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Eric Lu, a 17-year-old student of Jonathan Biss and Robert McDonald at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, was awarded First Prize at the finals concert of the Ninth National Chopin Piano Competition Sunday at Miami-Dade County Auditorium.
The top prize includes a cash award of $75,000, concert appearances and automatic acceptance as a competitor at Warsaw’s International Chopin Competition in October. Rachel Naomi Kudo won the $35,000 Second Prize which also brings her to the Warsaw Competition.
The remaining prize winners will participate in auditions this spring in Warsaw which could lead to some also being admitted to the competition. They are George Li (Third Prize – $ 20,000), Eric Zuber (Fourth Prize – $10,000), Joshua Wright (Fifth Prize – $5,000) and Alexander Beyer (Sixth Prize – $ 4,000).
Special prizes were also given for performances during the nine-day competition of a polonaise (Kudo), mazurka (Wright), sonata (Li) and concerto (Lu).
Lu, Wright and Zuber had performed at the first part of the finals on Saturday night. At the Sunday program, three very different performances of Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 in E minor were presented. Clearly the audience favorite, Li took a big boned, quintessentially romantic approach to the score. He exhibited real affinity for the pulse of Chopin’s melodies and rhythmic curves. Li’s playing of the slow movement was dreamy and poetic and his incisive rhythm caught the dance-infused character of the finale.
Kudo exhibited a lighter touch and made interesting interpretive choices. She was most effective in the concerto’s quieter moments and her generally deft playing was not lacking in elegance. Nicely varied dynamics infused her fleet reading of the concluding Rondo. Still Kudo’s performance seemed more salon-oriented, lacking heft in the big moments.
There were several digital slips in Beyer’s performance, which opened the afternoon, but he shaped the melodic lines of the concerto’s opening movement with sensitivity. Despite some finely sculpted phrasing, Beyer’s pianism in the Larghetto was too cool and restrained, the finale overly conservative and straight laced.
Grzegorz Nowak, orchestral director at Florida International University and permanent guest conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic, led a specially assembled orchestra, performing the Herculean feat of shaping the same score to the often very different interpretations of the finalists. He drew fine ensemble playing with limited rehearsal time, the three horns particularly strong and accurate in exposed passages. Indeed Nowak made a strong case for the beauty of Chopin’s oft-criticized orchestral writing, drawing out the romantic themes and lovely string lines while offering each of the contestants strong support.
The competition judges were former National Chopin Competition winners Dean Kramer, Ian Hobson, Kevin Kenner and Jon Nakamatsu, pianists Augustin Anievas, Krzysztof Jablonski, Sergei Babayan and Margarita Shevchenko and Katarzyna Popowa-Zydron, jury chair of 2015 Warsaw Competition.
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