Showing posts with label Leeds International Piano Competition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leeds International Piano Competition. Show all posts

Friday, September 11, 2015

Where's Leeds?

Dame Fanny Waterman with the 2015 finalists
I know, I know, about 200 miles up the M1... It's also - partly - on Radio 3. But in a world where the Tchaikovsky Competition live-streamed absolutely everything, and so will the fast-approaching Chopin Competition (you can follow it here, courtesy of the Chopin Institute, Warsaw), and the Rubinstein Competition in which Trifonov took part is alive and well and living on Youtube, and plenty more, the once mighty Leeds International Piano Competition is being kicked into the long grass for lack of such resources.

Once upon a time we used to see the finals live on BBC TV. Now we get edited highlights on the radio - bits and pieces, essentially - and...this is what the website says:

Through our partnership with BBC Radio 3 and BBC Four, audiences will be given the opportunity to watch the finalists of the Competition performing from Leeds Town Hall on Friday 17th & 24th September, and Friday 1st October. If you cannot wait until then, you are able to hear the full semi finals via Radio 3 online player for the next 30 days. 

But the finals are...tomorrow and the day after.

Last time, the Leeds produced two genuine rising stars in 1st and 2nd place - Federico Colli and Louis Schwizgebel. Louis was snapped up by the BBC New Generation Artists scheme; Federico gave a QEH debut recital that drew 5-star rave reviews from virtually every critic in town (including me). Plenty of great pianists have taken vital steps into the public eye via the Leeds. But now we may have to wait a while to find out whether there's anybody comparable.

It is all about money, of course. Live-streaming costs ££s. But it does seem that the UK's most prestigious music competition has been relegated to a level of assumed interest that lags far behind the TV spectacle of people baking cakes and watching paint dry.

Step up, philanthropists. We know you're out there. We have our spies in the City who tell us that there is more money sloshing around in certain bank accounts in this country than they would ever have believed possible. It's become all too clear in the last 30-odd years that there is really no such thing as a financial "trickle down". But there is such a thing as "winkle out". It takes skilled fundraisers to do the winkling. Perhaps when Leeds's new directors take over from the great Dame Fanny Waterman - they are the double-act of pianist Paul Lewis and BBC producer/New Generations head Adam Gatehouse - their first move should be to appoint a Head of Winkling whose first task will be to raise enough funds to live-stream the next competition complete. This is in no way to denigrate the tough work that no doubt goes on in the contest's fundraising department already - it's tough work and I take my hat off to those who are good at it - but I personally would love to see priority being given to developing Internet capabilities and it really has not happened this time.

Here is the full programme for the Leeds final. Three Rachmaninov concertos, including two performances of No.3. A spot of Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann. Looks like business as usual.

Meanwhile, the first night of the finals clashes with the Last Night of the Proms. Great...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lucky at Leeds?

The Leeds International Piano Competition, which takes place this August and September, has announced the 79 pianists who have been selected from more than 300 applicants to take part. While numbers are overwhelmingly dominated by musicians from the Far East, there's also a relatively strong showing from home, with four UK contestants and a fair number of others who are studying at this country's conservatoires. Ashley Fripp. Alexander Ullman and Yuanfan Yang are set for a very busy autumn as they are also off to the Chopin Competition. Will any go to Moscow too and try for what one might call The Triple?

Interesting to see some rather well established names on the Leeds list, though. While Yuanfan Yang is the best-known to British audiences, having entered the BBC Young Musician of the Year twice and won the piano section the second time, Lukas Vondracek has a strong career already and Vitaly Pisarenko, who's playing soon for the Keyboard Trust, has some fairly astonishing reviews to his name. Alexander Panfilov was an impressive gold medal winner at the RNCM in June. Constanza Principe from Italy has been studying at the Royal Academy of Music, while Pisarenko and Ullman, along with Tamila Samindjanova, Samson Tsoy and Pietro Gatto are or were all at the Royal College.

The full list is on the Leeds site, here.

Meanwhile on the jury, this is supposedly Dame Fanny Waterman's last competition. The founder of the Leeds, she has just turned 95. Full list of jury here.

Dear TV crews, please can we have the old format and see the WHOLE FINAL, LIVE, this time? Like we used to in the days when the likes of Mitsuko Uchida, András Schiff and Peter Donohoe were competing? The Cardiff Singer of the World is now a BBC effort and some of us pianophiles think that Leeds ought to be as well. It does make a difference. It really does.

