Jul 19, 2008
TP: Music Fans Should Catch 20th NOIPC
New Orleans music fans should catch the 20th Annual New Orleans International Piano Competition
by Chris Waddington, Contributing writer, The Times-Picayune July 19, 2008 5:00AM
Categories: Living: Arts and Entertainment
In March 2007 Chetan Tierra thundered through Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3 with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
What if the Saints and the Hornets started their seasons in playoff contention and delivered their finest playing from the opening whistle? That's the kind of fun that music fans can expect from the 20th Annual New Orleans International Piano Competition.
Beginning Monday, the contest sends three past medalists, a winner of the 2007 Ravel Prize, two former semifinalists and six newcomers on a hunt for gold at Loyola University's Roussel Hall.
In effect, the entire six-day contest will be a medal round -- a chance for audiences to hear a dozen rising-star pianists probe the heart of the classical repertoire, including works by Stravinsky, Beethoven, Messiaen, Ravel, Chopin, Debussy, Brahms and others. For the players, just getting to New Orleans meant clearing major obstacles. This year's competitors were drawn from a field of 105 applicants who sent CDs for review. The applicants came from 21 countries.
"This field looks like one of the best in the world right now -- certainly it's the strongest ever to come to New Orleans, " said Chetan Tierra, a returning player who won silver in the 2006 contest. "Musicians have learned that the New Orleans contest is an important career stepping stone. Only a few major competitions -- the Van Cliburn in Texas, or the Cleveland event -- can give you a bigger boost."
The strength of this year's contestants also is evident to returning pianist Dmitri Levkovich, who earned a bronze in New Orleans in 2006.
"I recognize almost every competitor, " Levkovich said. "I suspect that most of this year's New Orleans players will be at the Van Cliburn next year. It's a small, intense, highly competitive occupation -- and New Orleans has become a place to separate yourself from the pack."
This year's competitors come from China, Israel, Korea, Georgia, Canada and the United States.
Pianist Dmitri Levovich, won the bronze in New Orleans in 2006.
Winners get more than cash and glory when they win in New Orleans. They also earn further opportunities to perform. Tierra, for example, has returned twice to New Orleans since winning his medal. In March 2007 he thundered through Prokofiev's "Concerto No. 3" with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. He so impressed maestro Klauspeter Seibel that the veteran conductor invited Tierra back for another LPO concert this past October.
"If anyone wonders why young artists want to play in the New Orleans competition, my experience tells a lot, " Tierra said. "How often does a 24-year-old pianist get to play with one of the best regional orchestras in the United States? I got to do it twice, thanks to the piano competition. And I did it as the silver medalist. New Orleans organizers know that a very fine line separates the three medal winners -- and they take care of all of them."
Even pianists with well-launched careers are showing up for the New Orleans contest. Spencer Myer, who won the bronze medal in 2003, will return this year, bringing the kind of chops that already have earned him gigs with major orchestras in Cleveland, Montreal and Indianapolis. In demand as a vocal accompanist in Europe, the 29-year-old pianist also released his first solo CD for the prestigious Harmonia Mundi label this past November.
"I have my eye on the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition, and that will probably be the end of competitions for me, " Myer said. "However, I've always wanted to come back to New Orleans. It's run in a humane, artistically smart manner that assures that your voice will be heard. For one thing, the field is a small one -- and every pianist gets to play at least twice for the jurors. New Orleans was one of the first competitions to do that."
Since Myer's previous New Orleans appearance, the contest also has added another significant prize. Gold medalists get a chance to play at Wigmore Hall in London -- the British equivalent of a Carnegie Hall debut.
"When a competition adds something like that, it catches the eye of a lot of young pianists. It certainly raised my interest in coming back to New Orleans, " Myer said.
Myer knows his way around the competition circuit, having played in four or five contests every year since earning his New Orleans bronze.
"Less experienced players often get nervous and play too conservatively. It's easy to worry about mistakes instead of just making music. But with the right mindset, a pianist can learn to thrive on the intensity of competitions, " Myer said. "There is a special atmosphere at these events. The energy from the audience is palpable. People take notes on their programs. They try to pick winners, and they come back year after year. If you can get past the strange imposition of Olympic-style judging on a subjective art form, you can also hear a lot of great music, all in a few days."
The Musical Arts Society of New Orleans, which organizes the contest, works hard to make the juried performances seem more like recitals. Artists select their own repertoires in New Orleans. Unlike many contests, which schedule performances throughout the day, New Orleans begins most of the competitive events at 7 p.m., a traditional hour for concerts.
"Playing in New Orleans helped me see why the city has such a reputation for hosting visitors, " Levkovich said. "At this contest, the competitors will all stay in comfortable houses with supportive host families, well-tuned pianos, full refrigerators and no distractions. We won't have to adjust from upright pianos to concert grands every night. We'll be able to put all our energy into playing -- and that's good for everyone who comes to the competition to hear music that they love."
The 20th Annual New Orleans International Piano Competition
What: A dozen world-class pianists compete for honors, cash and performance opportunities in a contest that has emerged as a key career stepping stone for young artists. Additional events include a showcase for local pianists tonight, a recital by juror Anne Koscielny on Sunday, a jazz dinner with Ellis Marsalis July 25, and a host of master classes at Loyola University.