Posts Tagged ‘SIPCA 2016’

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.








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.


SIPCA 2016 – the Empire strikes back

October 12, 2015

The jury for next year’s Sydney International Piano Competition (Australia) has been announced.

The non-voting chairman of the jury did not require announcement as that is Piers Lane, the competition’s artistic director. Lane lives in and works from London.

The voting jurors are as follows:

Nikolai Demidenko – Russian pianist, long resident in the UK; he has performed in Australia relatively often and has been well received here. No relation to Helen. Probably the leading pianist on the jury. He has a long-standing association with the Hyperion label, for which Lane also records.

Hamish Milne – sometime colleague of Piers Lane at the RAM; oldest member of the jury (born 1939). Known as Medtner specialist; Hyperion artist; has come out for the Festival of Chamber Music which Lane has directed at Townsville for some years.

Noriko Ogawa. Born, Japan 1962. Leeds placegetter early in career. Records for BIS; career otherwise in London/Europe and Japan. Musical friend and colleague of Lane.

Sa Chen (strictly: Chen Sa). Born 1979, Chongqing, China. Youngest competitor and fourth place getter at 12th Leeds competition; studied since in London and then at Hanover under Arie Vardi. Other prizes 2000, 2005.

Timothy Walker – Australian arts manager now GM of the London Philharmonic. A concerto appearance with that orchestra (subject to negotiation) is offered as one of the engagements for the first prize-winner.

So that’s 5 based in London or possibly in its English hinterland.

The 2 others are:

Carl Vine – needs little introduction to Australians; wrote a piano concerto first performed by Lane; Musica Viva bigwig (Musica Viva has in the past offered gigs to prizewinners and could well again – I haven’t checked.)

Mira Yevtich – the dark horse, to me at least. Serbian-born, Moscow-educated pianist who saw out some of the 1990s at the Australian Institute of Music (aka Sydney Guitar School) in Sydney and set up the (now possibly dormant) Southern Highlands Piano Competition at Bowral and Canberra; co-founder (with V Gergiev, no less – but presumably nothing there can be founded without his “co-“) of a Mariinsky Piano Festival, engagements at which are offered to some prize winners, subject to the usual caveats. Possibly back in Europe now. Obscure trivia: she taught the young Andrew Goodwin piano and encouraged him to go to Moscow where, realising he couldn’t cut the mustard pianistically, he switched to voice and ended up landing on his feet.

The number of jurors is down to 7 [see update below] – that’s an economy [a full 9 now appointed]. As to the quality, I couldn’t presume to judge. It seems to me that there are fewer jurors from a jury-circuit (in the past there was always at least a suspicion of an element of “You invite me onto your jury and I’ll invite you onto mine”). The connections with Lane are mostly pretty self-evident. More interesting to me is the London-centric selection – which may, of course, just be a reflection of the connections with Lane.

Update: December

Two further jurors have been appointed, bringing the number back up to 9. The further jurors are Orli Shaham and Ewa Kupiec. Both have appeared before in Sydney – Shaham with the SSO (and her husband, David Roberton) and Kupiec with the Tasmanian Symphony playing Chopin. Their appointments dilute the London-centricism and so rather spoil the title of this post.

A message from the Competition says:

“We are very excited about the calibre of judges on next year’s panel and know that the competitors will be under tough scrutiny.”


SIPCA 2016

September 11, 2015

The Sydney International Piano Competition (SIPCA) is due to be held next year.

For many years, SIPCA relied on the financial support of Claire Dan, former wife of Peter Abeles described as a “founder” of the competition.

In 2000 there was a bit of a flurry of public criticism of the competition. This is preserved on the competition’s Wikipedia entry and also by virtue of the internet age.

The nub of it was encapsulated by a comment from Larry Sitsky:

“The title `Sydney International Piano Competition’ sounds grand and definitive. But behind the facade is a rather shabby private party in progress.”

Much of the criticism was really criticism of Warren Thomson, chairman of the jury from 1992.

Shabby or not, the competition certainly was a private party, and the person paying for the drinks was Claire Dan. Thomson remained the director because he had Dan’s confidence. “Warren is best because Warren gets things done,” said Dan.

The competition was run on a shoe-string. For a very modest salary, practically an honorarium, Thomson organised everything from the competition’s office in Dan’s Bellevue Hill mansion, which he attended on a daily basis. He arranged each competition, curated the follow-up tours for prizewinners and kept the affairs of the competition’s “Friends” bubbling along between competitions with musical events featuring his chosen proteges.

By the 2012 competition, Ms Dan was not well enough to attend. She died in October that year. Thomson himself was suffering a decline. He could barely preside on public occasions and had to entrust the pronunciation of difficult foreign names to others. He can only have managed by adherence to a by-then well-established timetable and procedures.

Following Dan’s death, the Bellevue Hill mansion was sold. At the beginning of 2014 it was announced that Thomson had retired. He moved to Melbourne and died in February this year.

At the beginning of this year the competition advertised for a new artistic director, seeking someone who would be responsible for everything that Thomson had done, right down to proof-reading the programs (with the possibility of some administrative assistance mentioned). An “International” figure was sought who could renew the competition.

At the beginning of April Australian expatriate pianist Piers Lane was announced as artistic director. Since then, Marcus Barker, who previously ran the Tasmanian “Ten Days on the Island” festival, has taken a job as General Manager and a “Marketing and Administration Coordinator” position has been advertised ($48,000 pro rata for four- rising to five-days-a-week before). This is the person who who will be doing the proofreading.

There must be some money to pay for all of this.

The revamped 2016 competition has now been announced.

