This November the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC) in collaboration with the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp held the inaugural ‘AntwerPiano’ International Competition in the Blue Hall of the deSingel International Arts Campus in Antwerp, Belgium.
The three day competition took place 4 – 6 November, and featured virtuosic young pianists from around the world competing for a first prize of €10,000. The esteemed jury consisted of renowned : Honorary Professor of Lviv Music Academy, professor of piano at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp Sergei Edelmann (‘AntwerPiano’ Artistic Director); internationally acclaimed musician Alexander Gurning (Belgium); professor of piano at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp Eliane Rodrigues (Belgium); professor at the Mons Royal Conservatory of Music (ARTS2) and an Assistant Professor at the Brussels Royal Conservatory of Music Hans Ryckelynck(Belgium) and professor of piano, pianoforte and improvisation at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels Boyan Vodenitcharov (Belgium).
The event was held across two rounds, and featured works ranging from baroque to twentieth century compositions, from Bach to Prokofiev. The competition also featured a selection of pieces from Composer-In-Residence, Alexey Shor.
Despite the difficulties presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the event proved to be an extraordinary success, with the competition participants deftly demonstrating their technical skill, musicality and dedication.
In the words of Sergei Edelmann: “The calibre of the contestants in the competition was extremely high, a truly international level — wonderful young musicians worthy to compete in the most prestigious competitions of the world.” This sentiment is echoed by Alexander Gurning, who said of the competitors: “The level was very impressive — their technical skills and artistic personalities were at a very high level.”
The de facto capital city of Flemish Belgium and the country’s second largest metropolitan area, Antwerp boasts a thriving arts scene and is known as a destination for cultural tourism. When asked about the city’s inspirational value for visiting artists such as those competing in ‘AntwerPiano’, Hans Ryckelynck said: “Absolutely yes! Antwerp is a bustling metropolis of international standing.
It has a very long and rich cultural history and is nowadays Belgium’s economic motor. In terms of arts, architecture, fashion…Antwerp is certainly worth exploring.” Mentioning the venue for the competition in particular, Sergei Edelmann reinforces this, agreeing that Antwerp, “…bursts with creativity, heritage and vibrant cultural life, and combined with the infrastructure of the Royal Conservatoire and the deSingel with its beautiful Blue Hall, gave the participants an incredible sense of inspiration.”
‘AntwerPiano’ forms part of the ‘14 Ways to Malta’ International Piano Competition, a series of competitions round the world which, in addition to their significance as competitions in their own right, also serve as preceding rounds to the ‘Classic Piano’ Malta International Piano Competition. Other competition locations forming part of ‘14 Ways to Malta’ include Germany (Hamburg and Berlin), Austria (Vienna), USA (Washington), China (Shanghai), Israel (Tel Aviv), Armenia (Yerevan), Russia (Moscow), UK (London), Switzerland (Zurich), South Korea (Seoul), Italy (Rome) and Japan (Tokyo), with the final stage due to take place at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Malta’s historic capital, Valletta, 17 April – 11 May 2021.
This year has of course been marked by the ongoing worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, an emergency which has caused significant disruption to all industries globally and arguably the arts and culture sectors in particular. However, the challenges facing an event such as this are not merely confined to logistical difficulties, with other factors affected such as practise and tutoring opportunities preceding the event.
Sergei Edelmann, explains that: “Given the extraordinary circumstances, to organise and hold such a major event was an incredible challenge and it makes me feel very happy and proud! It took infinite dedication, courage and perseverance from everyone involved, and despite COVID-19 — and while strictly abiding by all the precautionary measures — we managed to show that the arts and music will prevail no matter the circumstances.”
This sentiment is reaffirmed by Hans Ryckelynck: “Artists in general are living in very difficult times, having a lot of concerts and projects postponed and even cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It is nevertheless very important to continue our activities, albeit in an altered form. Personally I was enchanted that the competition could take place.”
When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted their experience of the event, competition winner, Maslov Victor, notes that: “Any competition experience is always stressful and challenging – this is the very nature of the process itself. However, I must admit, in these times the most challenging part was to actually organise my travel to Belgium and to fulfil all the official requirements regarding the pandemic.” That the event was able to take place despite the pandemic was made possible by the efforts of Konstantin Ishkhanov and the EUFSC, of which the winner remarked: “The organisation was excellent and I can only be proud to have been a part of this event.”
