Archive for the ‘Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia’ Category

SIPCA 2016 3 – the verdict

July 24, 2016

On Friday and Saturday with D to the C19 and C20 concerto finals of the Sydney International Piano Competition.

We were home for the announcement of the prizes.

No complaint about the winner: Andrey Gugnin looked a likely winner from the first round (according to others I respect).  I really liked his Kreutzer sonata with Tasmin Little and his Prokofiev, and his semi-final recital was also impressive.  And though we only saw his C18 concerto streamed, D and I both thought he was the best of that night.

The special prizes awarded by the jury, so far as I correlate them to players I heard live (or, if streamed, the comments of those who were there), also seemed well-judged.

The Sydney Symphony gave their own prize for best concerto to Gugnin.

With the introduction of internet voting and also earlier “paper” voting the people’s choice prize was always going to be a bit of a wild-card. You wonder how exactly the voting could be audited – in previous years a vote at the finals with a piece of paper from the program had at least a fairly straightforward means of verification of votes.  I was a bit surprised to see this prize go to Xie Ming, given that he hadn’t reached the finals, but he was definitely a likeable and popular competitor.  As Mr Flamboyant it was fitting that he received an award in commemoration of Dennis Hennig.

It was gratifying to see each that each of the three players whose failure to progress to the semi-finals I regretted were awarded special prizes, including the jury chipping in for a special prize for Martin Malmgren.

But I might as well cut to the chase.  Given that the jury thought Kong Jia Ning played the best semi-final recital (memorable Bach and then the Diabelli variations) and that he played the best eighteenth century concerto, it seems strange that at sixth place he came in last of all the finalists.  Was his Brahms concerto (by far the most difficult choice and yes, an ambitious choice for him) really that bad?

It didn’t seem so to me.  In The Australian Murray Black had a go at Kong for forcing his tone in the first two movements (“all iron fist and no velvet glove”).  This is not an area where you can educate your taste with recordings. In my experience of live performances (in recent years: Hammelin with the WASO in 2009, Bianconi with the SSO in 2012) there has always been some stringency of tone.

I know  (eg but not only him) I’m not the only one who thinks Kong could have been more highly placed.

Schumann Scherzo

July 21, 2016

schumann scherzo (2)

I’ve been at home with a shocking cold, so have had a chance to catch up with some of SIPCA that has now been posted to Youtube.  I hope legitimately, because otherwise it will presumably be taken down as the preliminary rounds were.

The two performances of the Schumann quintet were by Xie Ming and Kong Jia Ning.  Kong went through to the finals; Xie did not.

Xie’s performance begins at 1:15:30 in the link below.

My friend Lw thought Kong Jia Ning’s performance better, and in particular that it was better Schumann. I was a bit disappointed that Kong seemed so impassive – whether or not it actually makes any difference it is always nice to see some interaction between the players. Xie did more of that. Lw nicknamed Xie “Liberace.”

Liberace or not, Youtube revealed one little touch, at 1:30:19 and 1:30:42 which made me smile.

Although you can’t judge it very well from the recording, I think Kong’s balance was better.  Compare the beginning of the last movement, Xie at 1:34 Kong at 1:15:10 [correction: 1:16;40] below, though I like the way both of them move briskly into it in their own ways.

SIPCA 2016 2

July 19, 2016


Last week I got to some but not all of the semi finals for the Sydney International Piano Competition. I saw 6 of the semi-finalists’ 65-minute recitals, on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and I saw 9 of their chamber music rounds, on all of Friday and Saturday night.

Because I only went to day one of the preliminary rounds, there were still 3 semifinalists whom I never heard in any round, including the much-fancied Oxana Shevkenko from Kazakhstan.

On Saturday night the finalists were announced.

Dealing first with those who were eliminated, in playing order:

Gyu Tae Ha – one of the younger competitors, not yet 20.  My friend P preferred his Mephisto Waltz to that of his compatriot in the same session.  I otherwise only heard him in the chamber-music round, where he played the Brahms violin sonata.  Maybe not yet, my friend Lw opined, a true Brahmsian.

Sergey Belyavskiy  – I heard him o  nly in the first round when he launched, impressively, into a “Rage over a lost Penny.”  He struck me as a bit of a barnstormer.  Correction: I also heard him play the Franck Sonata with the violin, which was less “barnstormish.”

