piano, piano competition

An Ear-grabbing Cliburn 2017 Piano Competition!

I couldn’t tear myself from my big Mac, savoring a big serving of tantalizing musical artistry via Medici TV. The sparing LIVE performances that I’d ingested through the opening days of the celebrated Fort Worth-based Cliburn event, had been other worldly, though a few pyrotechnically efficient players, had, for me, not risen beyond note-perfect playing.

Of course, such an aesthetic judgment is deeply personal and subjective–even validated by Cliburn Jury Chairman, Leonard Slatkin in a pre-recorded message to competitors that’s been aired publicly during intermissions, or at a weighty interval of jury tabulation that produced a quarterfinals roster. The original list of 30 Preliminary entrants had been whittled down to 20–a number that will shrink at the Semi-Finals juncture, and further dwindle down when Finals competitors are announced. (The Cliburn event runs from May 25 through June 10)


This year Anderson and Roe, two creative, powerhouse pianists, known far and wide for their duo collaboration, have added a touch of class to the competition–interspersing in depth comments that reveal their Juilliard-based immersion in music history, theory, and performance. What a pleasure to have two education-spreading messiahs at the helm, enriching the listening experience. In the visual universe, multi-cam views of the keyboard provide an eye-catching view of the performers’ hands, wrists, and arms in varied choreographies.


Do I dare go out on a limb and cherry pick a few of my favorite competitors to date, with an avowed disclaimer that I may not have heard ALL 20 who made the cut from the Preliminary round. (In short, I’ve been revisiting Preliminary Recitals and the most recent round contenders at the quarterfinals level)

For me, a handful of players have possessed unique gifts of artistry and communication that were transformative during their ENTIRE recitals. (A reminder that logging onto the Cliburn Competition site, will produce recent and past performance videos of all competitors)

MY SHORT LIST may expand as the competition unfolds:

Yuri Favorin: A Bravissimo for today’s recital!


What I posted on Facebook about Favorin in the afterglow of this evening’s remarkable performance was probably an understatement:

“…Russian pianist, Yuri Favorin, played beyond words to describe in today’s Cliburn quarterfinals. It’s going to be tough to outshine this uniquely gifted pianist.. Without doubt, he produced a jaw-dropping performance of challenging program offerings. And talk about the BREATH.. he had total mastery–breathing through tough transitions– from impassioned, bravura passages, to tender, lyrical sections. A good example for all of us who are eternal students of the piano, or any other musical instrument. And to add kudos to his artistry/accomplishments, he was appointed to the Moscow Conservatory faculty at the tender age of 29. He’s now turned 30, perhaps the Millenium’s new 20.”

A Facebook Friend corroborated Favorin’s “MATURITY” as unique among the crop of competitors, to which I wholeheartedly agreed.

My bubbling enthusiasm could not be contained in a follow-up post:

“The Rachmaninoff/Corelli Variations were just amazing.. I’m still hearing the Variations right now as Favorin permeated my very being through his abundantly communicative playing.. and structurally, he was right there, with threads going through all the variations. This fellow has enormous dimension and depth.” (synonym: MATURITY)


Quite a captivating surprise: The artistry of 20-year old pianist, Martin James Bartlett. His playing from Scarlatti to Prokofiev, had a fresh, spontaneous energy, yet grounded in thoughtful musicianship. He possesses immense tonal variety and projection. Definitely a big DISCOVERY in this competition, and one that will be talked about to its very conclusion. Keep an eye on this young man!


Another favorite:

Yekwon Sunwoo, age 28

Sunwoo’s most recent performance at the Cliburn 2017 can be located at the website.

Here’s a flashback to his Cliburn 2013 Preliminary Recital: It’s sheer musical poetry wedded to impeccable technique:


A Very sensitive and lyrical pianist followed Yuri Favorin:

YuTong Sun (age 21)

His Chopin canvas was particularly beautiful



Not to overlook competitors, such as Daniel Hsu, age 19, and Alyosha Jurinic
28 years old, who have risen above collections of fast paced notes, to “sing” poetically from phrase to phrase. Their talents and gifts are treasured regardless of the flow of rounds and results.

Peaks in performances, as well, can be intermixed with occasional valleys of technical imperfection, making it often humanly impossible to please every jury member. Interpretations being be varied and controversial add another ingredient of complexity in assessment.


