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Pianists Will Compete

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From June 6th-9th, Cambridge will host the 12th Boston International Piano Competition at the Longy School of Music’s Pickman Hall. From morning till evening, 40 extraordinary pianists — 20 men and 20 women — from all over the world, will pour out their hearts and souls. In the mornings they will participate in masterclasses, and in the afternoons on stage of the iconic Pickman Hall, they will compete before a five-member jury: Michael Lewin, Wayman Chin, Yukiko Sekino, Roberto Poli and Renana Gutman. They will be essaying a plethora of Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Debussy, and of course Liszt, alongside lesser-known composers like Kapustin, Shostakovich and Ligati. The 1st prize winner is invited to play in a future solo recital in Boston, and all winners receive cash prizes. 

By Friday evening the list of 40 will be whittled down to 20, and by Sunday to just five, each of whom will play a 30-minute final round. For a detailed schedule, click HERE.

This is the largest piano competition in Boston, and it has been held every other year since 2001. The 2022 winner, Gorden Cheng, a San Diego resident, will give a solo recital of Chopin and Prokofiev on Sunday at noon in Pickman Hall. Past winners hailed from Japan (2019), Ireland and Jakarta (tie in 2017) France (2015), Germany (2013) and Spain (2011). This is truly an international event, visits to the BPAA website originate from 51 different countries. In previous years contestants came from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Latvia, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba.  This year’s applicants have their roots in Japan, the U.K., Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, China, Taiwan, Moldova, Singapore, Cyprus, South Africa, Canada and Ukraine. Just nine of the contestants reside in the Boston area.

On Saturday morning at 10 AM, Boston Piano Amateurs Association founder Robert Finley will perform alongside nine other keyboard amateurs. Finley is one of several past first-prize winners participating in the Festival, and he has been a soloist with a number of orchestras, including the Boston Civic Symphony, as well as the Ft. Worth and Brockton Symphony Orchestras. Richard Einhorn won the Boston Piano Competition in 2003 and played the Schumann Piano Concerto with the Newton Symphony, and Robert Berkowitz won the San Diego Piano Competition in 2016 and played the Mendelssohn Piano Concerto in A Minor with the California Chamber Orchestra. The festival kicks off at 10 AM with something very special when the mother/son duo of Elena Gantvarg (1st prize Silver stream of the 2022 Boston Piano Competition) and her son Eliot Arolovitch (who just last month won the Gold Medal in the Steinway Society Competition Division III) bring the 4-handed Schubert Fantasie in F Minor, Opus 103 to the stage.

Contestants of the Boston International Piano Competition have to be adults over the age of 30. So what do you do after you graduate from Juilliard with a degree in piano performance, but realize you won’t be the next Evgeny Kissin or Yuja Wang? Well, you become a doctor of course, or an expert in A.I. or computing. Of the 40 contestants, 11 are physicians, and five more work in dentistry or other related healthcare fields. Music is a balm for the soul, and we are only just beginning to understand the healing power of classical music on the body and mind with its numerous benefits for brain injury patients, as it activates cognitive, motor, and speech centers in the brain through accessing shared neural systems.

The competitors have other interesting day jobs, including a clergyman, an organist, and a diplomat. And they work for interesting companies, like Disney, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Consulting Group. 

All of them share passion for music; for most this is their greatest joy and the motivation for spending countless hours each week perfecting their skills. Most of them started playing piano at the tender age of four, five or six, and some have studied with such famous teachers as Leon Fleisher, Seymour Bernstein, and Ya-Fei Chuang, at revered institutions like Peabody, Yale and NEC, or with other names abroad. Beyond the music, the competition builds community. Almost half of the contestants have participated in the Boston Competition in some prior year, and many also compete in Paris, Warsaw, San Diego, St. Petersburg/Russia, or at the Van Cliburn Competition in Texas, which spawned the movie “They Came to Play” HERE. A few people featured in the documentary will be here in June. 

And what did they choose to play? Overwhelmingly Chopin (51 pieces). Then Beethoven (18), Bach (16), Liszt (13) and Rachmaninoff (10).  German/Austrian composers (65 – Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Handel), Russian composers (37 -Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Medtner, Prokofiev, Kapustin, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich) and French composers (18 – Debussy, Ravel, Rameau, Couperin). Not to forget Grieg, Gershwin, Bartok, Ginastera, Ligati, Sinding and more… . In short, one can expect a large variety of music, something to everyone’s taste. Contestants’ repertoires and biographies will be posted on the competition website via a link to the program book. The livestream links for each session in Pickman Hall will be posted on the schedule page.

Sunday morning starts off with the piano marathon, where contestants who did not advance get one final chance to take the stage and play, with feedback from esteemed teacher Tim McFarland. Following the winner’s recital at noon, contestants have a chance to attend a feedback session with the jurors, and the finals commence at 2:15. The awards ceremony is sometime after 6 PM. The competition divides into Silver and Gold Streams (30- versus 60-minute repertoire), and besides 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for each, prizes for best Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern performances will also be awarded. Falcetti Pianos, distributor of Yamaha and Bösendorfer pianos, who has been the lead sponsor for the competition this year as well as in 2022, supports the Gold first-place winner. Other sponsors include M. Steinert & Sons, the Foundation for Performing Chinese Arts, the BSO, Longy School of Music and NEPTA (New England Piano Teachers’ Association).

Pickman Hall is an intimate performance space with seating capacity for 260 people and a 9-foot Steinway concert grand piano. Its superb acoustics made it also home to Celebrity Series events, where many world-famous pianists have debuted, including most recently Daniil Trifonov, Beatrice Rana, Martin Helmchen, Conrad Tao and Alexander Malofeen. Notable Longy faculty have included Nadia Boulanger, Victor Rosenbaum and Peter Serkin.

Sibylle Barrasso is a long time piano student of Robert Poli. She has played in piano competitions in Pickman Hall and Chicago, is on the board of directors of the Boston Piano Amateurs Association and has played for audiences in the Boston Symphony Cafe since 2010.

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