9 items tagged "competitions"

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Our Woman at the Cliburn: Awards I Would Like to See

Category: ThePianoMag Blog
Created on Monday, 10 June 2013 00:41

I thought about doing a straightforward review. After all, I just heard three concerti: Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff. But the Cliburn Awards Ceremony begins in less than one hour (and, after a ten-block sort-of-sprint in the humid heat, I really need to take a shower). So I will throw out a brief list of awards I would like to see. I can’t outguess the jury anyway.

Cadenza Award

Vadym Kholodenko and Nikita Mndoyants tie for this one. Both men wrote cadenzas for their Mozart concerti, and how refreshing (and in the spirit of Mozart) to hear something new! I wrote about Mndoyants’s cadenza in my last post, so in this one I will give huge kudos to the delightful, well constructed, and just plain fun cadenzas Kholodenko played today.

Our Woman at the Cliburn: My Heart Beats for Beatrice

Category: ThePianoMag Blog
Created on Sunday, 09 June 2013 21:45

Just as all we who entered here were (almost) ready to abandon hope, Lovely Beatrice revived. We had suspected that her fire was there; if anyone could ignite it, Prokofiev could. And boy, did he ever create an inferno.

Beatrice Rana’s Thursday-night Beethoven Third was a very correct (if a bit tepid) performance. I had, however, heard the webcast version of her Schumann quintet [see my earlier post, “Our Woman at the Cliburn: Dante and Schumann”], and I was hoping that Rana would go for it with the Prokofiev. And indeed she did.

Our Woman at the Cliburn: Things Are Looking Up

Category: ThePianoMag Blog
Created on Saturday, 08 June 2013 05:39

Don’t tell my husband—although he already knows—but I have a long-standing crush on the Prokofiev Third. What can I say? It has everything: excitement, humor, personality, sensitivity, and drive. Really, how can I resist?

Apparently, I’m not the only one. The Prokofiev Third was, fittingly, the third concerto of this evening’s Cliburn Finals program, and I have the distinct feeling that Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko, 26, is in love with the piece. He was at complete ease throughout, and his performance on the Cliburn’s American Steinway (mirabile dictu, no New York Hamburg tonight!) never lost me. A delightful bonus was that the Fort Worth Symphony, led by Leonard Slatkin, listened and responded to Kholodenko’s energy in a way I hadn’t heard up to this point.

Our Woman at the Cliburn: Anybody got an Aspirin?

Category: ThePianoMag Blog
Created on Friday, 07 June 2013 13:50

As I walked back to my Fort Worth hotel this evening, this conversation caught my ear:

“We heard our winner tonight. Don’t you think we heard our winner tonight?”

Well…maybe. Or maybe not. Results of piano competitions can surprise both audience and critics, and it is still quite early in the Cliburn finals. Between now and Sunday afternoon, there will be four performances featuring three concerti each. Grab a cup of coffee before you take your seat!

Our Woman at the Cliburn: Handicapping the Concerti

Category: ThePianoMag Blog
Created on Sunday, 02 June 2013 18:24

Question of the day: Has anyone else compulsively looked at the repertoire lists and estimated which concerti we will hear in the finals?

If someone (say, for instance, me), assembles a spreadsheet of the semifinalists’ listed concerto repertoire, she can take bets as to what we will hear in the latter part of next week. Here are the odds:

Our Woman at the Cliburn: Dante and Schumann

Category: ThePianoMag Blog
Created on Sunday, 02 June 2013 01:29

Did anyone else think of Dante today? If I sound pretentious, it’s all Beatrice Rana’s fault. Her Schumann Quintet made me think not only of Schumann, but of other greats including Brahms, Beethoven, and Dante, who so loved his Beatrice.

In the spirit of honesty, I will admit my fondness for this quintet, a wonderful opener for the Cliburn’s chamber performances. Does it not contain the most gorgeous passages ever? Is the second movement not Schubertian? Do you not wish the third movement were longer? Does the finale not beguile you with its assertive opening, brief melodic detours, and rhythmic drive?

Our Woman at the Cliburn: Bravo, Sean Chen

Category: ThePianoMag Blog
Created on Tuesday, 28 May 2013 01:18

Would that I had the opportunity to view all of the Cliburn preliminaries live! Not going to happen, although I am doing my best to hear as much as I can.

