposed contemporary piece.
But I loved the winner of the Montreal competition, Zoltan Fejervari. As one of my friends said, “ …everything he played is standard repertoire but the combined program is so unique and really sets him apart.” His solo repertoire included Bach, Beethoven, Ligeti, Scriabin, Bartok, Janaceck and Schumann. Most of his choices were of lesser heard selections from each composer. It seemed clear to me from his programming and his manner of playing that Fejervari wasn’t competing to fit a ‘winner’s’ mold, instead, he presented his own artistry in a take it or leave it way.
One of the riskiest choices a competitor in a competition makes is choosing their final concerto. How often do we see Rachmaninov’s or Prokofiev’s second or third concerto, or the Tchaikovsky first? The Rubinstein finalists all happened to make the safest choices possible: 3 played Rachmaninov 3rd, 3 Prokofiev’s 3rd. I say safe as in, you have the best chance to show off your mastery of the instrument.
But Fejervari played Bartok’s 3rd in the finals—not an easy piece, but he had the added task of convincing the jury that this piece was worth competing with against the ‘war-horses’. (The last winner of the Montreal Competition won with Beethoven 4, an equally risky choice.)
I’ve been skeptical of the propensity to see many of the same pianists sitting on the juries to multiple major competitions each year. I don’t blame jury members for accepting invitations, but why do competition boards continue to ask from the same pool of artists? If the goal is to find a young artist that stands out among the rest, you don't want the same crowd choosing that winner; inevitably the same jury members will choose the same kind of pianist. The issue of jury member’s students competing is another one, fraught with questions of correlation and causation along with competition rules that I’d prefer not to get into. It’s covered quite well in this article in response to Veda Kaplinsky and previous Cliburn competitions.
The Cliburn has attempted to avoid these issues entirely this year. In the press release first announcing the 2017 jury and rules for application, they made note that only one of the competition jury had ever served before, and that the screening jury competition jury was comprised of entirely different people. They further made a brave attempt to avoid bringing teachers on to judge, focusing on (recently) retired professors and several artists who exclusively perform. From what I can tell, they were largely successful in avoiding student and teacher pairings among competitors and jury. Their focus clearly was on establishing a jury with a wide variety of unique, intentional artists and I expect that the eventual medalists will reflect this.
I think it shows in the competitors chosen for the Cliburn, starting this week. They are from all over the world, and there is very little repetition among their place or professor of study. And their repertoire! Yes, among the concertos, we see the same warhorses: 4 with Prokofiev 2, 5 with Prokofiev 3. 5 with Rachmaninoff 3, and 7 with Tchaikovsky. But, 0 playing Rach 2! Among solo repertoire, only 3 offer Stravinsky’s Petrushka, and 4 Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, two pieces I thought everyone tried to do at the last iteration.
What about what’s novel? A few offer Beethoven’s 4th concerto, or Liszt 2nd, and each of Chopin’s are the ‘grand concerto’ choice of one competitor. There’s a few solo Messiaen offerings, Clementi, C.P.E Bach, a few Schubert Impromptu sets, and a variety of J.S. Bach, and several people offering contemporary composers such as Carter, Ades, Takemitsu, Corigliano, Rzewski and Auerbach, in addition to the imposed piece by Marc-Andre Hamelin. There are many examples of someone playing a less virtuosic or less known piece from a well known composer, say Scriabin (10th Sonata), Brahms (Op. 118), Prokofiev (4 etudes), Shostakovich (1st Sonata), Debussy (Reverie). And the sheer art of programming. So many competitors programs work against your expected programming of romantic repertoire with a nod to something a little more conservative, in the best ways possible. Two examples I’ll point you to are Luigi Carroccia’s entire program, and Dasol Kim’s Semifinal recital.
So-I’m optimistic and excited to be bathed in piano playing. I will be posting reports every two days or so. I hope to not fall into the trap of being a ‘back-seat’ jury. I’m hoping to be so intrigued by all kinds of great piano playing that I can just wax poetically with optimistic fervor. I’m sure I’ll have my favorites and my least favorites, but more than anything, I expect to be intrigued, excited and inspired. Hopefully I can share that with you!
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act