When discussing the EUFSC’s work in realising the competition despite the challenging circumstances, the Artistic Director spoke favourably, saying: “As with all other competitions organised by Konstantin Ishkhanov, the level of organisation was exemplary! Particularly, in the almost impossible situation, the work of all the managerial staff was like a Swiss clock — precise and supportive. Bravo!” Alexander Gurning agreed, noting that it is “…very impressive to see this kind of rare and sprawling organisation. I can’t even imagine the amount of work it represents.”
The Foundation holds numerous events across the globe as it seeks to promote and support classical music, foster increased cultural engagement and provide educational and performance opportunities to talented young musicians. To this end the Foundation regularly organises concerts, festivals, competitions and masterclasses, and regularly partners with leading venues and cultural organisations round the world. Its next major event is the InClassica International Music Festival next year, inviting world-renowned soloists, orchestras and conductors to Malta for 25 days of consecutive evening performances.
Aside from the obvious logistical difficulties facing the participants, there are of course numerous other challenges posed when performing competitively, and especially when to such a high standard. In the words of Boyan Vodenitcharov: “For modern day pianists, thorough knowledge of different styles encompassing a vast range of repertoire is essential, and the candidates were successful in that regard.” Indeed, as Eliane Rodrigues elaborates, “It’s like expressing a different personality in each piece, a different colour, the different feelings and expression of each composer you’re representing — it’s quite difficult to have to be so flexible.”
The question of which repertoire to select is of course of prime importance in a competitive environment. The desire to play to one’s strengths must be balanced with the requirements of the competition as well as allowing for originality and creative spontaneity.
When asked how he arrived at his choice of works to perform in the competition, Maslov Victor explains: “The first round of this competition required quite an academic-style programme, so there was not much to think about. However, the second round gave a lot of freedom. Besides playing three compulsory pieces from Alexey Shor’s popular Childhood Memories cycle, I decided to perform some contrasting pieces by Bach and Rachmaninoff in an attempt to show myself and my musical beliefs from different perspectives.”
The competition was proud to welcome Alexey Shor as its Composer-In-Residence, with his Childhood Memories Suite selected for inclusion in the second and final round of the competition. Alexey Shor is a New York based composer who has written extensively for piano, and whose music was featured at the opening ceremony of the 40th Gramophone Classical Music Awards ceremony in London in 2017.
Speaking of Alexey Shor’s contribution to the competition, Sergei Edelmann said: “Childhood memories by Alexey Shor is a cycle of small pieces that are both diverse and amusing, but, at the same time, one cannot escape the feeling of a much deeper philosophical meaning behind the work. The minimal instructions by Shor leave a lot to the imagination of the performer, and as such, the biggest challenge for the competitors was to discover and convey the inner meaning of this music and to learn it by memory, as the harmonic structure is very often quite unusual.”
First prize was awarded to Maslov Victor (Russia/UK), second prize to Okada Kojiro (France) and third prize to Gu Julia (Australia). Kim Yedam (South Korea/France) and Popil Markiyan (Ukraine) were selected to compete in the final stage of the ‘Classic Piano’ competition in Malta 2021 in addition to the three winning competitors.
“It is a great achievement for me to win one of the prestigious competitions from the ‘14 ways to Malta’ series. I am very happy to receive this prize and look forward very much to taking part in the ‘Classic Piano’ Malta International Piano Competition next spring!” — Maslov Victor, winner of the ‘AntwerPiano’ International Competition 2020.
“I would like to convey my sincere congratulations to all the winners of the ‘AntwerPiano’ competition, and of course in particular to Maslov Victor for securing the first place. I would like to say a special thank you to the jury for their tireless professionalism and pursuit of excellence in judging the competition, and I would also like to thank my colleagues at the EUFSC for their hard work in coordinating the event. It gives me great pleasure to welcome the qualifying five competitors of ‘AntwerPiano’ to Malta next year, for what is sure to be a very exciting final stage of the competition.” — Konstantin Ishkhanov, President of the European Foundation for Support of Culture.