Here's a clip of Federico Colli's winning Beethoven last time. Only a clip. From the very end.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Who can jump-start Leeds?

It's been a big week for musical chairs. Abigail Pogson of Spitalfields Festival is off to run The Sage, Gateshead. Darren Henley, head honcho of Classic FM, has been appointed CEO of Arts Council England - this man knows music, knows people love it and knows what's needed in music education, and has made his station a massive success, so looks like good news to me, touchwood. But one more change, north of Watford, is in its way just as vital, perhaps more so.

Dame Fanny Waterman is stepping down from running the Leeds International Piano Competition, which she founded back in the 1960s. Can it survive without her?

We need "The Leeds". It is the most important music contest in Britain. It launched Murray Perahia, Radu Lupu and more. Andras Schiff once pulled in third, just behind Mitsuko Uchida, while first went to Dmitri Alexeev (hmm...). Further alumni of the prize ranks include Peter Donohoe, Kathryn Stott, Artur Pizarro, Leon McCawley, Riccardo Castro, Sonya Gulyak and most recently a vintage line-up with Federico Colli placed first and Louis Schwitzgebel second.

The next competition is September 2015 - part of a year ahead of top international contests that also includes Dublin, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. And it's precisely because we talk about Leeds in the same breath as the gigantic circuses in Warsaw and Moscow that it's vital the competition survives the retirement of its founder.

The Leeds puts Britain on the map for young musicians from all over the world. While certain other competitions are up to their armpits in gossip about jury corruption, it has survived with a squeaky-clean reputation (comparatively speaking), and a name for choosing superb musicians as its winners. It may not be as rich as the Cliburn or as glittery as the Tchaikovsky, but it's the one everyone wants to win.

Leeds depends heavily on local support, both financially and in terms of the volunteers who help to run it, putting the contestants up in their own homes, driving them to the venues and so forth. Dame Fanny, a local personage if ever there was one, has kept a tremendous grip on all this, with a sure touch for everything from inspiration to fundraising to musical judgment. People are asking who might step into her shoes. I wonder whether the competition can survive at all without her.

If the London Competition foundered without sufficient funds - in the wealthy heart of the capital, headed by the dynamic Sulamita Aronovsky and with winners including such luminaries as Simon Trpceski, Behzod Abduraimov and Paul Lewis (who got second prize), then what hope for a competition up north? Chancellor George Osborne has rightly identified the need for a powerhouse conurbation and railway system around Manchester, Leeds and the other great northern cities, but we don't have it yet and it'll take time to build, if it's done at all.

Without Leeds, Britain would have no musical contest of such peerless status. The Carl Flesch Violin Competition folded years ago. The piano competitions in Scotland and Dudley are fine and respected events, but their international standing is not yet on a level to compare with Warsaw and Moscow. In other words, without Leeds Britain would be pretty much an irrelevance as a destination for young musicians eager for credentials and wing-testing. And there would be no truly top-level "home game" for any British pianists to enter.

Not that any have been in view recently; this is another matter. Mostly young British pianists don't even bother entering international competitions these days, let alone winning them. Without Leeds, the last incentive for them, one that sets an example and a standard at home, would be gone and we would be well and truly a pianistic island again - merely the place that Chopin couldn't get out of fast enough.

Dear Leeds, we need your piano competition! Please keep supporting it, please find yourself a really powerful successor to Dame Fanny - and please encourage young British pianists to take part and to aim at the necessary technical and musical standards to compete in an international playing field, even if it is in Yorkshire.

Who might take over? Among the figures one could consider are:

Kathryn Stott - former prizewinner, lives up north, much-loved British musician.
Peter Donohoe - all of the above (lives in Midlands) and very experienced juror.
Mike Spring - head of APR records, formerly chief piano man of Hyperion, know pianism inside out and backwards.
Erica Worth and Jesper Buhl - wife and husband team, respectively editor of Pianist magazine and of Danacord Records, dynamic duo with top-notch pianistic knowhow. Pianist's head office is in Leeds, btw.
Murray McLachlan and Kathryn Page - husband and wife team, Manchester based - both pianists, movers and shakers. Murray is head of piano at Chetham's and founders of a marvellous summer school, the Manchester competition for young pianists and much more besides.

Watch this space...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Federico Colli: the flower of Leeds?

