Sat, Feb 05, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Dame Fanny looks for magic at Chopin competition

The chairperson of the preliminary round of the contest is looking for individuality in her winner

By Bradley Winterton  /  STAFF REPORTER

Dame Fanny Waterman.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TENTH TAIPEI CHOPIN PIANO COMPETITION

Magic! That's one of the prime qualities I will be on the lookout for in Taiwan's young pianists," said the UK's Dame Fanny Waterman.

"There are many wonderful pianists in the world, but what I will be watching for this weekend is true individuality."

Dame Fanny is the chairperson of the preliminary round of the Tenth Taipei Chopin Piano Competition which began yesterday and continues until tomorrow in the Concert Hall of the Taipei National University of the Arts at Guandu. The extraordinary phenomenon that is Taiwanese classical music education is, in other words, once again on display.

In 1963 Waterman founded the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition, now one of the world's top five piano contests, and she is a frequent jury member of international competitions such as the Tchaikovsky in Moscow, the Beethoven in Vienna, and the Bach in Leipzig.

"We in the West have a lot to learn from the East," she said. "I don't know any of my students who work as hard as the young pianists here. Being devoted to a chosen art is one thing, but without their kind of dedication and concentration you're not going to achieve anything."

The Taipei competition has 37 entrants this year, 36 from Taiwan and one from China. Two pianists who are currently studying abroad have been allowed to submit recordings for the preliminary round, but the rest will display their talents in Guandu this weekend. By the contest's rules, all must be under 28 years old. Six are only 17.

"The piano is a percussion instrument, but a great pianist makes it sing," Dame Fanny said. "A great pianist can make a Steinway sound like an orchestra, a string quartet, or someone singing an operatic aria. And they need to, too -- Beethoven's piano sonatas, for example, are virtually symphonies for the piano."

After this weekend's initial round, between 25 and 30 pianists will be chosen to go forward to the first round on Feb. 14 and 15, also at Guandu. From there 12 to 15 will go through to the second round (on Feb. 16 and 17 at the same venue), and from these six finalists will be chosen to compete in Taipei's Novel Hall on Feb. 20.

There will be no single winner. Instead, the best three, four or possibly five participants will be awarded a cash prize of NT$60,000 each, and compete in the hugely prestigious Warsaw Chopin Competition this October, with all expenses paid.

The music the candidates will play in Taipei is set out in the regulations -- a waltz, a nocturne, an etude and a scherzo (or impromptu) for the preliminary round, another etude, a polonaise and one other piece for the first round, and a cycle of mazurkas plus a sonata for the second round. All music is, of course by Chopin, and the contest is held under the auspices of the Frederic Chopin Foundation of Taipei.

For the final, the candidates will play one of Chopin's two piano concertos, accompanied by the National Taiwan Normal University Orchestra under Professor Chin-hsin Hsu. This means six concertos in one day for the orchestral musicians -- quite a task. There the 12 judges will be chaired by Professor Sergei Dorensky of Russia and include Professor Li Ming-chiang and Frenchman Bernard Ringeisen.

Other composers wrote great piano music, said Dame Fanny in Taipei this week, "but they wrote other things as well. Only Chopin devoted his entire creative energy to the piano."

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