Some Thoughts on the Sydney International Piano Competition thus far

Some thoughts from a SIPCA fan in Singapore:

I have been grounded this year and can only enjoy the thrills and spills of the competition from the Internet, rather than enduring the chilly temperature of Sydney and the relative warmth of Seymour Centre. Thanks to the wonderful Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Classic FM radio station, every minute of music may be heard live or via a podcast. So I have been glued to the computer in the office and at home. 

Stages I and II have been generally excellent, with each of the 36 pianists playing two recitals of 20 minutes, presenting their credentials in a variety of repertoire. Stage I mandates a virtuosic study from Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov or Scriabin. There has been a surprisingly number of performances of Liszt's Transcendental √Čtude No.8 or Wilde Jagd, not one of my favourite pieces simply because its too loud with its many crashing chords. 

Then kudos go to the young Russian Nikolay Khozyainov (left) for choosing the fleet-fingered and extremely difficult Feux follets instead. His seamlessly dilicate touch.  floating and flying fingers, will certainly earn him the Virtuoso Study Prize. As if that weren't enough, he added two further virtuoso studies Chopin's Op.10 No.1 and Scriabin's Op.42 No.5, to his fine Chopin Ballade No.2. At this early stage, he already appears to be a firm contender.

Given the latitude of programming afforded to the pianists, there have been several departures from the standard repertoire. For example, whoever has heard of Kvernade's Poem for piano (Borodin-like in theme but a very soothing number) beautifully played by Lu Shen? Or Ptushkin's Ukrainian Capriccio, a coruscating piece of virtuosity, offered by Elizaveta Ivanova. However these esoteric offerings will cut little ice, when the main repertoire does not past muster. Such as one unfortunate pianist who played a totally unknown 20th Century Eastern European piece, but went on to stumble in Chopin's Barcarolle and Liszt's Mazeppa

I also love to hear the pronouncements of each performance by Gerard Willems (left), the veteran Dutch-Australian pianist, who has been for years the Expert Commentator for the broadcasts. His wizened baritone voice is always a calming influence on the raves by the radio presenters, and I especially like it when he goes, "He is a fabulous pianist and musician, BUT...", following which he goes on to tear down the performance in a most polite and constructive way! It is the manner in which he accents his "buts" and "yesss" which has his listeners captured and glued within a split second. 

The results of the first two stages have been announced, and all but one Australian has been eliminated. The lone Ozzie who proceeds is James Guan (left), who got the lodest cheers from the partisan and vocal audience for his grandstanding performance of Arcadi Volodos's transcription of the Mozart Turkish Rondo. That means that whatever he does mext (including not proceeding beyond Stage III), he is already assured of winning the Best Australian Pianist Prize of $5000, which even exceeds the 4th prize of the competition proper! All thanks to the Friends of SIPCA. 

Three returning pianists to SIPCA have also progressed. They are Arta Arnicane, semi-finalist in 2004, Elizaveta Ivanova and 2008 quarter-finalist Hao Zhu (above). Better luck this time, folks!

Singapore's interest in SIPCA ended with the (to my mind) premature elimination of Thailand's Poom Prommachart (left) who had previously studied in Singapore's Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, and auditioned in Singapore. Having heard his performances in both stages, I cannot fathom what he did wrong. His Liszt Funerailles was grand and aristocratic in scope, and the choice of Myaskovsky's Second Sonata, a single-movement fantasy on the Dies Irae, was inspired programming. Maybe the jury had objected to his Bach, which had a Gould-like dryness and intensity of projection. Go figure. Nevertheless, he did himself, Thailand and Southeast Asia proud. Poomz!