by Henri Polgar and Lisa McFarren Polgar
The WIPAC Festival of Music 2022 is, as its name implies, a true international festival of the art of piano performance, as it draws pianists from around the world to share their musical talents in the Annual Washington International Piano Artists Competition, now in its 19th year.
The second longest-running competition for amateur pianists in the world, the event celebrates the great talents of pianists who, “for the love of music” continue to perform and perfect their skills whilst also working professionally in completely unrelated fields.
In an elegant opening reception, the artists, sponsors and organizers were welcomed by the Honorary Chair, Her Excellency, Ambassador of Luxembourg Nicole Bintner-Bakshian at the Embassy of Luxembourg. As is customary, the Founders of WIPAC, Chateau and John Gardecki, have year-after-year, invited members of the diplomatic community of Washington DC, to serve as patrons of the competition. The Co-Chairs of this year’s competition are Carolyn Fuller and the team of Faye and Mike Rokni.
The preliminary rounds of the competition were held on Thursday, July 28 and Friday, July 29, at the George Washington University Music School. In order of appearance in Thursday’s preliminaries were Ilya Bunyakyn, orginially from Ukraine, Eladio Santiago, John Sawchuk, Judy Darst, Esfir Ross, originally from Moldava, and Vivienne Fleischer.
Some highlights of this first set of pianists were Judy Darst, who performed a very moving and poetic performance of the Rachmaninoff Prelude Opus 32, No.5, and Vivienne Fleischer in a dynamic interpretation of the Chopin Scherzo in b-flat minor, Opus 31, No 2. As in years past, Esfir Ross continues to inspire with her innate talent to bring the music to life, this year selecting music of Czech composer Julius Schulhoff, a Bohemian composer of Jewish descent. She also performed music of Benjamin Godard.
Pianist Eladio Santiago, in his performance of Alexander Scriabin’s Etude in D sharp minor, Opus 8, No. 12, transcended the confines of the technical challenges of the piece and became integral to the music. On Friday of July 29, competitors Giovanni Azzelino, Jhon Randel Ortiz, Rincon, from Colombia, Vincent Phillips, David Lee, Max Sung, and David Leehy performed in their preliminary offerings. When listening to these remarkable pianists, one is continually impressed with their pianistic and interpretive skills. Their appearance at events such as the WIPAC competition represents the culmination of hours of practicing, whilst they pursue other professions.
Each pianist had their moment of inspiration and for David Lee, the Franz Liszt Liebestod after Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, was a beautiful moment.At the completion of the preliminaries, Michael Davidson Esq., Chairman of the Jury, announced the candidates who will move to the semifinals, underscoring that those who have not been chosen are recognized for their commitment to perfecting the art of piano performance and encouraged them to continue, and hopefully return for another year of the competition.
The semifinalists for 2022 are Giovanni Azzelino, Vivienne Fleischer, David Lee, Vincent Phillips, Jhon Randell Ortiz Rincon, Esfir Ross, Eladio Santiago, and Max Sung. They will perform on Saturday July 30 at the GWU Music School to compete for the finals that will be held on Sunday at the Cosmos Club.It is fascinating to know how contestants learn about the WIPAC Competition. Diane Merriam, WIPAC Board Member, described how pianist Dr. John Sawchuck learned about WIPAC by listening to her interview about the Competition on WBJC FM classical music station, the Mark Malinowki show in Baltimore. Dr. Sawchuck has always had a love for music and studied the piano whilst pursuing his work as a biomedical engineer and dentist. Now retired, he has not given up his love for music.
Diane Merriam also pointed out the challenges that some contestants faced to attend the Competition. Contestant Jhon Randal Ortiz Rincon is a businessman and school administrator in Colombia, South America. He traveled on a 10-hour bus ride from his home town to the airport in Bogota, than took a flight to New York. After a change in airports and a long layover, he arrived in Washington D.C. At home, he finds time to practice on an “upright” piano, despite his long workdays. Similarly, Giovanni Azzelino, hailing from a small town in Southern Italy, is a PhD from MIT who works at the circular Apple Campus at Cupertino, in the Bay Area and carves out time to perfect his piano skills. They are all indeed an inspiration.
Awards were presented to the contestants by Co-Chair Faye Rokni and WIPAC’s indomitable President Portia Davidson, who is serving her last year as President.
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