by Henri Polgar and Lisa McFarren-Polgar
If there was a message conveyed at the 19th annual Washington International Piano Arts Competition it was that the art of piano performance continues to flourish through pianists, who for the love of music, will perfect their art despite the daily pressures of their various professions.
The winners of this year’s Competition held at the Cosmos Club were:
First Place – David Lee; Second Place – Eladio Santiago; Third Place – Esfir Ross; Finalist Prizes – Jhon Randal Ortiz Rincon and Max Sung’
Special awards were given for the Best Performance of: Bach – Max Sung (Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue); Beethoven – Giovanni Azzelino; Chopin – Eladio Santiago (Sonata in B minor Op.58 IV); Rachmaninoff – Eladio Santiago (Prelude Op. 23/4); Scriabin – Eladio Santiago (Etude Op. 8/12); Baroque – David Lee (Scarlatti-Tausig Capriccio); Classical – Ilya Bunyakyn (Beethoven Sonata Op.26 I); Romantic – David Lee (Liszt-Wagner Liebestod); Twentieth Century – David Lee (Bartók Sonata); Imaginative programming – Esfir Ross; Audience – Eladio Santiago; Press Jury – Jhon Randál Ortiz Rincón
Congratulations to all who participated!
First place winner, David Lee, took on the challenge of performing what is regarded as one of the most difficult pieces of the piano repertoire. Performing Maurice Ravel’s “Ondine,” from “Gaspard de la Nuit,” he masterfully captured the shimmering and undulating movements created by the water nymph. Composed in 1908, Ondine was inspired by the poet Aloysius Bertrand poems, “Ondine” and “Le Gibet Scarbo.” Just as the nymph Ondine in the poem seduces the observer into visiting her kingdom deep at the bottom of a lake, David Lee seduced the audience to follow every note and phrase with his fluid and lyrical interpretation.
His performance of the Bartok Sonata (926) was yet another tour de force that catapulted him to first place, as did his thoughtful Rachmaninoff Prelude in D Major, Opus 23, No.4, with its soothing, unfolding music which helped to calm the listener. He demonstrated his keen sense of balanced programming as well as outstanding musicianship.
Eladio Santiago, who was chosen as the audience favorite, also won 2nd prize. He showed his dynamism in the Prokofiev Sonata No. 7, Opus 83, as well as the technically fiendish Bach-Busoni Chaconne. Santiago’s lyrical qualities shone through his rendition of Debussy’s La Plus que Lente.
The 3rd prize winner, the musical poet Esfir Ross, left her mark on the 19th WIPAC Competition with the most imaginative programming of works by Thalberg, J. Leybach, Alois Haba and Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Throughout the 4 days of competition, her selections of works highlighted her gift to feature composers who are rarely heard. Her performance of the Prokofiev Sonata No. 4 in the Semifinals was strikingly powerful.
Jhon Randal Ortiz Rincon brought a new dimension to programming by including Latin American compositions who are rarely included in piano competitions, particularly Hector Villalobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 and Luis Antonio Calvos’ Intermezzo No. 4. As a Colombian pianist, he had a keen sensitivity for Latin American rhythms and melodies. He also included the contemporary composer, Julian Cochran, who conducts virtual piano competitions featuring his works.
Returning to the WIPAC Competition this year was Finalist Max Sung who revealed his mature musicality, particularly in his performance of the Schumann Fantasie in C, Opus 17. He conveyed a thoughtful structural design in his phrasing and dynamics.
One of the most significant testimonials to the importance of piano competitions for amateur pianists, such as WIPAC’s, was that of semi-finalist Vivienne Fleisher. She described the opportunity to perform that the Competition offers, stating, “Music is not made for the four walls, and once I feel that a piece is done, I want to share it.” As the co-founder of an ergonomics consulting company, she had taken 12 years off from playing the piano and felt that she had a hole in her life. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer 16 years ago, and her oncologist discovered that she was a pianist, he told Ms. Fleisher, “You need to connect with your heart” as an integral process of recovery. And surely, she has taken his advice to heart.The Competition was followed by the traditional gala dinner held at the luxurious Cosmos Club in DC.
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