The main changes that I have noticed are as follows:

1. Preliminary auditions are to be submitted as video recordings by Vimeo or Youtube.

Previously, Thomson travelled to various venues (North America, Europe, China, I think) and co-opted local ad hoc jurors for auditions which were at least theoretically open to the public. It is unlikely that Lane would have been available for such an extensive process.

I expect that young pianists of today are accustomed to this sort of requirement and there are obviously economies for the competition in proceeding this way. The costs to competitors of travelling to an audition venue as against preparing an audition video probably roughly cancel each other out.

Overall, I suppose this is a sign of the times, even if the next sign could only be an entire competition conducted online.

2. The syllabus for the solo-piano rounds has become less prescriptive.

The only requirement is that an Australian solo work be included but the specially commissioned Australian works which have previously been a feature of the competition have been dropped.

This may make it difficult to compare competitors although many players will fall back on usual competition stalwarts.

If the rules are looser potential competitors may be looking more carefully at the jury – to be announced in October.

3. The number of competitors has been reduced from 36 to 32 and there is one round fewer

This will save costs on fares and accommodation and duration of the competition. Previously stages I – IV were in duration 20, 20, 40, 50 mins plus chamber music, with respectively 36, 36, 20, 12 players. Now preliminary rounds are 20 and 30 minutes, after which the semi finals see a reduction from 32 to 12 players. The semi-final recital has been lengthened to 60-65 minutes. A player who gets to the semi finals will have played 110-15 minutes in 3 recitals as opposed to 130 in 4 before. We hear less from fewer pianists and more pianists will only play twice.

4. The solo and chamber music rounds have returned to the Verbrugghen Hall at the Conservatorium.

This marks the healing of the rift between the competition and the Con which occurred after Thomson left the Con and went to the Australian Institute of Music in the late 1990s. The competition also now has an office at the Con.

In the intervening years the competition has been held at the Seymour Centre. The Con is more glamorous and probably will work better backstage and for practice pianos. The Seymour Centre has actually proved to be quite audience friendly and provided you come by car much more accessible than the Con will be next year.

5. A revision of the “choice of piano” rules.

In previous years there was a kind of competition going on between piano manufacturers. There may have been more going on than met the public eye with the offering of practice pianos and other inducements to fancied competitors.

Now the rules say that four
pianos will be provided – Kawai, Yamaha, Steinway and Fazioli, and that “Competitors will perform on at least two and up to four different piano makes during the Preliminaries and Semi-finals of the Competitions, the order of which will be determined through a public draw in early June 2016.”

The rules state that this is designed to reproduce real-life conditions, where players cannot necessarily chose the instruments they play on – but how often in real life do you have to play a Fazioli? I can’t help thinking that this change has other more practical reasons, including just saving time in the first preliminary rounds.

6. A revision of the chamber music round.

In recent years the chamber music part of the semifinals involved making up a piano trio with one of two violin-cello pairs. Next year competitors will need to have prepared a violin sonata and a piano quintet. Which they get to play if they progress to this round looks as though it will depend on how the order of semi-finalists pans out.

The Goldner Quartet, who are collaborators with Lane, will make up the quintet; Tasmin Little will be the rent-a-violin.

It will be a treat for the audience to hear six piano quintet performances. It may prove a bit more difficult for competitors to find a whole quartet to practise with before the competition rather than just a violinist and cellist.

7. The list of concerti has been tweaked.

A Bach, a Haydn and Beethoven 1 and 2 have been added to the first concerto round which previously comprised Mozart concerti only. My bet is that there will be a Beethoven-ward drift.

The second, 19th-20th century round, which starts at Beethoven 4, is notable for what has not been included. Four prominent competition choices are OUT: Beethoven 3 & 5, Tchaikovsky 1 and Rachmaninov 3. That is a relief, especially the Tchaik and Rach.

There are some intriguing inclusions. This is the list:

Beethoven Concerto No 4 in G major Op 58

Hummel Concerto No 2 in A minor Op 85

Chopin Concerto No 2 in F minor Op 21

Schumann Concerto in A minor Op 54

Liszt Concerto No 2 in A major S.125

Grieg Concerto in A minor Op 16

Saint-Saëns Concerto No 2 in G minor Op 22

Tchaikovsky Concerto No 2 [!] in G major Op 44 (competitors might be wise to check which version the SSO has the parts for)

Brahms Concerto No 2 in B flat major Op 83

Scriabin Concerto in F sharp minor Op 20

Dohnányi Variations on a Nursery Tune Op 25

Rachmaninoff Concerto No 2 in C minor Op 18

Medtner Concerto No 2 in C minor Op 50

Prokofiev Concerto No 3 in C major Op 26

Gershwin Concerto in F

Ravel Concerto in G major

Bartok Concerto No 3 Sz. 119, BB 127

Barber Concerto Op 38

Williamson Concerto No 3 in E flat major (probably the most obscure of the lot: counts as Australian content)

Franck Variations Symphoniques M.46

Litolff Scherzo from Concerto Symphonique No 4.

The last two come together, ie, if you choose the Franck you also play the Litolff. They could be a canny choice. I hope somebody who has chosen these gets through to the finals.


There is (trigger alert: cliché coming) an elephant in the room: the devastating cutbacks in ABC Classic FM’s live broadcasts.

Over the years the ABC’s live broadcasts with commentary have done much to enhance the competition and I expect done a lot to garner audiences for the follow-up appearances for prize winners. They were a big part of the buzz.

In recent years, the ABC has extended the same coverage to the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. This year it did not. At that time, the axe had just fallen and hard. The ABC probably thought it was doing well to mount the level of live and (more often) delayed broadcasts that it gave.

There is still time to regroup for SIPCA 2016. It would be pathetic if any invidious Sydney-Melbourne thing were raised to preclude the resumption of normal broadcasting.

Private party or not, if I were SIPCA, that is the big thing I would be working on right now.