Piano Fest Academy’s overlong finale proves less than grand

By Inesa Gegprifti


The three-week Miami International Piano Festival Academy program closed with its Grand Finale concert Sunday evening at the Miniaci Performing Arts Center in Fort Lauderdale. Artistic director Giselle Brodsky deserves credit for gathering various celebrated classical pianists to perform and teach at her festival’s academy. 

Following the impressive performance by guest artist Josu de Solaun the past week,  expectations for this event were high. Clearly, the students and faculty had put their talent, the stamina, and work into this three-hour program.  Unfortunately, genuine musical expression, connection between performer and music, and stylistic awareness were too often lacking. 

The student performers featured in the first half were Jacob Mason (winner of the 2016 program), Jacob Velazquez (Aspiring Young Pianists program), Thomas Hsu as well as 2017 academy winners Luis Urbina, Chantal Balestri, Malik Halce, and Sinan Cayir. 

Although at a tender age, the young pianist Jacob Velazquez attempted to tackle Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu and his playing hints at a promising future. 

Notable performances on the first half were those of George Crumb’s “Twin Suns” played by Jacob Mason, Liszt’s Spanish Rhapsody by Chantal Balestri, and Feinberg’s transcription of the third movement from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 by Sinan Cayir. Mason opened the curtains with warmth and resonance as he strummed the piano strings, Balestri showcased confidence and sound technique, and Cayir displayed control of a variety of articulations matching the orchestration of the work. He closed the first half with an overall coherent rendition of a demanding composition. 

Alongside the student winners and the faculty members Francesco Libetta, Ilya Itin, and Kemal Gekic, the second half featured students Giorgio Manni, Diego Villacrez, and Shelly Lewis. 

Italian pianist, Francesco Libetta is recognized for his playing of the challenging Chopin/Godowsky etudes, yet his execution of Op. 10 No. 12 (“Revolutionary for the left hand”) fell short needing greater clarity and tone production. Although fresh with creative voicing, Itin’s approach to Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise Op. 34 No. 14 was somewhat clinical, not allowing the music to breathe and organically develop. In line with the Romantic virtuoso flair, Gekic is in the habit of briefly improvising before beginning the performance of the pieces, and this evening was no exception. While his original musical ideas came to life and pearly tones were flourishing in the higher register, the sound projection was at times abrasive and too heavy, overwhelming the uplifting character of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 10 and 11.

During the last week of the academy, Libetta had worked with the students in bringing piano duets, trios, and quartets to the stage. Programming this seldom-played music of Czerny, Alkan, Handel, Chaminade, Walfteufel, and Godowsky is a valuable initiative. 

While piano ensemble may have started as a means of playing and listening to larger scale works in the 18th and 19th centuries, discounting the  genre as a concert throwaway didn’t do the music or the performers any favors. Besides the underrehearsed execution, it was startling to see that for the “Grand Finale,” the performers had not bound their sheet music together. It was hard to say what was more distracting; the persistent agogic accents, the careless phrase openings and endings, the uncoordinated attacks, or the worry that pages could be flying off stage at any minute. 

Though saturated by artistically challenged moments, the academy is of great value to the South Florida region and may yet become an important hub for the cultivation of young piano talents. 

The Miami International Piano Festival will continue its activity in the fall with “Encounters with Great Artists at the Betsy – Tuesdays at Seven” at the Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach with Zlata Chochieva on October 17, 2017. http://miamipianofest.com/

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Piano Fest Academy’s overlong finale proves less than grand”

  1. Posted Aug 03, 2017 at 3:35 pm by Howard Rosen

    This was one of 10 recitals planned and presented in only a 3 week period-1 by last year’s winners,5 by the faculty, 4 participant recitals and the finale. The idea was to give the young performers maximum experience before a live audience and share the art of the faculty with the community. In addition each of the participants was given Master Classes and private lessons by ALL of the faculty members, something quite unique for this type of program. Also, there were special lectures by the faculty and 2 sweeping multi -media presentations by Prof Frank Cooper on Classicism and Romanticism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqUC4CVYJjc https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH0iIj_hb50 Composers Charles Mason and Dorothy Hindman were also guest lecturers. IMO this was an incredibly rich and rewarding program. After 3 years IMHO it is ALREADY “an important hub for the cultivation of young talents” Young professionals have come from China,Taiwan, France, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Canada, U.S, etc. to improve their skills. All of this happened in only in 3 weeks! As for the finale, thank you for attending and commenting. Your critiques are welcome and respected, though I disagree with some of them. Perhaps you will now understand, with everything packed into 3 weeks, why the musicians “had not bound their sheet music together”, etc

  2. Posted Aug 04, 2017 at 5:13 pm by Inesa Gegprifti

    Dear Mr. Rosen,
    You are absolutely right in listing all of the attributes of the festival. I am personally a big fan of the distinguished Prof. Frank Cooper and have had the fortune to take classes from Dr. Dorothy Hindman at the University of Miami. I have also listened to most of the professors who performed this evening in other events and have been amazed by their playing.

    While I am not trying to take away any of the values of the festival, or the huge endeavor that it is, my review of the concert is based on what I hear and see on the day of the performance. It does not detract anything from its value for the community, and the level of the musicianship of its participants.

    With best regards,
    Inesa Gegprifti

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