The Italian pianist Federico Colli, 24, scooped first prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition last night. I tuned in on R3 in the middle of his Beethoven 'Emperor' Concerto, without remembering exactly who was due to play it, and was entranced. Seriously beautiful pianism with wonderful tone; very sensitive to nuances, voicing and atmosphere; intelligent, energetic and never heavy-handed: the sort of playing, indeed, that you don't really associate with the final of a piano competition.

Radio 3's announcer, Petroc Trelawny, seemed fixated, meanwhile, with the pianist's red cravat, and one of several friends who was in the audience remarks that Colli, who hails from Brescia, slightly resembled a cross between Casanova and Dracula, yet clearly had a lovely personality and superb stage presence.

Colli has also won the Salzburg International Mozart Competition (last year). He studies with Boris Petrushansky at Imola and Konstantin Bogino at Bergamo. Apparently he is "fascinated by the complex equations of quantum mechanics".

I'd take an educated guess, though, that it was a fairly close-run matter between Colli and the Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel, who played first on Friday evening. Of all the performances I've listened to so far, it is Schwizgebel's Haydn C major Sonata that has really stayed aboard.

Our doughty commentator Erica Worth, editor of Pianist Magazine, has just phoned us to report that she was very happy with the result. "The two top prizes went, I think, to the most interesting musicians, the ones who had the most personality and the most to say," she declares. "Personally I would have given first prize to Louis Schwizgebel and second to Colli, but I'm so glad they both came through at the top."

Third prize went to Jiayan Sun (China), fourth to Andrejs Osokins (Latvia), fifth to Andrew Tyson (USA) and sixth to Jayson Gillham (Australia). A special prize voted by the players of the Halle Orchestra and presented in memory of Terence Judd went to Andrew Tyson.

You can catch both final concerts and a selection of semi-final performances on BBC iPlayer (radio) this week. Today at 2pm there's a gala concert to be broadcast by Radio 3 involving all six finalists. And from 21 September the TV finally wakes up: BBC4 has a series of six hour-long programmes on successive Friday evenings devoted to the competition (though as we now know the results it seems a bit late to the party).

Bravo, then, Federico Colli. Keep wearing that cravat.

Here's a write-up from The Arts Desk. [UPDATE] Here are some more details about the prizes and their winners, from Pianist Magazine.

And here's Federico in the final of the Mozart Competition in Salzburg 2011:

Meanwhile, Louis has already had a Wigmore Hall debut. He seems to have dropped half his surname since then. It turns out that his father is a maker of animated films. Here's Louis himself, very animated indeed in a spot of Moszkowski.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Leeds Piano Competition Finals 1: the story so far

The lovely editor of Pianist Magazine, Erica Worth, is on location at the finals of the Leeds International Piano Competition. JD got her on the phone and asked what she thought of the first three finalists, who played their concerti last night. The second three - and the results - will follow tonight, and we'll hopefully get Erica's feedback for that as well, so stay tuned.

"The standard generally is astronomical," Erica says. "In my view, it's way higher than it was three years ago. Every pianist we've heard so far is a fully fledged musician - and any of them we'd happily buy a ticket to hear in a concert hall.

"I was deeply moved by the performance of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No.4, by Louis Schwizgebel [Switzerland] - a beautiful, sensitive account, very elegant - really someone to watch. Jiayan Sun [China] in Prokofiev's Second Concerto was technically very impressive, even if I wanted a bit more from it in terms of sheer hair-raising scariness. Jayson Gillham [Australia] in the Beethoven 'Emperor' Concerto seemed the least nervous and most at ease at the piano, sovreign in many ways, though in places the interpretation seemed a little too light and Mozartian for the piece."

Listen out for the final part 2 and the announcement of the prizes on BBC Radio 3 tonight. I'm still cross it's not live on TV, but will try to catch up with what there is on the iPlayer.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stop press: Meet the Leeds International Piano Competition finalists

The finalists have been announced at the Leeds International Piano Competition. See them in action this weekend! They are a commendably international bunch and there's a famililar face or two among them. But no Brits. And no girls.

Here they are: Federico Colli from Italy (age 24); Jayson Gillham from Australia (age 26); Andrejs Osokins from Latvia (age 27); Louis Schwizgebel from Switzerland (age 24); Jiayan Sun from China (age 22) and Andrew Tyson from the USA (age 25). In the centre, of course, Dame Fanny Waterman, founder of the competition and, as ever, chairman of its jury.

More information about the competition here. 

You can listen online to performances by the semi-finalists.

