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The 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition launched in style last night with a gala concert featuring seven of the jurors whose job it will be over the next two weeks to judge the 32 finalists. Competition Artistic Director Piers Lane introduced the event, which was the first free live stream made possible by the generous support of the Friends of the Competition and an anonymous donor.
The competitors, flown to Sydney from all around the world, were on hand to witness their judges, who gave eloquent demonstrations of dexterity and poetics, ranging from the delicacy of Sa Chen and Noriko Ogawa to heavyweight technicians like Lane himself, Nikolai Demidenko and Orli Shaham.
Polish virtuoso Ewa Kupiec had the honour to open proceedings to the obsessive strains of Schubert’s famous Impromptu in C Minor, D899, taken at a compellingly relaxed tempo and combining playing of enormous lightness of touch with firm, clear dramatics. Sporting masses of rubato, Serbian Mira Yevtich, followed suit with the Brahms’ Op. 79 Rhapsody in B Minor, her hands arching like spiders as she played a veritable game of cat and mouse across the keys.
The British came next, Hamish Milne’s long, elegant fingers making light work of the sonourous La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell and Les Cloches de Genève from Liszt’s Swiss Années de Pèlerinage. Chinese pianist Sa Chen offered a pair of palate-cleansing Debussy Preludes: a radiant Bruyères and a crackling Feux d'artifice, before Piers Lane and (a bonus) his regular chamber partner, British violinist Tasmin Little played a delicious Nocturne and Tarantella by Szymanowski, full of sensuous double stopping and furioso fireworks.
By complete contrast, the wonderful Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa played two intricate pieces by Toru Takemitsu: Les Yeux Clos II and Rain Tree Sketch II. American juror Orli Shaham then brought the house down with Ginastera’s early Danzas Argentinas, a trio of works embracing motoric rhythms and Latin sexiness, and incorporating everything from high-octane fiesta to boogie-woogie. Russian master Nikolai Demidenko wound up the evening with Medtner’s romantic Dithyramb.
If the 'apprentices' are anything like as interesting as the 'masters', the 2016 Competition promises to be a compelling event.
Tickets are still available for selected events, and all Competition Concerts can be watched free via 5stream as well as being broadcast live on ABC Classic FM for listeners who may not have access to the Internet.