While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Sydney International Piano Competition – scheduled to take place this month – to move its event to 2021, pianophiles will soon have a chance to relive the excitement of the 2016 competition and much more in a three-day streaming event dubbed The Sydney Piano Marathon. The free webcast, featuring every competitor and every round of the 2016 competition, will run across three days of what would have been the finals weekend of the 2020 competition, July 23 to 26.
“We’re excited to celebrate the 2016 musicians again, not only those like Andrey Gugnin, Arseny Tarasevich-Nikolaev, Moye Chen, Kenny Broberg, Oxana Shevchenko and Jianing Kong who took the top prizes, but revisit the brilliant performances by all the competitors that year,” said Sydney International Piano Competition Chief Executive Marcus Barker. “This is the time our audience and competitors would have been in the midst of our thrilling Final rounds of the 2020 competition, and though we can’t be together physically right now, we’re looking forward to bringing everyone together online to re-experience our last competition.”
Lindsay Garritson competed in the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition. Photo © Ken Ge
The marathon will also feature specially created new content from some of the 2016 competitors, such as American pianist Lindsay Garritson. For Garritson the highlight of the competition was being surrounded by so many talented pianists. “This is one of the greatest parts of competing in such a prestigious competition,” she tells Limelight. “The Sydney 2016 was definitely one of the highest-level competitions I’ve had the honour of competing in. It was inspiring to be part of that group and also to have the opportunity to get to know many of them. Much fun was had exploring Sydney together! I was very excited to get to know this city, as it was my first time visiting. What an incredible place.”
Garritson has been keeping busy in the years since – after the competition in 2016, she began a doctorate in piano performance at the University of Miami. “I just received my degree this past May!” she says. “I’ve also maintained a busy performing career, and one of the highlights was giving my Carnegie Hall recital debut last November. Teaching is also a passion of mine, and I have been teaching piano both at the university level as well as younger students.”
The competition has had a profound influence on her career, particularly the opportunity to meet composer Carl Vine, who was a juror in 2016. “As a repertoire requirement for the competition, I had the pleasure of preparing a work of Vine’s called Toccatissimo, and this proved to be the start of an incredible journey learning and performing his solo piano music,” she says.
Garritson never imagined that meeting Vine would lead to a commission and a recording of his solo piano music. “Throughout the process of learning Toccatissimo, there was something that really clicked in me with his music; I felt a visceral connection, particularly in performance,” she says. “This led to an exploration of his piano music after the competition, and I had the great fortune to commission his Piano Sonata No 4 in 2018.”
“I am humbled that he was so supportive of me as an artist and potential proponent of his piano music!” she says. “In November of 2019, I gave the world premiere of Piano Sonata No 4 at my Carnegie Hall recital debut and concurrently released an album of his solo piano music featuring the world premiere recording of this work. The critical reception of the album has been wonderful!”
“Being part of a commissioning process can be extraordinary, and watching Sonata No 4 come to fruition has been one of the greatest pleasures of my artistic career,” she says.
Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Garritson’s April tour of Australia, New Zealand and Singapore – including the Australian premiere of Vine’s new Sonata – had to be postponed. “I am hoping this as well as the other recitals that had been planned can be rescheduled later in 2021!” she says. “I have only visited Australia once, but I really cannot wait to return. My experience there was so special and will always remain dear to me!”
Kevin Ahfat was chosen to compete in the 2020 Sydney International Piano Competition. Photo © Brandon Patoc
In addition to the streaming of every round of the 2016 competition, the Sydney Piano Marathon will include new content from competitors chosen for the 2020 competition, such as Canadian pianist Kevin Ahfat.
For Ahfat, being chosen to compete in the competition is “an honour”, he tells Limelight. “I watched a lot of the last competition’s livestreams back in 2016, and it feels wonderful to now be the one of the pianists that’ll be up on the stage next. We’re all very much looking forward to coming to Sydney next year to share our performances with audiences in Australia.”
Like Garritson, the pandemic has put Ahfat’s professional life on hold. “Schedules have evaporated into thin air for most of us (for some well into 2021), and we are still unsure of exactly when we will be able to get back into theatres and concert halls to experience live music once again,” he says. “There have definitely been many ups and downs during this crisis, but it has also provided me with an almost mandatory reassessment and reflection on what music means to me, its ability to make a difference, and its role in my life as a performer and communicator.”
“After many concert-less months, I recently brought a digital keyboard down to the sidewalk of my apartment building in Toronto to share some tunes with my neighbourhood, and I can’t even begin to tell you how extraordinarily fulfilling it was not only for me, but for many people and passersby as well,” he says. “We are all hungry for the stimulation, emotion and excitement that live music brings, and to get out there again and share that with the community meant so much to me.”
Ahfat’s musical interests are by no means confined to the classical world. “Not many people know this, but beyond being a classical pianist, I actually have a really deep love for R&B/soul/gospel singers, from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Yolanda Adams and Whitney Houston to Jill Scott, India.Arie and, my ultimate idol, Beyoncé,” he says. “The sheer power and wonder of their voices never ceases to amaze me.”
Despite the cessation of regular performing work, Ahfat’s sights are set firmly on the competition in 2021. “My goals for The Sydney are to feel fulfilled by and proud of my time onstage (however short or long), to feel enriched by new perspectives from fellow colleagues and listeners, and to enjoy and maintain new friendships and relationships to be made in Sydney,” he says. “I’m very much looking forward to being back onstage and feeling that live connection between the music and listener.”
“After this pandemic hiatus, I know we’re all itching to get back in front of audiences again to share everything that we’ve had bottled up inside during these times,” Ahfat says. “I also haven’t been to Australia before, and I’m so excited to discover the great city of Sydney! My past teacher, Stephen Hough, calls it one of his favourite places on Earth, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know the culture, the landmarks, and perhaps even the wildlife. I have a very good friend who just moved back to Australia this past year, so I am hoping to see him while I am there and get the personal tour.”
The Sydney Piano Marathon will run from July 23 at 7:30pm until July 26 at approx. 2:00pm (AEST)
The rescheduled Sydney International Piano Competition will take place June 23 to July 10, 2021