On the other hand, since this is a blog, I can write what I want to write. And what I want to write is a long piece on the May 26 Preliminary I recital by 24-year-old American Sean Chen.

Chen’s repertoire alone would have (almost) inspired me to walk from Dallas to Fort Worth: Bach, Bartók, Chopin, and Scriabin. But then I heard his performance! Oh, Sean. You’ve made me a fan.

By the time we were a few bars into the Allemande of the Bach French Suite No. 5, I knew we were in the hands of a mature and nuanced player. Chen kept the Baroque sensibility while highlighting what our instrument has to offer: shading, subtle variations in tone, a multitude of articulations, and a wealth of dynamics. As a bonus, his playing inspired me to think, “He swings!” He swung in the Courante, he swung in the Gigue—he had rhythmic vitality to spare.

Our Woman at the Cliburn: The Competition Begins

Category: ThePianoMag Blog
Created on Friday, 24 May 2013 12:09

The Cliburn: it’s our Super Bowl, combined with the Olympic Games, combined with the Oscars. Like the Super Bowl contestants, Cliburn competitors are at the top of their game and are hoping for the big win by the end of the season. Like Olympians, the Cliburn competitors must have incredible amounts of stamina, and the ability to spy the long-term prize looming in the distance. And need I tell you why the Cliburn is like the Oscars?

Preliminary Round, Phase 1, began today, and the competitors’ Olympic stamina was on display. The pianists play “straight-through” recitals, finishing one gargantuan work before launching into another without so much as walking backstage.

Our Woman at the Cliburn

Category: ThePianoMag Blog
Created on Thursday, 23 May 2013 14:58

Our Woman at the Cliburn (May 23, 2013)

As “one of us,” (i.e., a pianist), you are probably feeling that quadrennial desire to travel to Fort Worth, Texas. The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, May 24 through June 9, is the big one. Semifinalists present a solo recital (which will include Birichino, a commissioned work by American composer Christopher Theofanidis) and perform a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet. Finalists will perform two concerti with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Leonard Slatkin. The Preliminary Round begins at 11 a.m. this Friday, May 24, and continues through May 30. As always, a webcast will enable us to view the entire competition—all 110 hours of it—live.

Cliburn preparation began months ago. In January and February 2013, each of 132 entrants played a forty-minute juried recital. These 132 were whittled down to thirty competitors, each of whom will play two recitals, forty-five minutes each, during the preliminaries. The twelve semifinalists will be announced May 30, after completion of the preliminary recitals.

That’s where we stand this week—I don’t want to give away everything at once! I will be blogging throughout the competition and want to keep you in suspense so that you will continue to read my posts (although, needless to say, complete competition information is available at cliburn.org).

I am one of eight members of the Music Critics Association of North America who has been invited to attend the Cliburn finals, and I am delighted that I can provide detailed finals coverage for Clavier Companion readers. 

Susan Geffen is a managing editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, and writer. She is a specialist in Recreational Music Making and has also worked as a composer's assistant and orchestral score proofreader.

 

 


The Competition Begins (May 24, 2013)

The Cliburn: it’s our Super Bowl, combined with the Olympic Games, combined with the Oscars. Like the Super Bowl contestants, Cliburn competitors are at the top of their game and are hoping for the big win by the end of the season. Like Olympians, the Cliburn competitors must have incredible amounts of stamina, and the ability to spy the long-term prize looming in the distance. And need I tell you why the Cliburn is like the Oscars?

Preliminary Round, Phase 1, began today, and the competitors’ Olympic stamina was on display. The pianists play “straight-through” recitals, finishing one gargantuan work before launching into another without so much as walking backstage.

Let’s stipulate a couple of things. First, every Cliburn contestant is a fabulous pianist. Next—until I am in Fort Worth in a week or so—I will never be able to hear all the performances. I can, however, share some of the impressions I am forming while I prepare to cover the finals.

From now through May 30, each competitor plays in both Phases 1 and 2 of the Preliminary Round. The pianists choose their solo repertoire, and, of course, the competitors want to showcase their abilities. But, to me at least, these choices also reflect each pianist’s aesthetic, and I prefer musicians who choose stylistically divergent compositions that are not merely virtuosic, but are also pieces that we either would want to hear again or which we grudgingly admire.