Xie Ming – early on the commentators described him as “flamboyant” – which always makes my heart sink.  Not because of him but because of all of us.  At some point he declared an allegiance to Jean-Yves Thibaudet which is manifested by something red in his footwear.  I heard him in round 1 and in the semifinals.  I liked his novelty number in round 1 which required the use of the sostenuto pedal.  I thought his statement of the theme in the Beethoven “Rule Britannia” variations was too bombastic: has he not heard Wellington’s Victory?  Xie Ming has loads of personality and had quite a following but perhaps for the jury the ratio of personality to music was too high.

I never heard Alexei Melnikov or Poom Prommachart in the flesh.

Tony Lee, the sole Australian semi-finalist, was slated to play last. I heard both his semi-final rounds.  The solo round started very well as he strode out with an air of determination and sat down at the keyboard to launch into Schubert’s 3 Klavierstücke D.946.  The first two were the best.  After that, as he moved on to Chopin, I began to worry if he was playing too much “pretty” stuff.  Is that a wise tactic?  It was a relief that he played Prokofiev 7 rather than the over-exposed Prok 6, even if I disagreed with what he did in the slow[-ish] movement, where I would have preferred he changed the colours rather than dragged around the tempi quite so much.

In the chamber music round, Lee played the Brahms [violin] sonata.  This started well, especially the slow movement, but something went amiss, I think, in the last movement, and the big finish eluded him.  There  was an agonising slightly non-plussed pause before rather desultory applause from the audience.  I think Lee deserved better than that and I really felt for him.  Maybe everyone was just exhausted.

As I am, other than to mention that the picture above is a tribute to Tasmin Little’s and Andrey Gugnin‘s performance of the Kreutzer sonata.  They may have been winging it for co-ordination (they only had one and a half hours to rehearse about 40 minutes of music) but both of them were sizzling pretty hot.  Tasmin could have done worse than to sweep up young Andrey from the keyboard at the end.

PS: It looks as though SIPCA itself has now put the semi-finals and finals up on Youtube. You can see the exhilaration at the end of the Kreutzer at about 2:47:47 here.







SIPCA 2016 1

July 15, 2016

This is a belated post.

Last Thursday I went to most of the first day of this year’s Sydney International Piano Competition. Having been delayed by torrential downpours, already too late for the first competitor, I also missed the second.  There was only one computer at the box office, manned by box-office personnel from the Opera House (to which the competition has outsourced its ticketing for this competition).

How it was that I hadn’t booked tickets earlier is another story. Suffice to say that an unwieldy computer booking system, SOH box office staff who weren’t entirely familiar with what they were selling and the notably more expensive tickets for this year each played a part.

Still, that left 6 more players at 20 minutes each in the first session, and another 8 in the evening.

That is almost too much piano music for me to sit and watch in one go (or, I suppose, two goes), though once you get into the rhythm of it, it has a certain Zen.

I now regret that I missed the gala concert the night before as this would have been a great opportunity to hear the active pianists amongst the jurors.

The competition is being live-streamed with visual as well as the audio which, as in previous years, is produced by ABC “Classic” FM.  Someone has now put up the streaming of the gala concert and the first two rounds of the competition on Youtube.  [See afterword below: it was evidently unauthorised and has now all been taken down.]  It’s not really a substitute for being there because recordings do not give a true record of how the instrument sounds in the hall.  This also varies according to where you are seated but the main thing which the recording doesn’t capture is that the hall is quite resonant.  Sound is clearest up the back upstairs where the jury sits.  My feeling is that it took a while for some competitors to make the necessary adjustments to speed and pedalling, though the recordings may not show that.

I had to miss day 2 and all of the second round, held from Saturday to Monday, though I caught some of the broadcast.

When the semi-finalists are announced there is always some disappointment – this year sharpened by the omission of an intermediary “Quarterfinals” round.  The main disappointment is, as ever, the omission of some interesting pianists as the verdict of the jury converges on potential “hero” concert pianists.

With one exception, all the semi-finalists are either from successor states to the former Soviet Union or of (in Australian terms) “Asian” background.  Only one woman made the cut.

The three pianists I heard in the flesh whom I was sorry to see eliminated were Daniel Lebhhardt, Alyosha Jurinic and Martin Malmgren.

