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Competition Winners Conquer at Carnegie
Julie Jordan Presents 2011 Piano Concerto Competition Winners’ Concerts
By Michael Sherwin Created: December 31, 2011
(L-R) Hiroko Nagahata; the Second Prize winner, Pia Bose; the 2011 Competition’s Grand Prize, Antonio Pastor, the Competition’s Artistic Director, Julie Jordan, and Jane Heo. (Courtesy of Hiroko Nagahata)
NEW YORK—“Julie Jordan Presents” offered persuasive and compelling performances by the five winners of its inaugural 2011 International Piano Concerto Competition in a pair of concerts December 16 and 17. The concerts took place at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall and the Yamaha Piano Salon on Fifth Avenue.
Dr. Julie Jordan, the Competition’s Artistic Director, is currently observing her 26th year on the piano faculty of The Juilliard School Evening Division.
The 2011 International Piano Competition uncovered some major talents from around the world. The winners’ concerts offered numerous instances of superior music-making. The performers were accompanied by Julie Jordan’s New York Concerti Sinfonietta, a top-flight professional orchestra led by principal conductor Paul Hostetter.
At Yamaha, the orchestra numbered 40 players; at Carnegie the orchestra’s size was reduced by half to fit on Weill Hall’s smaller stage. The soloists at the Yamaha Salon had the use of Yamaha’s impressive new CFX, $150,000, 9-foot concert grand piano. Pianists at Carnegie played on Weill Hall’s estimable house Steinway.
The winner of the 2011 Competition’s Grand Prize, Antonio Pastor, performed before a capacity audience in Haydn’s Piano Concerto No. 11 in D Major. Born in Spain, Mr. Pastor studied at the Real Conservatorio de Madrid, the Académie Tibor Varga (Switzerland), and the University of Colorado. He is on the piano faculty of the Conservatoire de Musique in Geneva.
Mr. Pastor’s poised and aristocratic playing of the Haydn concerto’s first movement was exhilarating. His highly refined and controlled technique facilitated his clear articulation, superbly executed trills, nuanced dynamics, beautiful tone, rippling passagework, and sensitive phrasing. This was big-league playing. Mr. Pastor gave the concerto greater stature, not just regarding it as a dainty, rococo trifle.
In the slow movement, Mr. Pastor sustained a singing, cantilena line. He varied his touch, wringing-out the expressive potential of the chains of suspensions, while maintaining a rigorously classical framework. It was an ethereally hushed, commanding performance, revealing a profundity and depth that few performers can bring to this music. You could hear a pin drop during the slow movement’s cadenza, as the audience listened in rapt silence.
Conductor Paul Hostetter, with piano virtuoso, Fantee Jones, Special Young Artist Award Winner in 2011 International Piano Concerto Competition. (Jeff Jones)
The concerto’s concluding Hungarian Rondo was irresistibly perky, with its playful appoggiaturas, tight trills, and skittering scales. It was an enchanting, witty, and good-humored account of the finale. Conductor Paul Hostetter was an ideal partner, keeping the accompaniment light and transparent by having the string players employ limited vibrato.
Mr. Pastor is a keyboard master; of that there is no doubt. He richly deserved to win the Grand Prize.
Two pianists shared Second Prize. The first, Devon Joiner, was heard in the opening movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37, performed in honor of Beethoven’s 241st birthday on Dec. 16.
A Canadian pianist, Mr. Joiner is currently pursuing a M.M. degree at The Juilliard School. Mr. Joiner gave a fluent performance, highlighting the concerto’s inner voices and contrapuntal elements, while effortlessly dispatching the many trills, rapid scalar passages, and quick sequential figurations. His reading was classically proportioned, stressing the concerto’s classical antecedents rather than inflating it into something romantically portentous.
Mr. Joiner’s playing was stylistically aware and astutely phrased, paying attention to detail while continuing to maintain the movement’s momentum. Avoiding bombastic heroics, he adopted a conservative dynamic compass appropriate to the work, but let loose his restraints in his rhapsodic and resonant cadenza. Conductor Paul Hostetter led an expertly balanced and stylishly proportioned orchestral accompaniment.
The other winner of the Second Prize, Indian-American Pia Bose, played the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488. Ms. Bose holds degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory and Peabody Institute, as well as a Soloist’s Diploma from the Académie Tibor Varga. She also earned a B.A. degree in biopsychology at Oberlin College and is currently studying for a doctorate in piano performance at the University of Colorado. Ms. Bose is the wife of Grand Prize winner Antonio Pastor.
Ms. Bose gave a performance of great distinction. Her tender reading highlighted the strain of melancholy hiding just under the concerto’s surface. She projected the work’s expressive pathos and play of light and shade, capturing the contemplative qualities beneath the concerto’s sunny optimism, during its quick shifts into the minor mode.
