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. Honens president and artistic director Stephen McHolm sends us his impressions from London.
Over the last couple of months, I've been a regular visitor to London, what with Georgy Tchaidze's Wigmore Hall debut last month (2009 Honens Prize laureate) and preparations for the quarter-finals of the 2012 Honens International Piano Competition. For this seventh edition of the competition, three of the four international audition round cities are new to Honens: London, Berlin and Los Angeles. New York, you'll always be an apple of our eye, but you have some stiff competition when it comes to these powerhouse music centres.
It's easy to see why London is arguably considered the world's capital for piano these days (some might say for classical music in general; our friends in Berlin will surely disagree). The city is buzzing with musical life, is home to several top-notch music schools and conservatories, and indeed some of the biggest names in classical music live and work right here – Canada's own Angela Hewitt and Yannick-Nézet Séguin among them. The volume of musical press is also staggering by Canadian standards. It's still not easy to attract a critic to a concert in London but, with a great publicist by your side (thank you Valerie Barber and team!) it's still possible. Clearly London needs to be part of any strategy to establish an international career.
We ask 50 pianists to perform a 40-minute recital in the quarter-finals. Thirteen chose to perform yesterday in London at the Guildhall School for Music & Drama. These concerts are open to the public and captured on audio and video by our recording team. The jury doesn't review the performances until early June. In London and Berlin, we're joined by London-based arts journalist Edward Seckerson, who conducts a 10-minute interview with each pianist. Much of the conversation involves the program that the pianist has performed. The interview is also evaluated by the jury.
It seemed fitting that this round of the competition began with a performance of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata by Australian pianist Jayson Gillham. The sonata is also known as the L'Aurora (the dawn), because of the Rondo's opening chords that make one think of daybreak. By actual nightfall, some 12 hours later, we had heard 13 pianists – including Canadian Carson Becke of Wakefield, Que. – and were left with a compelling Barber Sonata performed by U.K. pianist Clare Hammond, singing in our ears.
Next stop: Berlin, where Georgy Tchaidze performs his Konzerthaus debut.
Less-familiar works performed in London worth discovering:
Arvo Pärt: Für Alina
Oliver Knussen: Prayer Bell Sketch
Works performed in London worth re-discovering:
César Franck: Prélude choral et fugue
Franz Schubert: Sonata in A major, D. 959
Jan Lisiecki: Classical music artist of the month
Composer Ana Sokolovic is celebrated with concerts, comic book
Honens hears 50 pianists from 6 continents