by Daniel Hathaway
After playing two rounds with no eliminations, the original pool of 24 young pianists in the Cleveland International Piano Competition’s Young Artists Competition was trimmed to 12. The semifinal round pared that number down to six finalists — three each in the Senior and Junior divisions. The final round with Gerhardt Zimmermann and the Canton Symphony Orchestra, played in front of a sold-out house in Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art on Thursday evening, May 21, would determine who would win first, second and third prizes in each division, as well as who would be awarded the Mozart, Bach and Audience prizes.
The final concerto round, as well as being popular with audiences, proves how well pianists play with others — an important factor in assessing the overall stage-readiness of young artists, many of whom spend hours alone with only themselves and a piano.
Elliot Wuu (12, from the USA, pictured above) chose the opening movement of Beethoven’s first concerto. He obviously loves the piece: his face lit up with delight as he listened to the orchestra play its long exposition. When he entered, his runs were beautiful and clean. He made a nice change in tone color for the transition to the key of E-flat and later announced the return to the home key of C Major with a real sense of arrival. Wuu chose the longest of Beethoven’s three cadenzas, one that almost rivals the length of the whole first movement. He made it sound playful and imaginative.
Jiacheng Xiong (18, from China) played the first movement of Chopin’s second concerto, announcing the end of its lengthy orchestral prelude with an explosive entrance. Xiong played with a dark, colorful tone and a nice sense of urgency in the movement’s more dramatic sections, but instantly switched to a gentler style for Chopin’s more poetic turns of phrase. His runs were graceful and he paid close attention to the orchestra and conductor. At the end, Gerhardt Zimmermann got a warm hug from the soloist.
Leonid Nediak (12, from Canada), small but mighty, chose the opening movement of Beethoven’s third concerto. Though he hasn’t yet acquired enough body mass to produce a naturally hefty tone, that didn’t stop him from turning heads with his commanding solo entrance and his full-voiced cadenza. His attention riveted on Zimmermann and his orchestral partners, Nediak played with fluency and bright colors (even in this minor-keyed piece) and his sense of the moment allowed him to push the music forward when its temperature heated up.
After intermission, Chaeyoung Park (17, South Korea) offered the evening’s second performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s C-Major concerto. Playing deliberately and using nearly a staccato touch in places, she gave the music an immediate sense of vibrancy while not imbuing it with much of a sense of direction. Her choice of a shorter cadenza was appropriate to the occasion, and she played it freshly and elegantly.
Jae Hong Park (15, South Korea) followed with the evening’s second performance of the opening movement of Beethoven’s c-minor concerto. Park’s stage demeanor was easy and graceful (a long period of bench adjustment before he played brought smiles to the faces of both soloist and conductor). While keeping in close contact with his colleagues, he wasn’t afraid to be spontaneous and play with the flow of the piece. His runs were free and relaxed and his cadenza sounded both lighthearted and expressive. When called back to the stage, he bowed modestly from a corner of the orchestra.
After three trombonists joined the ensemble, the sixth performer, Yuanfan Yang (18, U.K.) ended the round with the Grieg concerto. Sporting a flower in his lapel, Yang looked completely self-assured from the moment he set foot on stage, and he confirmed that impression with his powerful opening statement. Forming a close bond with his orchestral partners, he made an instantaneous tempo and color change into the faster section and tightly coordinated his playing with theirs for the duration. His cadenza began in an improvisatory mood, then turned dramatic. Yang’s mature, well-thought-out performance ended this competition with distinction.
At the end of the evening, CIPC CEO Pierre van der Westhuizen introduced the jury and the donors of the prizes, and jury chairman Paul Schenly announced the order of the winners in both the Senior and Junior Divisions, as well as the Mozart, Bach and Audience prizes.
First Prize, Senior Division ($25,000): Yuanfan Yang, 18, U.K.
Second Prize, Senior Division ($10,000): Jiacheng Xiong, 18, China.
Third Prize, Senior Division ($5,000): Chaeyoung Park, 17, South Korea.
First Prize, Junior Division ($10,000): Jae Hong Park, 15, South Korea.
Second Prize, Junior Division ($5,000): Leonid Nediak, 12, Canada.
Third Prize, Junior Division ($2,500): Elliot Wuu, 15, USA.
Mozart Prize ($500): Eiliot Wuu.
Bach Prize ($500): William Yang, 13, USA.
Audience Prize ($1,500): Leonid Nediak.
Photos by Jon Theobald.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com May 26, 2015.
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