It seems the competitors were asked to give a little statement about what they feel about the competition. The compilers of the printed program then extracted a sentence or two which is reproduced as part of the blurb about each.  Some of these are cringe-makingly politic (wonderful to play before such a distinguished jury; competition very prestigious etc).

Malmgren’s was:

I consider this event to be just as much a festival as a competition, celebrating diversity in repertoire and performing styles.  For the unprejudiced listener, there will be much to be discovered.

Unfortunately, we won’t be hearing some of Malmgren’s more interesting choices for following rounds, including the Medtner concerto, but we did hear his choice of Australian work for the first two rounds, Brett Dean’s Equality.  It starts at about 16:30  hereWords are by Michael Leunig, by the way.

Afterword:  Friday:  the Youtube links in this post are now all defunct.  Presumably they were all unauthorised rips from the livestreaming.  The dead hand of intellectual property has struck again.  I think it would have been worth leaving them up for at least the duration of the competition but obviously somebody has thought otherwise.  Perhaps the jurors took exception to the gala concert being put up – unlike the competitors, I doubt if they had signed all their rights away to the competition.


March 7, 2016

The 32 competitors chosen for the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition (SIPCA) have been announced.  Five only of these are women.  There is nobody from France, Germany (though some study there) or the UK. There are 5 each from Korea, Russia and the USA (including two who identify according to another background as well), 4 from China and 3 from Australia.

As I have previously noted, the syllabus for this year’s competition was rejigged in a number of respects. In particular, the concerto list was tweaked to include Bach, Haydn and early Beethoven in the “Eighteenth Century” first round, and some overplayed works (in particular Tchaikovsky 1 and Rachmaninov 3) were purged from the 19th-20th Century round.  A number of enticing (or maybe not-so-, as it turns out) relative obscurities were also included in the latter.

In my previous post, I thought this might lead to a Beethoven-ward drift in the first concerto round.  It’s just as well I didn’t put money on it.  As far as I can see, everybody has stuck with Mozart.  Maybe Beethoven 1 or 2 seemed like too big a burden.  Maybe nobody wanted to be an outlier.

As for the 19th-20th century round, nobody, to my disappointment, has elected to play the Litolff Scherzo/Franck Symphonic Variations double bill.  The only obscurity to attract attention is the Medtner 2, chosen by the single Swedish entrant.  Liszt 2, Chopin 2 and Grieg concerti have each been nominated by one entrant.  Two each have chosen Saint-Saens 2 and Beethoven 4.

Four have chosen Brahms 2.  That’s a big piece, but the overwhelming favourites remain the competition staples: Rachmaninov 2 – 9, and Prokofiev 3 – 11.


End of year

December 18, 2012

is almost upon us.  So I thought I’d mention a few things which I’ve been to which are so far unnoticed here.

I went to the Pinchgut Opera’s production of Rameau’s Castor and Pollux.

I’m sorry to say that I found the acting of visiting American Jeffrey Thompson as Castor almost insufferable, even if it be accepted that some of it was his own musical necessity. At one point, for no perceivable reason, he sat on the edge of the stage just behind Erin Helyard (the harpsichordist) and ran his hands over EH’s bald/shaven cranium. Something like this was done last year (or maybe the year before) as well but then at least it was funny and had a reason. I wouldn’t like it to become a running gag and for that matter I don’t think it is fair on EH, whether he minded it or not.

I sometimes wondered what the director, Kate Gaul, was thinking of, albeit that she had to operate within some constraints.

The realisation of the balletic element was problematic.   There were two rather fetching topless male dancers, and I’m not complaining about that. The women in the chorus, wearing vaguely Grecian drapery gym-slippy outfits, had to do rather a lot of stuff which maked them look like one of those early twentieth century photos of Druidic or Theosophic-ish groups doing something in the open air early in the morning.  Sometimes the urge came to just shut one’s eyes and listen to the music.

I found the second half, which seemed to prefigure Gluck and Haydn in its account of other worlds, more interesting than the first.

The orchestra was good. I went twice. This was something I had planned long before.

I wish I could say I enjoyed it more. Maybe the novelty to me of the French baroque has lessened, thanks in large part to Pinchgut’s own productions, which have also set a pretty high act for Pinchgut itself to follow.

