Thursday, 7 July 2016


A view of Sydney Harbour Bridge from Circular Quay.

Sydney International Piano 
Competition of Australia 2016
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium
Wednesday (6 July 2016), 7.30 pm

Unlike previous Gala Concerts of the quadrennial Sydney International Piano Competition which features previous 1st prizewinners, this year's edition took a significant departure by showcasing performances by members of its jury and the Artistic Director Piers Lane himself. It was a show of solidarity by the jurors (who were by a large majority concert pianists rather than academics or pure pedagogues) with the competition's 32 participants, as if to say “We are your colleagues too, and we too can play under the public's scrutiny”.

In the same spirit of the competition where all four brands of grand pianos were to be performed equally, there were two performances each on the Steinway, Yamaha, Shigeru Kawai and Fazioli pianos in that order.

Piers Lane gets to the point
so that people could enjoy the music without delay.

After a short and typically witty speech by Lane, the 2-hour long concert got underway on the Steinway. Ewa Kupiec (Poland) opened with Schubert's Impromptu in C minor (Op.90 No.1) with a measured tempo but was voiced with total clarity. Its tragic overtones were well brought out, which soon dissipated as the piece gathered pace. This was followed by Brahms' Rhapsody in B minor (Op.79 no.1) from Maria Yevtich (Serbia), which too was deliberately paced but convincing in its rhetoric. Hers was a characteristically Slavic view, with darkness and more than a hint of gloom than just surface gloss.

First on the Yamaha was Medtner specialist Hamish Milne (UK), but he chose to play the first and last movements from Liszt's Swiss Book of Years of Pilgrimage. The contrasts were wonderfully brought out; thick chords, octaves and echoes in The Chapel of William Tell, and much lightness of touch and lyricism in The Bells of Geneva. Chen Sa (China), who is the youngest of the jurors (herself not too long out of the competition circuit with the Crystal Award at the 2005 Van Cliburn), performed Debussy's Bruyeres and Feux d'Artifice (from Preludes Book 2), the former with touching simplicity and the latter with blazing incandescence.

Sydney's "Castle of music" is the new venue
of the piano competition.

On the Shigeru Kawai, Piers Lane (Australia-UK) was joined by guest violinist Tasmin Little (UK) – who will perform a selection of violin sonatas with 6 semifinalists – brought the house down with Szymanowski's Notturno et Tarantelle. The dark hues of the prelude sublimated a sinister burning intent, which soon came to full fruition with the wildest dance thought possible. For a while, one thought this was a competition for violin, rather than piano. Noriko Ogawa (Japan) offered two pieces by her compatriot Toru Takemitsu, Les Yeux Clos II and Rain Tree Sketch II, both filled with illuminating light and colour. One cannot imagine these better done.

The last piano to be played on was the Fazioli. Orli Shaham (USA) gave a commanding performance of Ginastera's Three Argentinian Dances, rhythmic vitality followed by the second dance's yearning nostalgic, before unleashing the coruscating fury of the Gaucho Matrero. Closing the gala evening was Nikolai Demidenko (Russia) with a rare performance of Medtner's Dithyramb (Op.10 No.2), a grand rather than orgiastic dance of Dionysias. How he filled the hall with its evocation of joy, pure and true, was a summation of the piano itself.

This piano competition to come is a celebration of this grand obsession. 

Three of the jurors as performers:
Hamish Milne, Noriko Ogawa & Piers Lane.

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