Chopin Foundation Aids Young Pianists with Competition 
and Concert Series

Frederic Chopin was the 19th century's undisputed "poet of the piano." The Polish born composer synthesized musical nationalism with the tempest tossed passions of the Romantic era. In Paris Chopin became the king of the musical salon. Although he composed a superb cello sonata and some vocal music, the overwhelming majority of Chopin's output was music for the keyboard - small scale vignettes (nocturnes, mazurkas, waltzes, polonaises, etudes) and grand sonatas, concertos, and theme and variation forms. Poetry, sensitivity, and sweeping grandeur are the essence of great Chopin pianism. The Miami based Chopin Foundation of the United States is dedicated to providing opportunities for young American pianists to display their interpretive skills - particularly in the music of the Polish master. 

The 2004-2005 season promises to be the most active year yet for the Foundation. A fall concert and musicale series forms a Chopinesque prelude to the Seventh National Chopin Piano Competition of the United States on March 5-13, 2005 at downtown Miami's Gusman Center. The Foundation's annual concert series is free to the public. The season's opening concert on October 17 at 4:00 P.M. is a collaboration with Festival Miami 2004. Polish prodigy Stanislaw Drzewiecki plays an all Chopin concert at UM's Gusman Concert Hall. On November 28 Thomas Rosenkranz, 2003 Fellow of the American Pianist Association, performs at Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables. Finalists of the National Chopin Competition 2005 will be featured in concert on April 24 and May 29 at Granada Presbyterian. 

Presented every five years, the American National Chopin Piano Competition offers performance opportunities for young pianists. The four top Prize winners then take part in the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland with financial assistance from the Chopin Foundation. The First Prize Winner in the American Competition in March will receive $18,000 plus a 20 performance concert tour (in both the United States and abroad) including a high profile debut at New York's Weil Recital Hall (part of Carnegie Hall). Ian Hobson, Jeffrey Kahane, Wendy Chen, Kevin Kenner, Jon Nakamatsu, Gabriela Montero, Andrew Armstrong, and Ning An are among the former winners of the Miami based Competition.. Kenner went on to win the Top Prize awarded at the 1990 Warsaw Competition. Nakamatsu won the Gold Medal at the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth, Texas. 

After playing Chopin's shorter works in the initial rounds of the Competition, those contestants who advance to the Finals will play one of Chopin's two concertos for piano and orchestra with the Florida International University Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the Polish conductor Tadeusz Strugala. (Strugala conducted the music for Roman Polanski's award winning film "The Pianist.) The Competition Jury will be chaired by the distinguished concert pianist and teacher Augustin Anievas. Anievas, a Beethoven and Chopin specialist, finds Chopin's keyboard scores are "beautiful, meaningful music…poignant… explains joy, pain, sorrow, and reaches so many emotions." (Anievas's commanding, authoritative performances of the Etudes, Ballades, and Waltzes are featured on a two cd set on EMI Records - Jury member Ruth Slenczynska (a superb pianist who has graced the world's concert stages for six decades) feels that while "Chopin's music is always beautiful" she has found greater depth in the scores - the subtext behind the music's salon glitter. "Today my performances are deeper into the music... more inside the music." The variety of interpretive approaches to Chopin's works is infinite. (Slenczynska's remarkable performances of Chopin's "24 Preludes," Opus 28 - recorded in Japan in 2003 - are featured on a new release from Liu Mifune Art Ensemble Records. The elegant phrasing, perfectly gauged dynamics, and waterfall of tonal colors are astounding! Slenczynska remains a treasured artist.) 1995 Chopin Competition Winner Jon Nakamatsu finds Chopin's music "incredibly well written for the piano. In Chopin's works you find every single aspect of humanity, the gamut of emotions…truly soulful." 

Other members of the jury include Sergei Babayan, Artist in Residence and Professor of Piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music, whose performance of J.S. Bach's "Goldberg Variations" in Miami last season was revelatory and insightful; French pianist Gersende de Sabran, a Mozart and Chopin specialist; Chopin Competition winner Kevin Kenner, now a Professor at London's Royal College of Music; Constance Keene, Master Professor at New York's Manhattan School of Music; Janusz Olejniczak, Professor of Piano at the Music Academy of Cracow, Poland; Russian pianist Tatiana Szebanowa; and Tian Ying, Cliburn Competition winner and Professor of Piano at the University of Miami Frost School of Music. 

Anievas noted that, when judging competitions, he is looking for an artist "who will say something you have not heard before - something completely new, fresh, and exciting." Slenczynska feels too many contestants play in a "note perfect, matter of fact manner. A real artist must have musical imagination and really love music and enjoy playing. The music must speak to you." She listens for "musical content, sensitive ideas that reveal an aspiring artist. It is exciting to listen to an original musical mind at work." 

In 1990 Wendy Chen won the coveted First Prize of the Chopin Competition when she was 17 years old. After an active year of performing and competing at the Warsaw Competition, Chen chose to stop playing publicly for six years. After studying with the great pianist Leon Fleisher, she returned to performing under the auspices of New York's Young Concert Artists. Looking back on the experience, Chen is reflective. "I had the great good fortune of experiencing the best of both worlds: I had wonderful performance opportunities and made lifelong friendships at a young age and, in the time that I took away from performing, I lived my life, learned with a great master, and became my own person and artist…I travel somewhere almost every week and continue what I so eagerly started ten years ago." (Chen's sensitive, elegantly sculptured Chopin performances highlight her new recording "Bolero" on the RCM label - - Deeply personal, individualistic interpretations!) Cliburn Competition Gold Medal Winner Nakamatsu finds competitions "a terrible thing but they are a forum to play. The Chopin Competition allowed me to step up, get experience and exposure. However difficult they may be, competitions are a microcosm of the real world." Nakamatsu said he finds his post competition career "amazing. I never knew I would play publicly to such an extent and I am thankful everyday. I travel to perform every weekend with really great musicians." He adds a note of caution for future competitors. He feels that "music is multi-faceted. Performing on stage is only one part of the art. Those who teach, edit, or compose also make an important, absolutely necessary contribution. Allow yourself to go beyond what you fear," Nakamatsu advises young musicians. (Nakamatsu's wonderfully fluent, rhythmically agile performances of charming, imaginatively crafted sonatas by Beethoven's contemporary Joseph Wolfl (1773-1812) highlight his new Harmonia Mundi recording - He also gives a jazzy rendition of American composer Lukas Foss's 1943 "Piano Concerto No.1" ably abetted by conductor Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra on an all Foss album.)

The 2000 Chopin Competition winner Ning An noted that "Chopin was a composer whose music I have always loved…The best part about this prize was that it was my first prize. I had never received a substantial first prize (a significant number of concerts along with a generous cash prize) so it was truly a great opportunity." (Ning An gives flamboyant, virtuosic performances of Chopin's Sonata No.3 and Mazurkas on a New Art recording - Ning An thanks the Chopin Foundation for "not only their relentless pursuit of concerts for their winners but, also, their care and love for us as people." In March a new group of gifted young artists can look forward to the Foundation's guidance, encouragement, and support! The Foundation's service to aspiring pianists is invaluable!

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