Posted at 5:12 PM on July 7, 2008
by Melissa Ousley
I spent much of my weekend at Hamline University's Sundin Hall listening to 18 extraordinary young pianists, invited to the Twin Cities to participate in the first-ever Minnesota International e-Piano Junior Competition. The e-Comp isn't new to the Twin Cities, but the Junior piece of it is. Pianists older than 17 are not allowed to participate.
On Sunday night, the field of 18 contestants was reduced to 12. Tonight, following a full day of competition, the field is reduced to 9.
Performances today and Wednesday are streamed live on the competition website. Just look for Live Stream under Current Competition.
After work on Monday, Lise and I headed over to Sundin Hall to hear the final few of the day's Second Round competitors at the E-Piano Junior Competition. If you've only been peripherally aware of this event, check the website: www.piano-e-competition.com
It was a hot time! (the playing, and the out-of-doors, certainly; but since we are not air conditioned at home, the cool interior of Sundin Hall was its own pleasure, too).
Arriving while a performance was under way, we listened through the door to a breathtaking performance of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz #1, played by 16-year-old Frank Düpree of Germany. Then we were seated in the auditorium (plenty of good seats available...and admission is totally free) for subsequent appearances by Reed Tetzloff (16 years old, from Centeral Minnesota), Jan Lisiecki (a remarkably poised 13-year-old fellow from Calgary) and Anna Denisova (14 years old, from Russia).
Düpree's Liszt, even heard from the entry hall, was stunning...brilliant and clear, nuanced, frighteningly flawless, and with the sort of no-holds-barred bravado that make some older players shy. That set up our expectations, and what followed was entrancing, too.
First the whole notion of teen-aged players. Classical music definitely IS important in their lives...and they, by their playing, make it even more important in ours. Such dedication, such conviction, such compelling artistry from such young people.
As for the three we heard. Tetzloff played the Bartok Sonata (when was the last time you hear that in concert, or on the radio), powerful, muscular music. Wow! He understands its brutal strength, perhaps not totally its more reflective aspects. But this is not music for amateurs, and I was thrilled (remembering discovery of the work on an LP I purchased @ age 15).
The featured piano is a Yamaha 9' grand (with the Disklavier option that makes the international linkage of these performances possible). To my ears, Yamahas are rarely really warm, and Tetzloff's playing was not, either. Indeed, I was a bit disappointed by the steely tone he projected in the ensuing Schubert "Moment Musicaux" and the Schumann-Liszt song transcription "Widmung", lacking a bit in poetic coloration. Reed was back in comfortable territory with Liszt's sepulcral "Funerailles", churning up ominous blocks of marble-dense sonority with an individual turn of phrase.
Tetzloff was really good, but apparently not good enough, as the judges decided not to advance him to the next round of the competition. But we will hear more from this talented young fellow.
Jan Lesiecki, also with a mop of curly blond hair, looked a bit frightened as he walked onto the stage. Immediately it was apparent that the cold brilliance of tone that had come from the Yamaha under Tetzloff's hands was not the only color of which the instrument was capable. Lesiecki's touch was softer, rounded, warm and nuanced, and his repertoire of similar manner...an impressionist prelude by Majan Mozitech (Canadian composer, fun to 'discover' something totally unfamilar), the whirlwind "Eight Fingers" Etude by Debussy (fast, and fun!), Schubert's songful F-minor Impromptu (Op. 142), a Prelude by Messiaen, and Liszt's "Un Sospiro" Etude. How can a 13-year-old understand and convey so many moods and shadings, with essentially flawless technique? My own tastes run more in the Bartok/"Funerailles" line, but there was no denying that young Jan had what it takes, and the judges agreed.
With Anna Denisova things got both more and less interesting. She's a ramrod-straight, rail-thin porcelain doll, with two blond braids down below her waist, who plays with a frighteningly thorough (yet dismayingly mechanical) manner (and also wipes her hands, and the keyboards, with stylized motions following each movement). I have never heard the Schubert E-flat Impromptu (Op. 90, #2) played so quickly, or so totally devoid of any sense of Viennese style...almost as though the disklavier mechanism had taken over, at full speed. Distressing. Then, other unusual repertoire...movements from Prokofiev's "Cinderella" and Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" ballets...not your usual recital or competition fodder! Though the technical prowess was unquestionable, I was bored by the 'interpretation' (or lack of it), only to be roused from my disgrundled musings by the "Nutcracker" finale which, without question, was impressivly handled.
But are we judging young pianists, or young musicians? Pianists, apparently, as Anna will participate in Wednesday's semi-final round. She'll again be the last performer (7PM), preceded by Düpree (5:30) and Lisiecki (6:15)...so go and come to your own conclusions.
Other performances in this final solo round begin at noon on Wednesday:
There's nothing like live music, and nothing more delightful than hearing live music played by superb young artists. Enjoy!