Luca Buratto, 20, is from Milan, and his opening recital featured the Haydn Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI:50, and the Schumann Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17. Buratto has a wickedly robust style and a deep tone. The third movement of the Haydn conveyed the humor; he really sold the fermati. The Schumann was coherent and beautifully voiced throughout—Burrato has the intellect for the piece.

I did, however, have a problem during Buratto’s recital: I couldn’t watch him. I could happily listen to him, but, like André Watts, he seems to be in terrible pain when he plays. His shoulders hike, his feet leave the ground, he grimaces and appears to grit his teeth. There’s more, but, truly, he seems like a nice guy, so I’ll stop picking on him. (I’m guessing, though, that I am not the first person to have noticed Buratto’s mannerisms.)

Dallasite Alex McDonald, 30, performed a program that highlighted his high degree of stylistic versatility. (Disclaimer: I live in Dallas, and I know and like Alex.) After the Haydn Sonata in B Minor, Hob. XVI:32, he stayed in B minor for the Liszt Sonata. Whew!

After the Liszt, McDonald closed with Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II (1992). Takemitsu wrote the piece in remembrance of Olivier Messiaen, and it shows: the composition is filled with bird song and pure delights of sound. (I caught a bit of Ravel’s Oiseaux tristes, too. In fact, after I wrote this blog, I noticed that McDonald is performing Oiseaux tristes in the next phase of the preliminaries.) Here’s a great short program: Schumann’s Vogel als Prophet, Oiseaux tristes, and the Takemitsu.

I’m watching the preliminaries on the Cliburn webcast. The webcast is live, but you can also gain access through the Cliburn website’s on-demand feature. I do wish the webcast were synced consistently (it gives me the heebie-jeebies when the pianist’s hands and the audio don’t line up). To save you the rummaging around that I had to do in order to bring up the on-demand materials, I’ll give you the procedure here. Visit http://www.cliburn.org/ondemand.html and click “View Full Webcast” on the upper right. When you reach the webcast page, you will be able to select individual recitals to view. 

Susan Geffen is a managing editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, and writer. She is a specialist in Recreational Music Making and has also worked as a composer's assistant and orchestral score proofreader.

 

 


Bravo, Sean Chen (May 28, 2013)

Would that I had the opportunity to view all of the Cliburn preliminaries live! Not going to happen, although I am doing my best to hear as much as I can.

On the other hand, since this is a blog, I can write what I want to write. And what I want to write is a long piece on the May 26 Preliminary I recital by 24-year-old American Sean Chen.

Chen’s repertoire alone would have (almost) inspired me to walk from Dallas to Fort Worth: Bach, Bartók, Chopin, and Scriabin. But then I heard his performance! Oh, Sean. You’ve made me a fan.

By the time we were a few bars into the Allemande of the Bach French Suite No. 5, I knew we were in the hands of a mature and nuanced player. Chen kept the Baroque sensibility while highlighting what our instrument has to offer: shading, subtle variations in tone, a multitude of articulations, and a wealth of dynamics. As a bonus, his playing inspired me to think, “He swings!” He swung in the Courante, he swung in the Gigue—he had rhythmic vitality to spare.

So what about the more lyrical dance movements? Were they as melodious as they should have been? You bet, especially the well-known Gavotte, which Chen took at a lovely, easy pace. And how about voicing? Throughout the suite voicing was clear without being overbearing, particularly in the rousing Gigue, which was filled with colors of sound.

Chen’s second selection, the Bartók Three Études, Op. 18, was absolutely thrilling. The studies were published in 1918, seven years after Allegro Barbaro (which is quoted in the first etude), and the second and third etudes sound almost Expressionistic at times. The second piece of the set is intermittently reminiscent of “Dawn” (the seventh of the Ten Easy Pieces), Debussy, and—if you’re looking for a through-line in the program—Scriabin. Further, Chen gets a gold star for his clear understanding of the third etude; he never loses the sense of this complicated piece.

Chen followed with the Chopin Op. 59 mazurkas. In this program, they were the sorbet before the heavier main course of the Scriabin Sonata No. 5, Op. 53. As in the Bach, the mazurka voicing was apparent but not oppressively so, and his pedaling kept transparency as needed. Chen always knows where each piece is going, and he makes the listener appreciate each note on the way.