I also went to two SSO concerts. The first of these featured Scott Davie playing the original version of Rhachmaninov’s fourth piano concerto, and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred.  The first was obviously a labour of love on SD’s part.  I enjoyed but was not really electrified by it.  Sometimes the verdict of history is right, and of course there are at least three better-known concertante works for piano by this composer.  Manfred excited me more when Caetani conducted it a few years ago.  This time it seemed a bit scrappy.

The second was billed as “Totally Tchaikovsky” (to distinguish it from Pique Dame as also being by Pushkin?) and paired the second piano concerto (also in its original version) with the fourth symphony.  I heard Garrick Ohlsson on the radio admit that the second concerto is an inferior work to the first, but all things considering that is not as big a put down as it might at first seem.  I enjoyed it and again on the live broadcast which I also listened to the next afternoon.  There were differences in approach between Ohlsson and Stephen Hough, who played this concerto here not so long ago.  I like to think that these match differences in their personality.

I have yet to see a publicity shot of Garrick Ohlsson that looks less than ten years old. The standard one looks as though it was taken more like twenty years ago, if not more.

One feature of the original version of the concerto is a kind of trio between the concertmaster, principal cello and piano in the middle movement.  I should concede (because sometimes I rail against her place in the orchestra’s publicity limelight that seems to only be rivalled by that enjoyed or hogged for the WASO by their grinning percussionist) that I enjoyed Catherine Hewgill’s solo in this very much.

The Tchaikovsky was on the mellow and warm side. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t have big moments, but it wasn’t as directly ominous as I have sometimes heard it, nor as angular.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard the second theme of the first movement edged into quite so gently. It was a distinctive approach.

Longer ago I went to the last of the Australia Ensemble concerts for the year.  The highlight of this for me (and I can’t say I was expecting this) was Ian Munro’s arrangement of Debussy’s Six epigraphes antiques

At the end of the concert, the retiring Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) announced next year’s program. When he anglicized the “ř” in “Dvořák” a kind of electric frisson mixed with comfort of knowing better rippled round the hall. As is customary, rather splendid chocolates and slightly less splendid but alcoholic-if-you-wished drinks were given out in the foyer afterwards.

I’ll be back for more.

On Sunday night I went to a concert by Orchestra Romantique at Paddington Town Hall. I first heard of this in November from Wanderer. Now that I look I see that it was announced on facebook on June 16. I think I had by then given up on checking to see if anything was happening with this group. You couldn’t say this concert was over-publicized. Handbills were distributed outside Castor & Pollux but to little evident effect. By the time the concert was held, it had been announced as the orchestra’s final concert in its present form. Something smaller may or may not emerge.

The first half of the program was the Brahms double concerto. This was the draw-card for me. Kristian Winther (who also directed) was the violinist and Timo-Veiko Valve the cellist. Without a dedicated conductor (Kirsty Hilton also waved her bow from the leader’s desk in one particularly hairy bit) it was all rather strict-tempo, but I still enjoyed it. The early-music push of the previous concerts did not seem to be a particular issue. Maybe with the size of the band we were meant to imagine ourselves at Meiningen.

The second half was in honour of Beethoven’s birthday and featured a kind of running address by [“Lord”] Geoffrey Robertson on liberty and the enlightenment. It also featured rather a lot of namedropping on GR’s part, though some may feel he is entitled to it. Overall it seemed a rather long bow to draw from the “Turkish March” from Beethoven’s music written in 1811 for von Kotzebue’s play, “The Ruin of Athens” to GR’s proposed appearance before the European Court of Human Rights to argue for the return of the “Elgin Marbles” to Greece.

When GR ascribed the push to end slavery as one originating in “High Anglicanism” he had gone too far. Last time I looked (then, and since) the Clapham Sect and Wilberforce were evangelicals, which is usually thought of as being quite the opposite. Call me a pedant, but that’s the sort of historical howler that can cast a bit of a shadow.

This sort of talking is not really a drawcard for me. It just seems a waste of an orchestra to have it sit by idle. I realise that is an error because the orchestra’s time is not to be measured simply by its time on stage on the night – there also has to be rehearsal time. So maybe the talking was a way of padding the program out. Others enjoyed it.

It’s sad to see the orchestra fold (or even restructure into something smaller) but not really surprising. It was good to hear them while they lasted.

