By Henri Polgar and Lisa McFarren-Polgar
At a time when the world continues to witness the ravages of war and human suffering, music brought hope and healing at the Embassy of Slovakia in Washington, DC, and reminded us that despite our differences, there is a universality of the human condition expressed through art. Hosting the Washington International Piano Arts Council’s annual Grand Prix concert, the Ambassador of Slovakia to the US, Mr. Radovan Javoreik commented that “Art is the way we can relate to each other even though we don’t speak the same language.”
Featuring the two winners of the 2019 and 2021 WIPAC piano competition, Jonathan Lee and Irene Longacre, respectively, the event gave the artists the opportunity to express their virtuosity and their passion for the art of piano performance.
In the beautiful recital hall of the Slovakian Embassy, the Founder of WIPAC, Chateau Gardecki, echoed Ambassador Javoreik’s comments, quoting Plato: “’Music gives a soul to the universe; wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything,” adding, “Jon, with wings on his side, he will play Bach and Irene on the other hand with her artful performance, will give life to everything. And so they did!!”
It was indeed Jon Lee’s performance of the Beethoven Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Opus 109 that captivated the audience. The pianist introduced the piece with the Prelude-like opening (g sharp b, b sharp e g sharp), continuing with the variation theme of the Adagio that is perhaps as memorable and well known as the opening of the Beethoven 5th symphony. Jonathan Lee performed in an energetic, and robust yet lyrical manner that was very moving. He has a beautiful broad sweeping touch, with considerable depth. (More than one audience member responded that of all the WIPAC first prize winners over the years Mr. Lee was their favorite. He surely did not disappoint them this evening.)
Jonathan Lee also performed the Bach-Rachmaninoff prelude from the Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, and the Alexander Scriabin Sonata Fantasy No. 2 in G sharp minor Opus 19. The Bach
Rachmaninoff prelude revealed Mr. Lee’s style, forceful and direct. The beautiful tonal quality of the Scriabin sonata demonstrated the artist’s exuberance, linking the mystical qualities that were shared by both Beethoven and Scriabin.
Irene Longacre Whiteside performed the Rondo II by Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach; the Mozart Sonata B flat Major KV 333 1st Movement; Frederick Chopin Introduction and Rondo in E flat Major Opus 16, Sergei Prokofiev Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Opus 14, 4th Movement: and the Rachmaninoff Italian Polka-inspired work arranged by Vyacheslav Gryaznov.
Ms. Longacre-Whiteside is an extraordinary pianist – a tour de force. Her ease and facility at the keyboard is a wonder. The artist performed the Mozart and all other works with a fluidity that was second nature, much to the delight of the audience.
The remarkable pianists completed their program with a four-hand performance of the Mozart Sonata in D Major KV381. The seemingly effortless and natural back-and-forth musicality exchanged between the two pianists transfixed the audience.
As a final tour-de-force which, as the Ambassador exclaimed, brought him “goosebumps,” Ms. Longacre-Whiteside performed her arrangement of a the themes of National Airs of America, of Canada and the Slovak Republic.
WIPAC has launched its 21st year of bringing music to its devoted audiences, an accomplishment that was made possible through the hard work of all its volunteers and supporters, and especially the dedication of its founders, John and Chateau Gardecki. Portia Davidson, WIPAC’s current president, congratulated the Gardeckis for their more than 20-year achievement in building bridges of friendship and promoting peace through music.
Particularly during these times when war is ravaging Ukraine, Ambassador Javoreik acknowledged that the Slovak Republic has joined with so many countries throughout the world in showing its solidarity with Ukraine against the aggression by Russia.
Chateau Gardecki acknowledged the presence of past WIPAC Presidents, Mr. Clayton and Susie Eisinger and Mr. Michael Davidson, as well as this year’s Grand Prix Committee Chair, Jaonna Athanasopoulos.
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