And now for Scriabin. The Sonata No. 5 is in one movement, and we know what Scriabin is looking for because he tells us: the score includes a quotation from his written Poem of Ecstasy. “I summon you to life,” he writes, “you timorous Embryos of life, it is to you that I bring daring.” It’s up to the pianist to bring maturity and comprehensibility—even beauty—to Scriabin’s vision, and Chen succeeded. He played every expressive marking, from “Presto tumultuoso esaltato” to “con una ebbrezza fantastica” (“with a fantastical intoxication”) without making the piece sound disorganized or, it must be said, a bit on the crazy side. No small feat.

I liked this guy.

This and that:

  • Contestants, please smile like your teacher always told you to. (Chen definitely did, but I’m sure you astute readers have noticed that some of the players look like they are either on their way to and from the guillotine or like they are really angry. Nerves, I know, but they must pretend!)
  • Webcam people, please shoot the bows from the front.
  • Scriabin is having a good year at the Cliburn preliminaries. In all, there are five Scriabin performances, two of them being of the Sonata No. 5. And on Tuesday May 28, Russian competitor Nikita Mndoyants will be playing Prelude and Fugue in G-Sharp Minor, Op. 29, by Sergei Taneyev, one of Scriabin’s teachers.
  • Scott Cantrell, Classical Music Critic for the Dallas Morning News, started quite an interesting Twitter discussion. He noted that the Cliburn programs no longer include the names of the competitors’ teachers. (There has been the occasional dust-up about the fact that jury members have taught some of the competitors. Jury members, however, always refrain from judging their present or former students.) Cantrell’s position—and I agree—is that it is standard procedure to list teachers, and that many of us want to know who taught (or teaches) whom. Jacques Marquis, new president and CEO of the Cliburn Foundation, replied at http://artsblog.dallasnews.com/2013/05/cliburn-notes-4.html/, saying that the competition is about the competitors, not their teachers. True enough, but how did the competitors get where they are? Read Marquis’s reply, and then try to refrain from growling the rest of the day.

Susan Geffen is a managing editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, and writer. She is a specialist in Recreational Music Making and has also worked as a composer's assistant and orchestral score proofreader.

 

 


Dante and Schumann (June 2, 2013)

Did anyone else think of Dante today? If I sound pretentious, it’s all Beatrice Rana’s fault. Her Schumann Quintet made me think not only of Schumann, but of other greats including Brahms, Beethoven, and Dante, who so loved his Beatrice.

In the spirit of honesty, I will admit my fondness for this quintet, a wonderful opener for the Cliburn’s chamber performances. Does it not contain the most gorgeous passages ever? Is the second movement not Schubertian? Do you not wish the third movement were longer? Does the finale not beguile you with its assertive opening, brief melodic detours, and rhythmic drive?

And, here is Beatrice, one of two competitors from Italy, displaying (thank goodness!) an economy of technique that spotlights the music rather than distracting us with what I have come to think of as pianistic gestural bling. I hope, hope, hope that she makes the finals and we are able to hear her Beethoven and Prokofiev concerti.

Schumann had a big day today. In addition to the quintet, we heard American Claire Huangci tackle the Symphonic Etudes, and she did justice to this gigantic, sit-up-and-take-notice composition and its technical challenges and shifts in character.

Also this afternoon was our first opportunity to hear the Cliburn’s commissioned piece, Birichino (“Prankster”), by Dallas-born composer Christopher Theofanidis. Huangci played easily and lightly (the word trippingly comes to mind). The thing bounces all over the piano, and Huangci uncovered the piece’s laughter, using expert articulation and pedaling. The piece, a tribute to the composer’s daughter, was in some ways an update of Debussy’s Doctor Gradus.

And, speaking of Debussy, Nikita Mndoyants included three Debussy preludes in his semifinal recital. He began with La Cathédrale engloutie, and I must say—as kindly as I can—that I don’t think Debussy is Mndoyants’s composer. He definitely “heard” Debussy’s chimes, but, throughout both La Cathédrale and his next prelude, La puerta del vino, Debussy’s expressive resonances just weren’t there. And, in the latter, I kept thinking about Debussy’s sultry, heat-soaked Spanish atmosphere: I missed it. Feux d’artifice, on the other hand, was exciting, technically assured, and much more nuanced.