I'm a bit narked to discover that despite all the buss and fother over the BBC's big Piano Season, with Lang Lang, Lang Lang and Lang Lang, the TV coverage of the Leeds will begin on 21 September and run on Friday evenings for six weeks. The finals are this weekend, however, and by the time the TV gets on the case, it'll be a bit late. There is no live TV coverage of the final. Once upon a time, this was mandatory. JD is not impressed. 

No Brits, no girls, no live TV. So much for the musical Olympics.

Update: forgot all about it, but my novel Alicia's Gift features a pretty major episode at the Leeds Competition, just sayin'... Paperback available here, e-book just out and downloadable here.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Pianomania on the BBC

Yes, that is a picture of Lang Lang playing a piano on a flooded heath. As I always say, chacun à son gout. He made quite a pig's ear of the Beethoven 'Emperor' Concerto at the Lucerne Festival the other week, providing surface beauty aplenty, but turning it into nothing more than a series of pretty episodes and pulling it around so much that several times it nearly fell apart at the seams. I pitied the poor wind players when he was supposed to be accompanying them. My full review will be in International Piano in due course.

Lang Lang, though, is a phenomenon that's more than the sum of its parts: he has become emblematic of our day and age (as I've explained in a lengthy essay introducing DG's new boxed set of his complete recordings 2000-2009). He could have been the world's greatest pianist and ten years ago seemed set to become just that; perhaps he still can be, once the commercial phase wears thin and deeper waters begin to beckon.

And he is at the centre of a tremendous pianofest that's fast approaching on the BBC and up in Leeds. The Leeds International Piano Competition is kicking off shortly and Lang Lang is to be its "global ambassador" (though exactly why isn't clear, as it's not as if he were a past winner, or even, as far as I'm aware, a past entrant...).

The piano is rolling off to flood the BBC airwaves much more thoroughly than the pond above. The three-legged monster is set to eat up the schedules on Radio 3 and BBC4, with extensive coverage of the Leeds contest on both, a series of Monday evening piano recitals on Radio 3, a major focus towards those actually learning the instrument, and much more. The full wonder of the piano is something exceptional, something magnificent, something magical, and if this unique season of pianomania can help to bring the essence of it to a wider audience, that is terrific. Let's see what happens.

For TV, Alan Yentob has made a movie about...oh yes, Lang Lang. I wish he would make one about someone else as well. Lang Lang has been featured on plenty of films before now, yet the truly towering musicianship of such artists as Grigory Sokolov, Mitsuko Uchida, Krystian Zimerman, Andras Schiff, Murray Perahia, Radu Lupu and plenty more remains scandalously under-documented.

Besides, if you want an interesting story out of China, then talk to Fou Ts'ong. We hear a lot about how 60 million children in China have taken up the piano under the influence of "the Lang Lang effect". We hear a lot about "tiger mums". We hear virtually nothing any more about the fate of an entire generation of Chinese artists and intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution. And we should. (I think it's high time I unearthed my interview with Ts'ong for the old Classical Piano magazine in the mid-90s and re-ran this space...)

Wishing all the very best of luck to all the entrants at Leeds - and may the finest musician win.

Finally, at the risk of being accused of just posting the BBC's press release, I'm just going to post the BBC's press release (or part of it) and then you'll know what they're doing.