A convergence of musical talent is by no means the equivalent of a sports event where points are deducted for fouls, or spills on the ice. Note errors of course, are a reality in all endeavors, but an efficient note-wise performance will not necessarily produce expressive or memorable playing. Therefore, selecting a so-called “winner” in a musical universe, can appear to be an oxymoron.

Many commentators, like the sagacious pianist, Seymour Bernstein, assert that it’s basically unfair and unjust to place musicians in a COMPETITIVE environment on any terms. And there’s additional doubt harbored about the wide age range of participants in numerous concours–where a 19-year old’s performance, for example, is juxtaposed with that of a 30-year old.

Finally, while many pianists, teachers, and others may hold differing opinions about placing pianists on a stage of comparison, we can at least collectively wish that all “entrants” will enjoy an ongoing journey of musical growth, development and enrichment as their lives unfold.

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The Big Winner in the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition!

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It would be easy to reel off a list of prizes in 4 separate Moscow competition categories and characterize all recipients as “winners,”–that is if we put music-making into the sports arena with a clear cut victor and an opposing loser. In pro-tennis, for example, where a point-scoring system is in part influenced by calls of the referee, we still attribute a Match outcome to the athletic skills of the superior player. (Court strategies and the big serve factor into a championship victory)

In the arena of music-making (excuse the gladiator framing), where judges, who might occasionally doze off through arduous rounds of performances can be blamed for a bad call as they eliminate favorites (for some listeners) while passing through others, we still want to believe that ARTISTRY will reign as the biggest consideration in the adjudication process.

(Artful playing is of course bundled with an ample virtuoso technique that affords musical fluency, though listeners might “connect” with a performer who is less technically bedazzling, and more organically communicative.)

For me, the spread of players at Tchaikovsky XV offered various styles of playing, with consistency of high-level music-making not always manifest, yet the subjective side of reviewing a performance by a so-called skilled adjudicator, or a sophisticated listener, or less musically informed audience member (LIVE or by Internet) is just as valid, since ART unlike SPORTS has no intrinsic need for CONTENDERS to vie for an OLYMPIC wreath.

I guess my lengthy oration, by no means Greek inspired by Spartan and Athenian framing, is to justify the global audience of MILLIONS as the true WINNER in this so-called Moscow-based competition, and that a powerful Medici driven TV partner gave Classical MUSIC unprecedented mega-exposure. (A WIN/WIN for all!)

In short, the Masterworks and their divinely inspired creators acquired a new stature amidst a feverish international SPORTS frenzy! (Soccer anyone, on ESPN?) No thanks we had the war horse concertos beamed through a select group of young performers–one, like a young Stallion (Kharitonov), catapulted himself to favored status with his Lisztian lyricism while Dmitry Masleev landed a second round prize for his rather mature rendition of Mozart’s D minor concerto. In the last grueling lap he nailed the Gold!

Finally, I must admit that I had my personal favorite through the Moscow-based opening round to the finale, and it was GEORGE LI, though in truth, my ears were captivated by playing moments of others–but not to the extent that George’s CONSISTENCY and heart-moving playing affected me from start to finish. (update: Li packed a punch subbing in for Masleev with the Tchaikovsky Bb minor concerto in a post-competition performance with Gergiev/Marinksy Theater Orchestra. And in a recent interview, Martin Engstrom, a Moscow juror, singled out the pianist as “a fantastic musician with a unique charisma that causes a range of positive emotions.”)

Without a doubt, the powerful EXPOSURE, Silver medalist, George Li received at the Competition was worth its weight in Gold.

And while I was mesmerized by Lucas Debargue’s Ravel and Medtner renderings, I didn’t feel that his last concerto round performance fed my personal need for unabated inspiration. (not humanly possible in any event)

Nonetheless, my opinion by no means invalidates scores of others. (excuse my inadvertent athletic analogies)

Obviously listeners far and wide should trust their innate assessment of beauty and artistry without having to apologize for a variety of aesthetic preferences. And at the same time, they shouldn’t be wooed to a Moscow talent showcase with the incentive of a declared Grand Prix winner in the spirit of a Nascar finale.