Pictures at an Exhibition, on the other hand, was Mndoyants’s piece. His performance featured abundant dynamic contrasts, an energetic opening, and a “Catacombs” that sounded truly creepy. In general, however, Mndoyants is a man in a hurry. I wish he would linger and relish the guitar sounds of La puerta, let the cathedral’s chimes blend and haunt us, and do more with Mussorgsky’s notated lessenings of tempo. Then we would really have something.

This and that (otherwise known as catty remarks):

  • Thank you, Beatrice Rana, for wearing pants. It’s about time!
  • Maybe it’s my computer, but a little more volume would be a welcome addition to the webcast.
  • Did anyone else want to gently push down Huangci’s shoulders? I worry about the aches that could accrue over years of playing. (I’m very maternal, actually.)

Susan Geffen is a managing editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, and writer. She is a specialist in Recreational Music Making and has also worked as a composer's assistant and orchestral score proofreader.

 

 


Handicapping the Concerti (June 2, 2013)

Question of the day: Has anyone else compulsively looked at the repertoire lists and estimated which concerti we will hear in the finals?

If someone (say, for instance, me), assembles a spreadsheet of the semifinalists’ listed concerto repertoire, she can take bets as to what we will hear in the latter part of next week. Here are the odds:

  • Number One with a Bullet: Rach 3 (four of the twelve contestants list this one—surprise!)
  • Second place is a tie: Prokofiev No. 2 and Beethoven No. 4 (each programmed by three competitors)
  • Third place is a five-way tie: Beethoven No. 3; Tchaikovsky B-flat; Mozart, K. 482; Mozart, K. 466; Prokofiev No. 3 (each programmed by two competitors)
  • And coming in at fourth place, with one competitor each: Mozart, K. 595; D-minor Brahms; Beethoven “Emperor”; and Mozart, K. 467.

Care to place a bet? If you like, you can visit cliburn.org to match up competitors with repertoire.

I’m going out on a limb here and predicting the Rach 3.

Susan Geffen is a managing editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, and writer. She is a specialist in Recreational Music Making and has also worked as a composer's assistant and orchestral score proofreader. 

 

  


Anybody got an Aspirin? (June 7, 2013)

As I walked back to my Fort Worth hotel this evening, this conversation caught my ear:

“We heard our winner tonight. Don’t you think we heard our winner tonight?”

Well…maybe. Or maybe not. Results of piano competitions can surprise both audience and critics, and it is still quite early in the Cliburn finals. Between now and Sunday afternoon, there will be four performances featuring three concerti each. Grab a cup of coffee before you take your seat!

I didn’t hear the name of the competitor that was pronounced “our winner,” but my educated guess is that the speaker was referring to audience favorite Fei-Fei Dong. Dong is charming and delivered an undeniably enthusiastic performance of the Rach 3, but I have this little hang-up about tone: I don’t want it to give me a headache. And, by the end of the concerto, I had a lulu.

Part of the problem was the orchestra. Throughout the evening’s performances—which, in addition to Dong, featured Beatrice Rana in the Beethoven Third and Nikita Mndoyants in the Prokofiev Second—the Fort Worth Symphony, led by Leonard Slatkin, was just flat too loud, and it sometimes didn’t keep up with the soloists. Here’s hoping that things will improve as we continue the final rounds.

Rana played the New York Hamburg Steinway, and its sound is quite brash, particularly in the treble. I admire Rana’s artistry, but I’d like to hear the Beethoven again on a different piano. The phrasing and and dynamic contrasts were much less pronounced than I had anticipated, but I have a coda: watching her hands, I expected much more nuanced sounds to emanate from the instrument. The piano itself has got to be at least partly at fault.

And now, the place where I surprise myself and part company with many of my sister and brother critics: I liked Mndoyants. A lot. His performance was exciting, individualistic, vibrant, and full of dynamic and tonal detail, and the Cliburn’s American Steinway was a much more responsive instrument than the New York Hamburg.

Mndoyant is a natural to play this piece. And why shouldn’t he be? His father, Alexander Mndoyants, tied for fifth in the 1977 Cliburn; Mndoyant imbibed concerti while still in the crib. (And if you don’t believe me, check out www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Prokofiev-Mndoyants-Rimsky-Korsakov-Rachmaninov/dp/B0002KHE16. Not to be missed.)