Back to reality

August 14, 2012

On Friday night to hear the SSO’s “recreation” of its first concert in the Sydney Opera House, in 1973.

That concert featured [then plain “Mr”] Charles Mackerras as the returning Australian conductor, and Birgit Nilsson as the visiting Wagnerian superstar.

This time we had Simone Young and American soprano, Christine Brewer.

The program, dictated by the terms of the project as a reproduction, was:

Die Meistersinger – Overture
Tannhäuser – Dich teurer Halle!
Tristan und Isolde – Prelude & Liebestod
From Götterdämmerung:
Siegfried’s Rhine Journey
Siegfried’s Funeral March
Immolation scene

The building had been lit up and there was a gala feel with footage from the original concert being screened about the place and a full house. (Next door at the Opera Theatre all was tropical and merchandized for South Pacific; the younger male bar staff are wearing fetching little white US navy caps.) The SSO went to a bit of trouble with a gorgeous program cover. The program itself included (at page 22) the list of players from that concert. That suggested some small divergences in the reproduction of the 1973 concert.

For example, it seems as if in 1973 the SSO fielded 4 harps (6 are strictly called for but often not in evidence in actual performances) – in 2012 there were only 2. If the 1973 booklet can be believed (and the video record certainly seems to confirm it in this regard) the SSO also managed in 1973 to present its principal flute, oboe and bassoon (Neviile  Amadio, Guy Henderson, John Cran: all players I recall), which is more than it did in 2012.

Perhaps in those days the program professed less than it does now to list the actual players in a given concert. For example, Ron Prussing, pictured above from the SMH review with the caption “Ron Prussing plays in Wagner Under The Sails” is one of two players still in the orchestra who played at the 1973 concert, but he isn’t listed. That can probably be explained because he was a last minute substitute. What is a bit more difficult to explain in relation to the picture caption is that unless I am mistaken, Ron Prussing only played in the second half in the 2012 concert, and played the bass trumpet.

In 2012, Diana Doherty was slated to play principal oboe but David Papp, the youngest permanent member of the section, had to step up to the plate [yuck! sporting metaphor] in her absence and an unnamed gent came in to make up the numbers. Neither Matthew Wilkie (principal bassoon) nor Janet Webb (principal flute) were rostered on.  (Dene Olding gallantly took the third desk as Natalie Chee’s guest stint continued, btw.)

Conversely, I rather doubt if the SSO had a set of Wagner tubas in 1973. I think they were a novelty when I first heard them in Bruckner in ’78 or 79.  Correction in response to comment: I have looked again at the video record and can now spot them.

As well as possible comparisons to the past, there was also an opportunity to draw comparisons to Angela Denoke and the Melbourne orchestra’s performances of a few weeks ago, particularly of the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan & Isolde, which in both cases was the first-half closer. I was sitting in different spots, but I’d say Ms Brewer has the larger voice. When it came to the top notes she tended to rather hurl it up there and when it got to B and sometimes a bit below that there was a bit of a squawk, but as a friend who had gone on Saturday arvo put it, you could accept that as the price of her very rich lower and mid-register.

The audience received it rapturously but I’m not sure I shared their degree of adulation. I’ve decided it’s all to do with context. Wagnerian extracts are fun, but a Vorspiel is not the same when you aren’t expectant in the (usually darkened) theatre, and as I said about the MSO’s concert, the same applies to culmination of a long work as in either the Liebestod or in this case, the Immolation. A theatre’s acoustic is usually also a bit drier – relevant in this case to what should in my opinion have been a lighter and hence clearer touch in the jolly middle section of the Meistersinger overture. On the whole, if mostly well balanced and competently and even sometimes thrillingly played, things seemed plush and efficient rather than truly atmospheric.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but not really to the point of being particularly moved except maybe at the end of the Liebestod (which I noticed moved my neighbour to tears) and the Immolation, when I made myself be moved.

For the orchestral half of the Tristan the hall, probably the air-conditioning, added its own peculiar noise which resembled an intermittent low pizzicato D from the double basses. There were funny noises during the Liebestod for the MSO as well, though those were in the electronics. I sometimes wonder if the SOH is careful enough about this sort of thing.

I also listened to the repeat concert on Saturday afternoon when it was broadcast live. Funnily enough, the context issue didn’t worry me so much then, but then nor was I giving it the same sort of attention (there was cooking to be done as well) and my expectations were different.