From my perspective, the Tchaikovsky Competition that culminated in the purple-tinged GALA awards ceremony with its crescendo to the PRIX was not about the essence of MUSIC-making.

Even its wrap-up had contestants tied for Bronze or Silver prizes while off the competitive stage, a pianist named Debargue captured a wreath from the Moscow Music Critics Association. He otherwise trailed off to fourth in the official standings. Not much of a horse race.

Those who shared second or third place might have been well-poised for a sudden death, extra round tie-breaker. But barring an overtime match re-play, were they considered on par with each other? (Golf anyone?)

All kidding aside, perhaps my UTOPIAN wish would be that a global audience of listeners could be drawn to an international showcase of musical talent without the incentive of a fever pitch march to the WINNER’s circle. To this effect, a cadre of UTOPIANS, including Seymour Bernstein have been clamoring for a new framing that would preclude putting music-making into a competitive category.

Still, for now, the big Tchaikovsky Competition, occurring in 4 year cycles, is here to stay with a new INTERNET-driven, LIVE-STREAMED boost. For this alone, we should be grateful!


Results of the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition
Piano category
I prize – Dmitry Masleev (Russia); II prize – Lukas Geniušas (Lithuania-Russia), George Li (U.S.); III prize – Sergei Redkin (Russia), Daniel Kharitonov (Russia); IV prize – Lucas Debargue (France).
Violin category
I prize – no winner; II prize – Yu-Chien Tseng (Taiwan); III prize – Haik Kazazyan (Russia), Alexandra Conunova (Moldova), Pavel Milyukov (Russia); IV prize: Clara-Jumi Kang (Germany); V prize: Bomsori Kim (South Korea).
Cello category
I prize – Andrei Ioniță (Romania); II prize – Alexander Ramm (Russia); III prize – Alexander Buzlov (Russia); IV prize – Pablo Ferrández (Spain); V prize – Seung Min Kang (South Korea); VI prize – Jonathan Roozeman (Netherlands).
Voice category
Female: I prize – Yulia Matochkina (Russia); II prize – Svetlana Moskalenko (Russia); III prize – Mane Galoyan (Armenia); IV prize – Antonina Vesenina (Russia).
Male: I prize – Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar (Mongolia); II prize – Chuanyue Wang (China); III prize – Hansung Yoo (South Korea); IV prize – Dmitry Grigoriev (Russia).



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Van Cliburn’s Tchaikovsky No. 1 concerto revisited

Cliburn Moscow

Van Cliburn’s named popped up on one of the piano forums. Would he have made the same formidable impression in today’s Moscow Competition as he did in 1958?

The answer is simply YES, and resurrecting a flashback of his winning performance sheds light on how and why his Tchaikovsky 1, at least for me, stands out as uniquely memorable. (I might add that I heard Van play the towering signature concerto at Lewisohn Stadium in the Bronx under the baton of Kiril Kondrashin upon the pianist’s US return)

It was evident that Van allowed the concerto to play itself with its unswerving, embedded lyricism. He didn’t toy with phrases, fight the bravura octaves, or apply extreme rubato to distort musical lines. His gorgeous singing tone was unabated through the most challenging cascades of notes and his thread of MELODY permeated the most dizzying passagework. Yet Van made his virtuoso journey look effortless with big, relaxed gestures of his arms that funneled energy down through his wrists into fluid finger approaches into the keys.

There was no battlefield landscape, as perhaps the 1812 Overture might have evoked. Van knew better than to leave listeners with a one dimensional warhorse impression. He respected the immense color palette of the composer’s creation and its underlying singing dimension.

In the concluding Presto movement, Van imbued more contrasts through rhythmically animated chords. He refused to carbon copy measures of the same. His playing had dynamic variation and riveting emotional engagement without a forced pushing, pulling, poking or prodding of phrases.

Finally, Cliburn was at all times a soloist and collaborator, embedded in expressive counterpoint/dialog with the orchestra in an interactively pulsating exchange.

On so many levels, Cliburn was a winner back in 1958, and I surmise, in today’s Moscow Competition 2015, he would be my undeniable favorite.

The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition resumes today, June 30, in a Medici TV beamed LIVESTREAM.





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George Li, among 6 Tchaikovsky Competition Finalists

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As many cheering fans had expected, George Li catapulted himself into the Finals with a memorable performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K. 488.