Dong was the evening’s closer, and she is charismatic and musical. But she is tough on that already fairly abrasive Cliburn Hamburg. Are we ever, ever, ever going to get through this loud-and-fast trend? And does it persist because loud and fast wins?

Yes, I’m irritable about this (and, by golly, I’ve earned the right to be!). A Cliburn performance, like any performance, is not necessarily indicative of the whole musician. But I can only write about one performance at a time, as I look forward to the next one. 

Susan Geffen is a managing editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, and writer. She is a specialist in Recreational Music Making and has also worked as a composer's assistant and orchestral score proofreader. 

 

 


Things are Looking Up (June 8, 2013)

Don’t tell my husband—although he already knows—but I have a long-standing crush on the Prokofiev Third. What can I say? It has everything: excitement, humor, personality, sensitivity, and drive. Really, how can I resist?

Apparently, I’m not the only one. The Prokofiev Third was, fittingly, the third concerto of this evening’s Cliburn Finals program, and I have the distinct feeling that Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko, 26, is in love with the piece. He was at complete ease throughout, and his performance on the Cliburn’s American Steinway (mirabile dictu, no New York Hamburg tonight!) never lost me. A delightful bonus was that the Fort Worth Symphony, led by Leonard Slatkin, listened and responded to Kholodenko’s energy in a way I hadn’t heard up to this point.

But Kholodenko was not the only one with energy. “Now we’re talkin’,” I said to a colleague after American Sean Chen finished the Beethoven “Emperor.” Chen, 24, has been a favorite of mine since the preliminaries, and he’s still high on my list. His tone has depth and color, and he is terrific at cueing the orchestra. (Bravo to Chen for his on-the-spot adjustments when the orchestra didn’t quite take his cues.)

Chen made me remember how much I love this Beethoven. Is there anything better than the end of the first movement, or, for that matter, the concluding bars of the third-movement rondo? Chen made the piece sound fresh, with thoughtful shading and sensitive character changes. He understands the piece. From my seat, anyway, the Cliburn’s Hamburg Steinway could have been more helpful when Chen was in the outer reaches of the treble, but at least he wasn’t on the New York Hamburg.

Before continuing, I do want to mention the performance of Japanese pianist Tomoki Sakata. Sakata played the Mozart, K. 466, and I think he is probably going to do well: his teacher is William Naboré. Tonight’s Mozart, performed on the Cliburn’s Hamburg, was accurate, clean, and definitely rhythmic, but also definitely dry. He had speed, that’s for sure, but his tendency to accent the tops of phrases made me wince more than once. On the other hand, the nineteen-year-old Sakata is the youngest finalist, and he has ample time to develop. I look forward to hearing his Tchaikovsky No. 1 on Sunday. (You didn’t really think we would get through this competition without hearing the Tchaikovsky No. 1, did you?)

And now for the Prokofiev. From the opening bars, it was clear that Kholodenko had that swing. He also had that dynamic range, technical prowess, timing, intellect, plaintiveness, and exuberance. The piece itself is a thrill ride; what a pleasure to have Kholodenko at the helm.

It’s always gratifying to appreciate the piece as well as the pianist. Perhaps we wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with Prokofiev himself (take a look at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324582804578344131609665470.html?mod=googlenews_wsj), but, boy, do I enjoy hanging out with his concerti.

This and that:

  • The Best Hair Award goes to Sean Chen. There seems to be no competition.
  • I’ve decided that we have reached the age of Standing Ovation Inflation. Folks, if you stand up for every performance (whether or not the S.O. is deserved), the entire concept is cheapened.
  • Both Chen and Kholodenko smiled while playing. Thanks, guys.
  • Kholodenko’s is the only Prokofiev 3 we will hear in the finals. On Saturday evening, Beatrice Rana will perform the Prokofiev Second.
  • Another fun photo is available at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009L6QLMK/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&seller=.

Susan Geffen is a managing editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, and writer. She is a specialist in Recreational Music Making and has also worked as a composer's assistant and orchestral score proofreader. 

 

 


My Heart Beats for Beatrice (June 8, 2013)

Just as all we who entered here were (almost) ready to abandon hope, Lovely Beatrice revived. We had suspected that her fire was there; if anyone could ignite it, Prokofiev could. And boy, did he ever create an inferno.

