Dallas — The Dallas Chamber Symphony is currently presenting its third Dallas International Piano Competition for young professional pianists, in collaboration with Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts. The winner will receive a cash prize and will be engaged to play a solo concert with the DCS.
Nineteen pianists from nine countries competed in the early round on Thursday, and that number was cut in half for the semifinals on Friday at SMU’s Caruth Auditorium. Reviews of the nine semifinalists are below (we did not see the quarterfinal round on Thursday).
The event’s jury panel is: David Korevaar, a renowned pedagogue at the University of Colorado at Boulder and extensively recorded performing artist; Ran Dank, who received First Prize at the Hilton Head International Piano Competition, and is also a laureate of the Naumburg Piano Competition and the Sydney International Piano Competition; and Marina Lomazov, Professor of Piano at the University of South Carolina School of Music where she is Founder and Artistic Director of the Southeastern Piano Festival.
All of the pianists were impressively polished with impeccable technique, nimble fingers and a firm command of the instrument. With scores of similar competitions around the world, including the most respected of all of them—The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in nearby Fort Worth—it is amazing that they can all be filled with such remarkable talent.
The progression of technique is, in some ways, like the four-minute mile. There was a time that no one could do it and now it is common.
Much of the repertoire the nine contestants played for the semifinal round was standard competition fare. The second to play, Youkyoung Kim, programmed one of only two recent works to appear on Friday: some of American composer David Rakowski’s Piano Ètudes. The next pianist, Soyoung Kim, played the other work by a living composer: Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Piano Sonata No. 2. Other than those rare exceptions, it was a progression of the usual; difficult and showy pieces by Chopin, Liszt, Prokofiev, Ravel, Debussy, Haydn, Mozart, Bach, Scriabin and one by Janáček.
Yumi Palleschi (Italy) gave an impressive performance of Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35 and some selections from Maurice Ravel, from Le tombeau de Couperin. While her performance was precise and clean, she tended to overuse the pedal, causing some passages to blur.
Youkyoung Kim (South Korea) also played Chopin’s second sonata. She tends to play both hands at the same dynamic level when the composer intended one to sound out over the other. However, her performance of Rakowski’s ètudes should give her a spot in the finals.
Soyoung Kim (South Korea) played Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 and Rautavaara’s fascinating Piano Sonata No. 2 (“The Fire Sermon”). She also listed Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53.
Nathan Ryland (U.S.A.) gave us our first taste of Franz Liszt’s overblown virtuosic displays with Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este from Années de pèlerinage, S. 163 and followed that with the composer’s Grandes Études de Paganini, S. 141. He tended to overdo the rubato, and his poco became mucho, but his powerful performance should get him to the next round.
Kristhyan Benitez (Venezuela) was impressive with Leoš Janáček’s 1. X. 1905 and some of Claude Debussy’s Préludes. However, the force with which he tore into Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 28, should give him a chance to advance.
Saetbyeol Kim (South Korea) another very strong player followed, showing great musicianship with Haydn’s Piano Sonata in A-flat Major, Hob. XVI: 46 and dazzling technique with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 36 (Ver. 1931).
After a break, another powerhouse, Anna Arazi (Israel), gave a pristine performance of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Keyboard Sonata in E Major, which she contrasted with Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 29.
Inyoung Kim (South Korea) impressed with Haydn’s Sonata No. 59 in E-flat major more than with Franz Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H. However, rubato turned into tempo distortion here and there.
Myunghyun Kim (South Korea) gave a sensitive reading of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in F Major, K. 280 with clean technique and minimal use of the pedal. Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op.31 and gave Liszt’s Transcendental Étude No. 8 in C minor, “Wilde Jagd” a powerful start and big ending.
It will not be an easy task to choose between the competitors for several reasons.
First off, all nine have excellent technique and musical ideas.
However, added to the usual anxiety of a competition, the pianists played under another unfortunate complication. While each of them listed a complete recital program, they were constantly interrupted and asked, by the jury, to skip to another movement or piece. This was because they were only scheduled for 20 minutes each. These interruptions broke the pianists’ concentration and the transition to something else had to be difficult.
Further, hearing only part of a larger work can demonstrate technical powers but it won’t tell the listener anything about their musicality and understanding of the pathway through a masterpiece. Those who played shorter works, so they could start and be allowed to finish, were at an advantage.
The final round will be challenging, too. Inexplicably, they will have to play with a second piano and not with the sponsoring Dallas Chamber Symphony.
Playing a concerto with an orchestra is a completely different experience than with a second piano, which is able to follow no matter what happens. A concerto is a collaboration between the soloist, the conductor and the orchestra. Playing with a second piano will tell you little about the artists other than that they can play the notes. It would make more sense to follow the Cliburn’s example and bring in a string quartet to test their chamber music chops.
We will see when we check out the finals, beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Here are the five finalists, who were announced on Friday afternoon, along with performance time in the finals and the piece each will play:
- 5 p.m. Anna Arazi (Israel) | Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-Flat Major
- 5:30 p.m. Inyoung Kim (South Korea) | Camille Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor
- 6 p.m. Kristhyan Benitez (Venezuela) | Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor
- 6:45 p.m. Saetbyeol Kim (South Korea) | Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor
- 7:15 p.m. Nathan Ryland (United States) | Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major