Displaying a fluid technique and warm tone, she never let the rhythm go limp and, laudably, did not restrict her dynamic range to a mezzo-forte, as do some pianists in a misguided attempt at period instrument style. Conductor Hostetter sensitively brought out the dialogue of the woodwinds with the solo piano.
Two other prizes were awarded in the 2011 Competition. The first movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18, was performed by 19-year-old Peter Mathys, winner of the Finalist Debut Award.
Mr. Mathys is a powerful pianist. His unaccompanied opening chords were notable for gradually increasing to a startlingly stentorian volume while maintaining an opulent bass sonority. The orchestra’s statement of the ensuing main theme sounded commendably lush and sensuous. Mr. Mathys sustained a relaxed tempo that allowed one to fully savor the harmonic richness of Rachmaninoff’s piano writing as well as the technically challenging complexities of its figurations.
As the movement progressed, Mr. Mathys displayed sharply delineated fingerwork, gradually ratcheting-up the tension to reach a stirring, emphatic culmination. The quality of the performance made one regret the absence of the remaining movements; it would have been a pleasure to hear the rest of the concerto played this well.
Lastly, Fantee Jones, winner of the 2011 Competition’s Special Young Artist Award, was heard in Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22. The 18-year-old Taiwanese-American Ms. Jones, who studies at the Manhattan School of Music, began piano training at the age of three and debuted as a soloist with orchestra at age ten.
Ms. Jones’s playing was very individual and technically disciplined, giving the concerto greater gravitas than when approached merely as a virtuoso showpiece. She was abetted by conductor Paul Hostetter, who led a dynamically varied accompaniment that matched the soloist’s concept phrase-by-phrase.
(L-R) Peter Mathys, Pianist and winner of the Finalist Debut Award, and Paul Hostetter, Conductor. (Courtesy of Peter Mathys)
Ms. Jones played the neo-Bachian, unaccompanied introduction to the first movement with an unusual degree of freedom and fantasy, getting the piano’s rich lower register to resonate like a pipe organ. Starting with an introductory theme slower and more subdued than customary, she built the movement to a climax commanding in its confidence and splendid sonority.
Ms. Jones’s Allegro scherzando second movement was dazzlingly fleet. Jones played the movement with well-articulated, detached fingering, effervescently tossing it off with the requisite capriciousness and jeu d’esprit. The rollicking second theme was toe-tapping in its infectious exuberance, with emphatic, well-marked rhythm and toccata-like thrust. The perfectly judged, coy hesitation of the movement’s closing bars was delectable.
The Presto finale was a virtuoso romp, ideally capturing the movement’s Mendelssohnian, perpetual-motion quality. Brilliantly played, it was one of the swiftest renditions of this movement ever heard, with every note of its rapid figurations securely in place. If, in its driving momentum and cumulative impact, it sounded more serious than joyous, it was highly effective nonetheless. As Brahms admiringly remarked, after hearing the fiery Hungarian Arthur Nikisch’s conducting of his Violin Concerto: “So—it can be done that way, too.”
Rounding Out the Concerts
Also appearing at these concerts, and supplying welcome contrast to the piano concertos, was Chinese-American violin soloist Yang Xu. A member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Mr. Xu earned a Master’s degree from Juilliard and has studied with the famed violinist Midori.
Mr. Xu gave an elegant and uncommonly interesting account of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 (“Turkish”). His stylishly nuanced and aptly phrased playing was distinguished by its varied and intelligently articulated bowing, as well as his warm and rapid vibrato, rich tone, and unfailingly accurate intonation.
In the exquisite slow movement, Mr. Xu was highly poetic and expressive. He spun a singing line of gorgeous melody that was as beautiful as one of Mozart’s operatic arias, varying the pulse and applying rubato in a highly personal, yet tasteful manner; the mark of a major artist.
Mr. Xu’s finale had appealing buoyancy—the Turkish episodes nicely contrasting with the recurring rondo theme. He kept the Turkish interludes brisk and heavily accentuated, stressing their dancelike quality. Overall, it was a performance on an exalted level.
Three additional pianists, all of whom study at The Juilliard School Evening Division, rounded out the programs of these concerts. Stan Sisskin delivered a conscientious account of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Japanese-American Hiroko Nagahata performed an earnest reading of the rondo finale of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, while Korean-American Jane Heo gave a forceful performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto.
Future concerts in the “Julie Jordan Presents” series are scheduled for March 27 and June 5.
Michael Sherwin has held Rockefeller and Fromm Foundation Fellowships in music criticism.
The next “Julie Jordan Presents” 2012 International Concerto Competition will be open to all instruments, in addition to voice. Also, an inaugural International Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto Competition will be held during the 2012-13 season. Winners will perform with the New York Concerti Sinfonietta. Soloists are invited to apply for the competitions and subsequent performances. For information, contact www.nyconcerti.com.