When the 2011 Warsaw Chopin Competition first-prize winner Yulianna Avdeeva comes to Worcester’s Mechanics Hall on October 19th, she will be the latest in a stream of promising young pianists to arrive in the U.S. from a single source in Europe – the International Piano Academy Lake Como in Italy. A Russian whose final round earned a standing, cheering ovation from a somewhat grudging Polish audience, Avdeeva has been touring Europe ever since.
Her U.S. visit will take her coast to coast with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra for 17 concerto performances in 25 days, including an additional local performance at UMass Amherst on October 22nd. Though Avdeeva is not booked any closer to Boston, her growing international reputation warrants this notice to BMInt readers. The Amherst program includes Lutoslawski’s Little Suite, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, op. 88 in G Major, and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, op. 21, in F minor, with Avdeeva as soloist.
Avdeeva remains in close contact with Como Academy Director William Grant Naboré for mentoring, counseling, and refresher lessons as she builds repertoire and prepares major engagements. The Academy, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, counts her as its current star, one of a long list of graduates who have risen to critical success in the U.S. and abroad. She is in good company. Fellow Como grads include Jonathan Biss, Nicolas Angelich, Stanislav Ioudenitch, Martina Filjak, Piotr Anderszewski, Severin von Eckardstein, Kirill Gerstein and François Frédéric Guy. Some of these and others have developed concert careers while also “infiltrating the highest echelons of piano teaching,” says Naboré. Curtis Institute, the Royal Academy of Music in London, the Basel Conservatory in Switzerland, the Paris Conservatory and the Brussels Conservatory all have Como grads on their faculty.
Over its first decade, the Academy has become a much sought-after step along the way to a piano career, now with about 1,200 applications arriving from some 30 countries annually – all from young pianists hoping for one of the seven posts available each academic year. One source of candidates is Academy President of Honor Martha Argerich, who continues teaching as well as performing and recording. Other sources of talent are leading teachers in Naboré’s global network and youngsters identified by former Academy students. The final selection each year is on the shoulders of Naboré, who tells me he can learn most of what he needs to know from an application. “Basically, I’m thinking, ‘Tell me what you can play,’” he says. Also on his checklist are letters of recommendation and major successes and finally an audition. “This is not a place for students who have accomplished nothing,” he adds.
The Como Academy offers accommodation and a series of week-long master classes over nine months. The current faculty includes Charles Rosen, Malcolm Bilson, Fou Ts’ong, Peter Frankl, Dmitri Bashkirov, and Boris Berman, all of whom provide master class tuition by day and socializing with the young performers by night. Over the years, Murray Perahia, the late Rosalyn Tureck, Alexis Weissenberg and Karl Ulrich Schnabel also rotated through the faculty.
Naboré says the Academy has survived despite constant precarious financing by placing emphasis on several dimensions of teaching that others tend to neglect – using urtext scores, special attention to phrasing, touch and tonal quality, and cultural backgrounding. Avdeeva excelled in all these measures, says Naboré.
The Academy is a spinoff of the International Piano Foundation, created and financed by German businessman Theo Lieven, himself an accomplished pianist. His foundation recently funded a chair in advanced piano at the Lugano Conservatory, the first occupant being Naboré himself. An American expatriate, Naboré is also a frequent master class teacher in Europe and Asia, including at the Chinese Gulangyu “piano island”, the Japanese Piano Teachers Association in Tokyo, the Seoul Center for the Arts and in Russia’s Dom Musiki in St. Petersburg.
His wish, he says, is to establish an academy in the United States with the same teaching principles. “The U.S. has not been able to produce as many world-class pianists as in the past,” he says. “I think we could do something about that.”