Miami’s Chopin Competition to showcase top American pianists

By Lawrence Budmen

The music of Frederic Chopin has exerted a unique spell on pianists for over one hundred and fifty years. Chopin’s  synthesis of Polish musical nationalism and brooding passions of the romantic era made him the toast of the 19th- century Paris salon. Chopin’s pianistic miniatures (preludes, impromptus, etudes, nocturnes, waltzes, mazurkas, polonaises) have long been staples of the recital repertoire.

The elusive search for the next great Chopin interpreter led to the creation of the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Since the competition’s post-World War II incarnation, it has produced such top prize winners as Bella Davidovich, Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman and Yundi Li.

The 2010 National Chopin Competition opens today at Miami-Dade County Auditorium. Initial rounds focus on Chopin’s miniatures while the six finalists will perform one of the two Chopin concertos on February 27 and 28 with the Frost Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Thomas Sleeper.

Following the 1970 victory of American pianist Garrick Ohlsson, the American National Chopin Competition (under the auspices of the Chopin Foundation of the United States) was founded in Miami to foster American keyboard artists as leading competitors at the Polish contest.  Held every five years the American competition has helped launch the careers of Kevin Kenner, Jon Nakamatsu, Jeffrey Kahane and Ian Hobson. (Kenner would go on to win the highest prize awarded in Warsaw in a year when no first prize was presented. Nakamatsu was top prize winner at the Van Cliburn Competition.)

In addition to cash prizes and concert promotion, the first prize winner of the American competition is guaranteed a spot in the Warsaw event. The remaining finalists compete in open auditions in Warsaw for entrance to the international competition.

An international jury of judges is chaired by Augustin Anievas, a renowned Chopin and Beethoven specialists. (Warsaw prize winner Davidovich is among the jurors.) Twenty four pianists were selected from numerous applicants. Five have withdrawn due to injuries or conflicts with audition and concert schedules.

The youngest contestant is not yet seventeen years old, the oldest is twenty-eight. Two second prize winners from previous Miami competitions have returned for a second shot at the big prize — Jun Asai (1995) and Naomi Kudo (2000).

Competitor Andrew Tyson, a student of Claude Frank at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, exudes deep awe and introspection when approaching Chopin’s works. “Chopin’s music is a window into the nineteenth century,” Tyson notes. “In the arts, people were looking inward for something individual, from the soul. Beneath the surface, there is something foreboding and serious.  It is special to anyone who encounters it.” Tyson considers the mazurkas Chopin’s “most sophisticated, condensed gems.”

Sean Chen studies with Jerome Lowenthal at New York’s Juilliard School and is a veteran of the competition circuit, having competed in Cleveland, Sydney and Hamamatsu among others.. He finds “a special intimacy” in the Chopin’s scores. “Harmony and counterpoint are hidden in the beautiful melodies. There is real musical and structural integrity in Chopin’s work,” notes Chen who was first spellbound by Evgeni Kissin’s recordings of the concertos.

As a new generation of keyboard artists steps up to the plate to compete for the pianistic brass ring, Chopin Foundation executive director Jadwiga Gewert notes that the organization’s mission is “helping young American pianists and exposing them to a different school of playing.” Through competitions, recitals and the foundation’s work, Chopin’s music will continue to resound.

The American National Chopin Competition opens today at Miami-Dade County Auditorium with preliminary rounds (which are free and open to the public) continuing through Thursday. Finals take place on February 27 and 28.

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One Response to “Miami’s Chopin Competition to showcase top American pianists”

  1. Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:10 am by anna choi

    It would be nice if it was a “Level playing field”. The first contestant played with the orchestra pit lower not offering the same opportunity to project his sonority as the others. Unfair!

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Fri Feb 19, 2010
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