Discover a Suite of Piano Programmes on the BBC this Autumn
Saturday 15 September until Tuesday 6 November
This autumn, the BBC will be dedicating a suite of programmes to the music, people, history and beauty of one of the world’s most iconic instruments, the piano.
Piano Season on the BBC is a major six-week season celebrating a single instrument.  The season will explore the piano’s wide-ranging influence from the 1700s to the present day, as well as delve into the lives of the people behind the piano and the music created for it.
Highlights of the season include an in-depth insight into The Leeds International Piano Competition, a Jazz Battle live from Trinity Laban College Greenwich, a downloadable A-Z of the piano, Peter Donohoe’s 50 Greats, an online masterclass for budding pianists and well-loved personalities from around the UK, such as Woman’s Hour’s Jane Garvey, Radio 1’s Dev and Olympic medal winner Samantha Murray, taking up the challenge of learning the piano for the first time, with eight of them taking part in the season finale, Gala Concert in Cardiff on the 29 October 2012.
The season begins with extensive coverage of the Leeds International Piano Competition with live broadcasts of the Final on BBC Radio 3 and a six-part series about the finalists on BBC FOUR.  The season will culminate on November 6th with a special episode of Imagine on BBC One focusing on Lang Lang as he turns 30.
The Leeds International Piano Competition on BBC FOUR will be presented by Suzy Klein, herself a pianist, and will showcase the six finalists and their concerto performances in full.  The series will also take viewers behind the scenes to discover why ‘The Leeds’ is admired worldwide, take a closer look at the mechanical marvel that is the piano, speak directly to the woman behind the competition, Dame Fanny Waterman, who has inspired a generation of young musicians and delve into what makes a world-leading concert pianist. With arguably one of the piano world’s biggest stars taking an ambassadorial role with the competition, we’ll also hear from Lang Lang on why ‘The Leeds’ still matters as it approaches its 50th birthday.
BBC Radio 3 listeners can follow the competition live with both Concerto Finals nights and the Sunday Afternoon Gala Concert broadcast live from Leeds. Piano Season on BBC Radio 3 continues with artists such as Lang Lang, the Labeque Sisters and Malcom Martineau sharing their musical inspirations, as well as hearing from experts such as David Owen Norris and Peter Donohoe. Programmes will feature some of the greatest piano music ever written by composers who themselves loved and played the piano; including Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Beethoven, Debussy and Chopin alongside late night jazz programming exploring some of the greatest names in jazz pianism.
Monday nights will be 'Piano Night' when BBC Radio 3’s Live in Concert will offer listeners a series of unique piano recitals, from different corners of the nation, given by an array of international artists. Past Leeds finalist Sunwook Kim will play Beethoven and Schubert and  Russian Evgenia Rubinova presents a programme of music from her native country; Ukrainian Alexei Grynyuk plays Chopin and Liszt; Pascal and Ami Rogé play French music for two pianos; while Radio 3 New Generation Artist Igor Levit performs Rzewksi’s  celebrated and fiendishly difficult Variations on “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”; Ashley Wass and Huw Watkins team up to perform Robin Holloway’s  pianistic tour-de-force “The Gilded Goldbergs”.
In BBC Radio 3 ‘s morning programmes, listeners will have the chance to hear the ‘50 Great Pianists’ – a short daily focus on one of the fifty greatest names from the world of pianism as selected by Peter Donohoe, while regular programmes such as ‘'Composer of the Week' will explore the lives of composers who wrote for the instrument, from Clementi to Rachmaninov.  Special guests and piano lovers including as Kathryn Stott, Valentina Lisitsa, James May, Alan Rusbridger and Benjamin Frith will be joining the regular BBC Radio 3 presenters through the season to talk about their passion and experiences with the iconic instrument.   There will also be online master classes, exploration of the historical and social history of the piano and an entertaining A-Z of the piano in BBC Radio 3’s late afternoon programme ‘In Tune’. 
Trinity College London and the ABRSM [Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music] will be helping budding pianists hone their skills in ‘110%’ on Friday nights.  We’ll be treated to great performances of Piano Syllabus pieces and hear from the experts on what make them so special and how to get 110% in their exams.
Later on in the autumn, BBC One’s Imagine will return with a special documentary presented by Alan Yentob on Lang Lang, arguably one of the greatest pianists of his generation, as he turns 30.  Lang Lang’s dazzling technique and musicality have inspired a generation of young pianists and delighted audiences throughout the world. Imagine follows him on an impressive schedule of concerts in Shanghai, New York, London and Berlin and reveals a personal story that began with great hardship and a family dream that nearly ended in tragedy.  In this auspicious 'Year of the Dragon' Lang Lang celebrates his 30th birthday at a concert in Berlin with Herbie Hancock, opens his own piano school in China, plays for the Queen at the Diamond Jubilee, performs sell-out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, and becomes the first classical musician to headline at a British pop music festival.
BBC FOUR will also celebrate Lang Lang being appointed as the Global Ambassador of the Leeds International Piano Competition with two one-off documentaries on Friday 2 November. Lang Lang at the Roundhouse will give viewers an opportunity to see this stunning performance at London’s legendary Roundhouse, recorded at the iTunes festival in July 2011.  Lang Lang performs a remarkable Liszt recital as the only classical music artist in a true rock-star surrounding, next to international pop stars like Coldplay, Adele and Linkin Park.  And Lang Lang: The Art of being a Virtuoso follows Lang Lang through China, the US and Europe and offers a glimpse into life on tour with the superstar.

Photo credit: BBC/Steve Brown