On Sunday afternoon, I went to Angel Place to hear and see Avan Yu at the winner’s recital for the Sydney International Piano Competition [of Australia]. That is the occasion of the title of this post.

You can follow Mr Yu on the social media. Since he won it seems he has been back to Germany (that seems a rush so I might have got that wrong) then started his tour of the country. A lunchtime concert in Adelaide attracted a spectacular queue which he posted a picture of and I hope the other concerts were well attended by the audiences which the relevant host organisations drummed up on the back of all the publicity which the ABC broadcasts had given.

Unfortunately, SIPCA couldn’t manage the same for itself or its winner. The foyer was ominously underpopulated and when I went in I estimated the audience (in an 1100-capacity hall) as being in the low 200’s. Publicity had been rudimentary.

Avan Yu announced each piece just before he played it, as there wasn’t even so much as a photocopied song sheet. He did this quite personably, though I would have preferred it if he had also given us the whole program at the start. That turned out to be:

Chopin: Barcarolle
Schumann: Fantasie in C
Debussy: Etudes Bk I 1-6.
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No 12

The highpoints of this were the Fantasie (perhaps not quite as good as in the Seymour Centre: maybe this was just a question of atmosphere and possibly the state of the piano; I thought in Angel Place the dotted passage just after the opening and its return in the second movement threatened to get away from itself) and, most definitely, the Debussy etudes. As an encore we got the Chopin Etude in E major Op 10 No 3 – not a piece likely to feature in the competition unless someone ventured a set.

It’s disappointing a bigger public could not be drummed up: the price was quite reasonable and while Avan is not yet at the standard, say, of the majority of pianists in the ABC’s piano series held in that venue, his playing was worth hearing. Perhaps the Sydney audience thought they had already heard him. Perhaps they were all piano-ed out. Maybe some stayed away out of loyalty to or preference for their “People’s Choice” winner.

Whatever the reason, it’s a salutary indication and reality check of what the piano competition can or cannot deliver for its winner.


July 21, 2012

The winners for this year’s Sydney International Piano Competition were announced tonight.

They were/are:

6. Tanya Gabrielian (“Janet Jackson” in honour of her outfit in an earlier round.)
5. Hao Zhu
4. Mikhail Berestnev
3. Dmitry Onishchenko (our nickname: “The undertaker” – because of his lugubrious and rather deadpan stage presence)
2. Nikolay Khozyainov (“Cherubino” in honour of his youth, his blond curls and his performance of the Liszt Figaro Fantasy which is based on one song addressed to Cherubino and one sung by him)
1. Avan Yu

As an announcement it was a bit of a schemozzle. The revelation of the various special prizes (I went to the afternoon session but was at home listening on the radio for this) was entrusted to Marian Arnold, the ABC’s announcer.

Before that, Warren Thomson, the chairman of the jury, committed a little Freudian slip which gave the game away. Making some preliminary acknowledgements, when intending (I think) to say “able,” he actually said “Avan.”

“Aha!” D and I said to each other.

However, the cat was totally out of the bag with two special prizes: the Paspaley Pearl awards for best female and male players.

The best female player had to be Tania Gabrelian, because she was the only female finalist. Then Avan Yu was announced as the best male competitor.

Hang on! Unless SIPCA has any intersex competitors, doesn’t that tell us who the winner is?

Indeed it did, though the pretence of some suspense was then maintained right up to the moment of the announcement of first and second prizewinners. Logically the outcome even as to second place was clear once we were told who came third.

Nikolay Khozyainov won the “People’s Choice” award.

I only heard half of the Mozart concerti on the radio and a bit of one from the foyer on the second night (I was at Die tote Stadt next door). D and I went to both of the C19 and C20 rounds on Friday and Saturday. If the competition depended only on these concerti (which it doesn’t), then Avan Yu’s Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini was, at least as a percentage realisation of the work in question, head and shoulders above any of the others’.

From what I heard, from those chosen for the finals, I don’t disagree with the first three places. I’m not so sure about the order of 4,5 and 6.