Beatrice Rana’s Thursday-night Beethoven Third was a very correct (if a bit tepid) performance. I had, however, heard the webcast version of her Schumann quintet [see my earlier post, “Our Woman at the Cliburn: Dante and Schumann”], and I was hoping that Rana would go for it with the Prokofiev. And indeed she did.

Two thrilling new things happened this evening. First, I learned that the New York Hamburg Steinway can make music. Listening to the live instrument has been almost physically painful, but it turns out that the right player can convince the thing to produce multiple tone colors, a vast dynamic range, clear voicings, and articulations galore. In fact, I wonder if the charm of the instrument may be that it can boom on command; it’s unfortunate that, up to now, no one had discovered that it can also purr.

The second new thing was a measurable physiological reaction: I got goosebumps. Not only had I not had that kind of reaction during the Cliburn, but I realized I haven’t been so affected in years. (If you are wondering where this happened, my “goosebumps here” score note is after the cadenza of the first movement.)

Throughout this four-movement concerto, Rana never lost her ability to keep up with Prokofiev’s character shifts, sarcasm, and darkness. And Rana’s breakneck tempi never got the better of her.

And what delightful thing is happening with the orchestra? There is no question that the orchestra of tonight’s Prokofiev 2 was immensely better than the one we heard Thursday with Mndoyants on Thursday. 

Speaking of Mndoyants…he, too, was pretty great. He wrote his own cadenzas for the Mozart, K. 466, and they were filled with humor, almost jazzy syncopations, and beauty. On the whole, I’ve had mixed reactions to his playing, but, as the competition has continued, I have grown rather fond of him (and the Cliburn American Steinway that he plays). His is a sophisticated intellect, and he found the beauty and the energy in this D-minor concerto.

Fei-Fei Dong played the Beethoven Fourth, and I am afraid it didn’t do her much good. Throughout, there were plenty of two-note slurs (she takes them literally, that’s for sure) but there was no sense of the horizontal line that the slurs ultimately produce. Try as I might, I couldn’t find many soft spots in her playing (her piano this evening was the Cliburn Hamburg), but, at 22, she has time to develop a lyrical side that I would look forward to hearing.

No matter the outcome, Rana has a career.

This and that:

  • Sunday finalists, take a clue from Rana. If there is a sixteen-bar crescendo, don’t reach fortississimo by the third bar. Limits your options.
  • What the heck was that backstage crash during the Beethoven?
  • And audience members, please hold on to your programs!

Susan Geffen is a managing editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, and writer. She is a specialist in Recreational Music Making and has also worked as a composer's assistant and orchestral score proofreader.

 

 


Awards I Would Like to See (June 10, 2013)

I thought about doing a straightforward review. After all, I just heard three concerti: Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff. But the Cliburn Awards Ceremony begins in less than one hour (and, after a ten-block sort-of-sprint in the humid heat, I really need to take a shower). So I will throw out a brief list of awards I would like to see. I can’t outguess the jury anyway.

Cadenza Award

Vadym Kholodenko and Nikita Mndoyants tie for this one. Both men wrote cadenzas for their Mozart concerti, and how refreshing (and in the spirit of Mozart) to hear something new! I wrote about Mndoyants’s cadenza in my last post, so in this one I will give huge kudos to the delightful, well constructed, and just plain fun cadenzas Kholodenko played today.

Thank-You-for-Not-Getting-Soupy-with-the-Rach 3 Award

Sean Chen. And thanks again.

One Contestant-I’d-Really-Like-to-Hang-Out-With Award

Kholodenko.

The Got-It-All Award

Chen. Exciting player, audience and critical favorite. Incredible teeth and hair. The works. I, for one, would be just fine with him winning. If you missed his Rach 3, watch the webcast.  (By the way, if you are not attending the Cliburn, you probably wonder why the critics keep talking about Chen’s hair. Trust me, if you could see him in person you would understand.)

And how would I vote? If I were queen, I would tie Chen and Kholodenko, and give second to Rana.

Then again, I am notoriously bad at choosing the Cliburn winner.

Susan Geffen is a managing editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, and writer. She is a specialist in Recreational Music Making and has also worked as a composer's assistant and orchestral score proofreader.