Reed Tetzloff not having the same good fortune to make the cut, still delivered a moving reading of the soulful middle movement, K. 488.

A noticeable audience favorite at this competition has been French pianist, Lucas Debargue whose artistry is uniquely introspective and Old World–a contrast from players heard to date in all rounds.

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What amounts to a cult-like following surrounds Debargue in response to his Medtner and Ravel performances which had mystical qualities.

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Seymour Bernstein was so moved, he sent an email to his list of followers celebrating Debarge’s artistry!

“First, the Medtner is unbelievable! But I doubt that anyone will ever hear Ravel’s Gaspard performed like this. The French pianist Lucas Debargue must be a another world. Simply the most miraculous playing. Perhaps because of this alone he may win the competition.”


While I appreciated the trance-like playing of Debargue in his Round 2 recital, I found his Bach, and Beethoven, op. 10 no. 3, Round 1, to lack definition and tonal brightness. He seemed focused on a big intellectual dimension without finite detail. Often he skimmed the surface of the keys in the Baroque and Classical era works, while his illusory approach seemed better suited to late Romantic and Impressionist era composers. (A Ravel-inspired color palette was very appealing)

Many Debargue followers showcased his reading of Mozart’s C minor concerto with its dark, foreboding dimension, well fleshed out by the Frenchman, while I hurriedly revisited Murray Perahia’s performance with its more diversely lyrical and emotional contrasts.

The List of Finalists

Sergey Redkin
Geroge Li
Lucas Debargue
Lukas Genusias
Daniel Kharitonov
Dmitry Masleev

The final round that resumes June 28th will include Tchaikovsky, Liszt and Prokofiev concertos.




REPLAY, George Li’s Recital, Round One:


Flashback to my interview with George Li in 2012:




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A Triumph for pianist, George Li!

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Among many opening piano recitals beamed around the world by Medici in the first round of the Tchaikovsky Competition, George Li’s display of virtuosity was the most riveting for me. A synthesis of intellect, emotion, sensitivity and spontaneity hallmarked Li’s interpretation of Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt masterworks. A replay of the opener offers its own best testimony to extraordinary artistry by a pianist seasoned well beyond his tender years. (He’s just 19).

By all accounts George is a musical messiah in the way I remember Murray Perahia way back in the 1960s. So it’s my hope that he’ll add another major triumph to his roster, wooing audiences to new heights joy and gratitude far and wide.

Go George, All the way to the Gold in Moscow!

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REPLAY, George Li’s Recital, Round One:


Flashback to my interview with George Li in 2012:




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Live Streaming a National Chopin Piano Competition–Final Round, Sunday, March 1

The brave new universe of Internet technology allows a global-wide audience to gaze at, and listen to accomplished young pianists vying for top prizes. With a mouse click, the latest competitive milieu in Florida minus swaying palm trees and ocean breezes, is beamed at high frequency into our living rooms. A feast of Chopin’s music reverberates though iMacs, iPads, cell phones, and PCs of infinite varieties.


It’s the Ninth National Chopin Piano Competition!

Chopin Competition

Nine foot grands move onto a stage shared with a full size orchestra for the weekend concerto phase wrap-up. Each pianist has been given three instruments to choose from, offering a landscape of playing possibilities: from a pronounced angular/bright sound dimension (Fazioli) to what transmits as a more balanced voicing in Steinway and Yamaha pianos. Still it’s all quite subjective, and one can argue about tone, touch, phrasing as each surviving entrant puts a unique musical signature on the Chopin E Minor or F minor Concertos. (The E minor has triumphed in popularity thus far, and will be a program exclusive, today Sunday starting at 3 p.m. Eastern time)

A $75,000 first prize awaits the WINNER, I dare say, in what perhaps can’t always be MEASURED in the artistic/interpretive arena. Yet, the competition ethos is alive and well, bolstered by Internet exposure and a niche audience of piano enthusiasts. (Bedazzling virtuoso technique is a given)

Eric Lu (Curtis Institute) opened Saturday’s program with a Fazioli delivered performance of Chopin’s E minor, while Josh Wright, the sole Utah resident, amidst bi-coastal colleagues settled into a Steinway. Eric Zuber, a Peabody student in Baltimore was perched at a Yamaha. (the age range of finalists is 19 to 30)

Today, Alex Beyer, George Li, and Rachel Naomi Kudo will cap the competition before prizes are rolled out, including specific honors for Mazurka and Ballade playing.

