Saturday, June 6, 2009

Old Concerns, New Friends

The modern concertos await us in the next two days. It does make sense to have the Classical concertos played on the same days when you consider that they require smaller numbers of musicians. Grouping the modern works together means you don't need reinforcements standing by every day.

I asked this question four years ago: When are they going to let Miguel Harth-Bedoya conduct at this competition? No disrespect for Maestro James Conlon, who's done a pretty good job with FWSO so far, but this is Maestro Harth-Bedoya's orchestra, he's proved himself more than capable, and he's a rising star in the conducting world who could benefit from the Cliburn's exposure. The X factor would be, would MHB be able to match Conlon's commitment to mentoring these young pianists?

Once again I note the lack of risk-taking by these pianists when it comes to choosing their final concertos. Everybody has picked either Rachmaninov or Prokofiev, though it's worth noting that two of the competitors are playing Prokofiev's Second instead of the more popular Third. This is probably due to Joyce Yang winning a silver medal in 2005 with the Second. Still, 27 pianists chose something by the above two composers or the Tchaikovsky First. The only exceptions were Han Yoon-jung, who picked Liszt's First, and Natacha Kudritskaya, who selected Ravel's Concerto in G.

These competitors have proved themselves willing to play unusual pieces in their solo recitals, so it's sad to see that enterprising spirit go away when they get close to the big prize. What I wouldn't give to hear Bartok or Gershwin or Shostakovich. Or, for those who really want to go out on a limb, something by Kapustin or Medtner, Barber or Piston, or Rautavaara. I once heard Michael Tippett's Piano Concerto and thought that was a lot of fun. Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain used to be popular, whatever happened to that piece? Heck, I'd even settle for Schumann or Grieg's concertos.

Wow, the press room is pretty full by now. Over the past few days I've had the chance to meet people such as Ken Iisaka, a prize-winner at the Van Cliburn Competition for Amateurs, who was recognized by Fort Worth Weekly for his Alkan performance there and who's now blogging for the Cliburn's blog. Our conversations about the contestants have been somewhat contentious, but he's been a great pleasure to talk to. The same goes for Ron DeFord, the Austin retiree who's been at every performance. He's easily recognizable for his long white beard and his wardrobe consisting of loud print shirts, shorts, and Crocs. The camera crews have been following him around, too, and no wonder, since his personality is as large as all outdoors. He loves piano music as much as anyone in the hall. Meeting fans like him is almost as much fun as the music on offer, and makes this competition worth tuning into.

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