For more than a week during some of the hottest days of summer, July 20 through July 27, classical music lovers can bask in virtuoso performances from a dozen of the world’s most accomplished young pianists in the 25th New Orleans International Piano Competition, held in Roussel Hall at Loyola University.
“They’re playing their hearts out, playing fabulous music, competing for prizes — and they’re from all over the world,” said Julianne Nice, co-founder of The Musical Arts Society of New Orleans, which sponsors the biennial competition.
The semifinalists this year, coming from the United States, Austria, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Spain and Italy, were selected from 152 applicants from 26 countries through a preliminary, recorded round of judging.
“The level of playing is extremely high, and the pieces could not be more challenging,” said Daniel Weilbaecher, artistic director of the Musical Arts Society.
Over the course of five consecutive evenings, Monday, July 21 through Friday, July 25, each of the 12 semifinalists will play two pieces of music. On the final Sunday afternoon, the three finalists will compete, each with an entirely new score.
“People enjoy the competition and pick their favorite,” Nice remarked.
In the opening solo recital, Sunday, July 20, Viktor Valkov, the competition’s 2012 gold medalist, will perform Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” Wagner’s “Isolde’s Liebestod,” Chopin’s “Nocturne in C sharp minor,” Schumann’s “Symphonic Etudes” and “Hungarian Rhapsody no. 9” by Liszt.
Over its lifetime, the New Orleans event has gained prestige and become recognized within the piano community for its professionalism and fairness in judging, Nice said.
The five judges include Valkov, Natalya Antonova, Eastman School of Music; Alan Chow, Northwestern Illinois University; Jennifer Hayghe, Ithaca College; and Igor Resnianski, West Chester Pennsylvania University.
The three finalists will return to New Orleans in March to perform with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for the Concerto Showcase VIII. Additionally, the gold-medal winner will perform with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and Lafayette’s Acadiana Symphony Orchestra and present a solo recital at Wigmore Hall in London.
During their New Orleans visit, out-of-town competitors are welcomed as guests in the homes of board members and supporters. For many years, Dr. James Farrow, president-elect of the Musical Arts Society, has served as a host and kept close ties with past competitors. He often attends their performances in New York and was able to hear the 2007 gold medalist, Konstantin Soukhovetski play in Wigmore Hall, London’s equivalent to Carnegie Hall.
“The experience has been absolutely wonderful — getting to know people who have dedicated their lives to be concert pianists and seeing that talent at a relatively young age,” Farrow said.
The New Orleans International Piano Competition has helped launch many musical careers. Former competitors play professionally all over the world and are in demand as soloists, Farrow said.
Taking place simultaneously, the Keyboard Festival features private lessons, master classes, lectures and recitals to benefit piano students from middle school through college. Daily afternoon master classes and lectures held in Roussel Hall’s second-floor band room are also free and open to the public.
In a Friday morning Concerto Competition, Piano Institute students will perform a single movement from a concerto practiced that week. Saturday at 1:30 p.m., those students will perform in a Showcase Recital, both events are free and open to the public.
“If people are interested in concert piano music, this competition attracts some of the best young talent in the world, Farrow said.