(Top tier “winners” will also have guaranteed entrance into the INTERNATIONAL Chopin Competition in Poland)

Watch and listen to George Li who’s on today’s roster. (He’s my personal favorite.)


Eric Lu

Expect a riveting musical finale!

1) Eric Lu
2) Rachel Naomi Kudo
3) George Li
4) Eric Zuber
5) Joshua Wright
6) Alexander Beyer

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A Big New York Debut Recital for Pianist, Marianna Prjevalskaya

Marianna photo

After many international victories and a stash of prizes, honors and recital appearances flowing out of them, Marianna Prjevalskaya, will make her debut in New York City’s cultural limelight.



“The event, presented by the Cincinnati World Piano Competition takes place Monday, February 23, 2015 @ 7:30pm.”

(“The Cincinnati World Piano Competition is one of the top piano competitions in the United States. Held annually, it aims to recognize and promote outstanding piano artistry and support the career development of young pianists.”)


By all accounts Prjevalskaya’s performance will surely follow those that have lit up the globe, making her name well-recognized in the cosmos of solo playing and chamber music.

(Enjoy an enlightening interview with the artist)


The pianist’s artistry first came to my attention when I serendipitously stumbled upon an Online beamed competition from Alaska. Despite the pitfalls of media transmission, Marianna Prjelvalskaya’s Haydn, Schumann, Debussy, and Scriabin, resonated over the air waves with impeccable beauty. Selections were rendered with period era sensitivity–having a permeated singing tone thread so emblematic of the Russian School of playing, yet infused with a wide panorama of colors and nuances that reflected Prjevalskaya’s Pan-European exposures. (Spain is her country of origin though her musical activity and educational background rise beyond specific borders.) In the midst of her international flurry of concerts, for example, the pianist manages to pursue advanced performance degrees on the East Coast, counting Yale and Peabody among her prestigious bastions of learning.

In keeping with a unique journey of individuality that characterizes the pianist’s blossoming career, I asked Maestra Prjevalskaya to add a personal touch to her upcoming recital, by providing a set of program notes:

First half:
Debussy Preludes Book II

Second half:
Chopin Fantasy Op. 49 in F minor
Rachmaninoff Variations on a Theme by Chopin Op. 22


“Debussy’s collection of preludes is a world of sensations and emotions– a uniquely inspiring experience that draws on the listener’s imagination and carries him/her into a transcendent state.

“The composer collects his own impressions from samples of poetry and illustrations to oriental, decorative objects, transforming them into fantastic images that create a tonal and architectural unity.

“As an entire set, these preludes are rarely performed, so it’s really an exciting experience for me to share the complete work with my audience. In the future, I plan to prepare the first book of Preludes as well.”


“Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Chopin Op. 22 is one of my deeply beloved works. I personally think it is a hidden gem in the piano repertoire that unfortunately has been overshadowed by the composer’s other popular piano compositions. This particular set of variations exemplifies an infinite world of musical and technical possibilities that awaits exploration and savoring.

“Based on Chopin’s Prelude in C minor Op. 28, it’s a collage of contrasting emotions encompassing naiveté and anguish to exuberant joy. The theme becomes totally unrecognizable as the work unfolds, and it’s absolutely captivating to see, feel and experience with one’s own hands how Rachmaninoff creates a kaleidoscopic of textures with significant emotional depth.

“In addition to this work, I decided to include the very special Chopin Fantasy. Often viewed as fragile and vulnerable, the composer reveals his heroic face in a full-spirited creation. On a personal level, I felt it would be meaningful to give homage to Chopin before performing Rachmaninoff’s Variations.”


Without a doubt, Marianna’s concert is one not to miss, so gather the information below and purchase your tickets a.s.a.p.

Important Recital Details

Tickets are now on sale and may be purchased online at http://www.carnegiehall.org
To order tickets by phone, call Carnegie Charge at (212) 247-7800.

For more information about the event, please contact Laura Bock at laura@cincinnatiwpc.org or Marianna Prjevalskaya at info@prjevalskaya.com

Marianna’s Website