International piano competition brings quality, talent to ASU

The sixth Bösendorfer and Yamaha USASU International Piano Competition kicked off Sunday with a full house at the Katzin Concert Hall at the Herberger School of Music with performances by two prominent pianists, Martha Argerich and Sergei Babayan.

The competition opened for Bösendorfer competitors who range from 19 to 32 years old. The Yamaha competition begins Jan. 9 and consists of a junior competition with 13- to 15-year-olds and a senior competition with 16- to 18-year-olds. The Bösendorfer competition started Jan. 6 and will continue until Jan. 13. It was put together by the Phoenix Symphony, the Arizona Young Artist Committee, Bösendorfer, Yamaha and the Arizona Piano Gallery.

There were 198 applicants from 31 different countries for the two competitions. Only 42 of the most outstanding pianists were chosen from a professional board of four pianists, including president and artistic director at the Herberger School of Music, Baruch Meir. Pianists will be judged by a panel of six judges, which includes Meir and the opening performers Argerich and Babayan.

“I always had a dream of opening an international competition, and I really wanted to do it here because I wanted to bring more culture and music to Arizona to make it a more alive and vital place musically,” Meir said. “Arizona was not, in terms of piano, well-known, and now it is.”

The competition attracts applicants with the highest professional training. Each was required to submit a DVD with an assortment of recordings, including a movement of a sonata and a free choice. The applicants come from famous musical schools around the world including the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, the Julliard School in New York and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

Mauricio Arias, 28, is from Colombia and is a previous student of Meir’s. He is a competitor in the Bösendorfer competition and will be playing music by Manuel de Falla, Béla Bartok and Frédéric Chopin in the first round.

“What I most like is being able to play for such a nice audience and Martha Argerich, a part of the jury, and also Sergei Babayan,” Arias said. “It’s a great opportunity to be heard by such amazing musicians.”

Arias has been playing pieces that have been included in the competition for many years, and he said he feels comfortable with displaying his skills. As for experience, in May 2012 he composed Rapsodia Camaleónica for piano, trumpet and orchestra and performed as the solo pianist at the Katzin Concert Hall.

For Meir, a personal conviction is the most important quality for a performer to have on stage and is something he will take into account while judging. He also said that anyone can win because of each competitor’s phenomenal talent.

“Music is like a language. It’s like poetry; it’s like acting, and it’s like all of the arts,” Meir said. “So, it’s really about being able to communicate with the audience and unifying with them.”

Planning for the competition began two years ago and grew in intensity in the past year while working with sponsors, the University, local philanthropists and the Phoenix Symphony. From this planning, it is the quality of the judges, the applicants and the overall experience that have built the reputation of this competition.

For the final concerto round at Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix, on Jan. 13, the top three finalists will perform with the Phoenix Symphony under Maestro Michael Christie.

It was announced at the Jan. 6 performance that the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix will hire the winners next year for performances, which shows an expansion of piano across the valley and brings a lot of attention, according to Meir.

The first place winner will become a Phoenix Symphony guest artist during its 2013-14 season. First place also includes a $15,000 monetary award and a solo recital at the Bösendorfer Saal in Vienna.

Semi-final and final rounds of the Yamaha junior and senior competitions and the semi-final round of the Bösendorfer competition are free and open to the public.

Tickets for the Bösendorfer final round can be purchased at phoenixsymphony.org.

 

Reach the reporter at kgumpert@asu.edu