SIPCA 2012 continued and rejigged

July 14, 2012

Since last posting on this topic, I have been to quite a bit of the Sydney International Piano Competition [not Nova Scotia but] Australia. I managed to hear in the flesh all 12 of the semifinalists though not always for both their solo recital and their chamber music performance. Except for Stefano Guarascio I heard all of them in an earlier round even if I did not catch their semifinal recital.

I also listened to some broadcasts but I want to emphasise that broadcasts give a very different impression and fall far short of replicating the experience if you are there in the flesh. You might hear all the notes but you don’t hear the tone, the true volume or, in the chamber music, the true balance. More contentiously and probably less importantly (because one might wonder: why is this relevant?) you are deprived of any visual element. If you are actually there you can also assess the way that the performer holds the attention of the audience. That shared attention is an important part of the live performance experience and also, if you are being evaluative, a kind of double-check on your own response.

The six finalists to play with the orchestra have been announced.

Next Tuesday and Wednesday they will play Mozart concerti. Those will be K 467, 467, 453 and 453, 491 and 467 respectively.

Next Friday night and Saturday afternoon, they will play their nineteenth and twentieth century concerti. This is [correction: was, when first announced – see below] the roster:

Friday 20th July, 8.00pm (19th/20th Century Concerti)
Tanya Gabrielian – Tchaikovsky 1
Nikolay Khozyainov – Rachmaninov 3
Dmitry Onishchenko – Rachmaninov 3

Saturday 21st July, 2.30pm (19th/20th Century Concerti)
Avan Yu – Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini
Hao Zhu – Rachmaninov 2
Mikhail Berestnev Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini

That’s rather a lot of Rachmaninov, isn’t it? And it’s not as if the sole Tchaikovsky really breaks the pattern.

I would have preferred to have seen in the final one or both of the two Italians, Guarascio and Giulio Biddau, not just because they were down to play Liszt and Brahms 1 respectively (aside from Gabrielian they were the only semifinalists who did not choose Rachmaninov), but because those choices are a proxy for something more. They are both more interesting pianists (to me, anyway) than at least two of those who have been chosen.


There has been a rejig of the order: Berestnev has been moved to the first program and Khozyainov moved to the second program. This avoids two Rachmaninov 3s on Friday and two Paganini Rhapsodies on Saturday. The same could have been achieved by swapping Berestnev or Yu for Onishchenko – if Yu had gone rather than Berestnev this would have avoided 3 K467s on Tuesday.

This gives an advantage to Khozyainov, particularly in relation to voting for the “People’s Choice” prize, since that voting is by those who are present on the Saturday.

In my opinion it would have been better if things had been left as they were.

SIPCA 2012 begins

July 7, 2012

The tenth Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia [ie, not Nova Scotia] has started.

This competition has punctuated my adult life since I attended the first one in my final year of school. It makes me think of those fairy stories where the fairy returns every seven years, though in this case the period has settled to 4. Another myth which comes to mind is the Nietzschean eternal recurrence, but I’m conscious that my perspective changes. When I first went, the competitors were all older than I. Now they all seem so young. Conversely, some of the regulars in the audience seem ageless.

My friend, P, with whom I went to much of the very first competition, told me that she recently showed her son a picture of me taken from about that time. He was shocked. Tell him (I said) his time will come.

I have been to one whole session and two half sessions of round 1. So far, in the sessions that I have attended, there has been more piano playing than music. It’s not that, I’m sure, all of the players are not capable of playing music which would give any hearer pleasure, but competition conditions (including the syllabus requirements, the silence between pieces and the 20-minute slots) and the requirement to “game” the competition can militate against that. Mostly this is because they are either playing too many notes (to show that they can) or because they are playing something which is too hard for them also to allow a margin for the beautiful. I’m told (I wasn’t there for it) that there has been at least one spectacular “bomb” and I saw one player severely afflicted by nerves.

The whole thing is being broadcast on ABCFM. Guy Noble, one of their commentators, describing himself as a lapsed pianist, gave voice to a feeling that I myself have when he remarked on the different experience of the competition for those youngsters for whom it is all new and exciting and those at the upper age limit for this (and many other) competitions for whom it is a final throw of the dice.

Why am I going? There’s something a bit compulsive about it – like watching series 2 of Downton Abbey.

I plan to go to more. The longer programs in the later rounds will, I hope, give more of a chance for the music. And despite my reservations about the competitive element, the event has its own cumulative Affekt.