The search for the next laureate of the Honens International Piano Competition is on now. The competition is based in Calgary, but the Honens team is on the road to London, Berlin, New York and Los Angeles to hear the 50 pianists who have made it to the quarter-final round. On Oct. 26, 2012, one pianist will take home the richest prize package in the international music competition world, cash and an artistic and career development program worth more than half a million dollars. In the second installment of this series, Honens president and artistic director Stephen McHolm sends us his impressions from Berlin. View the gallery of images above for McHolm's latest photos.
We’ve set up camp at Berlin’s Konzerthaus at Gendarmenmarkt — the centre of the city and what was formerly East Berlin. The creative buzz in Berlin is infectious and we’ve met a number of people who are visiting the city for strictly cultural reasons — the Staatsoper’s production of Alban Berg's Lulu with Barenboim conducting, the stunningly restored Neues Museum or the Gerhard Richter retrospective at the Neue Nationalgalerie. We’ve also been joined by an enthusiastic group of culture vultures for the Honens quarter-finals performances on this, our first visit to this wonderful city.
Berlin is the second of the four cities involved in the quarter-final round of Honens auditions, and Georgy Tchaidze (2009 Honens Prize laureate) set the tone for these three days here with a riveting performance in the Konzerthaus’ Kleiner Saal (small hall, in English). Hot on the heels of his successful Wigmore Hall debut, Tchaidze treated the audience to an all-Russian program of Medtner, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky.
By the end of today we had heard more than half of the 50 quarter-finalists, including two Canadians, one of whom (Avan Yu of Vancouver) performed here in Berlin. It’s clear that these musicians can play anything. So how does a jury choose just 10 to advance to the semi-finals? I’m reminded of two articles that appeared in the New York Times last autumn. The first, by Anthony Tomassini (“Virtuosos becoming a dime a dozen,” August 12) discusses the exponential growth of technical proficiency among young pianists. But proficiency doesn’t explain how, despite hearing hours and hours of music these past few days, I find myself energized when an inexplicable electricity enters the room. It’s usually the first few notes of a recital that grab me — it’s an intangible magnetism.
That brings us to the second article, this one by Zachary Woolfe (“A Gift from the Musical Gods,” August 17, 2011). Charisma: you either have it or you don’t. And I don’t mean simply a nice smile or great wardrobe (although here in Berlin we’ve been treated to the most fashion-forward group of pianists I’ve seen in a long while here — the velvet jackets and ascots would make the stylists of Gossip Girl swoon). It’s the whole package, the goose-bump factor. We’re all looking for it as audiences. It’s what brings us back time and time again.
As we’re cleaning up the green room at the Konzerthaus, I’ll sign off now. Talk to you next from New York. The team deserves a currywurst mit pommes … my favourite is at Mehringdamm 36. Taxi!
Less familiar works performed in Berlin and worth discovering:
Nikolai Medter: Four Fairy Tales (Skazki) Op. 34
Pascal Dusapin: Études
Works performed in Berlin worth rediscovering:
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 8 in C minor (Pathétique)
Alexander Scriabin: Feuillet d’album Op. 45 No. 1
Letter from London: Honens quarter-final update
Classical Easter stream offers reflection and celebration
Seeking sublime: classical music that transcends the everyday
on Apr 05, 2012