American Record Guide - Thursday, November 1, 2018 - Written by James Harrington

A Summer Nirvana

20 years old and stronger than ever! The International Keyboard Institute and Festival (IKIF) presents outstanding concerts, masterclasses,
and lectures at Hunter College every year in the last two weeks of July. After the enjoyable time I spent last year (N/D 2017), I anticipated
this milestone year to the point of tracking their schedule, artists, and programs for several months. Nothing I attended was less than
excellent; and, like last year, there were several recitals that rank with the best I have ever witnessed.

For the nearly 100 students that come from all over the world to study and compete, their lessons and masterclasses are augmented by
interacting with and hearing world class pianists perform every day. The masterclasses and 5 PM recitals (Prestige Series) were held in
Hunter’s Lang Concert Hall; the evening concerts (Masters Series) were heard in the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse. The 14 Kaye
recitals were only $20 each ($200 for the whole festival), and the Lang ones were $10 ($100 for a festival pass).

There were 26 concerts and 18 masterclasses over two weeks, along with a competition that awarded a $10,000 first prize to Martin
Garcia Garcia (22, Spain) and an invitation to return next year for a Masters Series recital. The other three finalists were each awarded
$5,000: Yinuo Wang (22, China), Alexandre Lory (about 25, French), and Adam Balogh (21, Hungarian), who will play recitals next year in the Prestige Series. At a recital by last year’s first prize winner, Dina Ivanova played an elegant Mozart Sonata No. 12 and Liszt’s solo version of Totentanz plus Stravinsky’s difficult Petrouchka movements, showing that she belongs in the company of the other Masters Series artists.

Repertoire this year ranged from Bach to Lowell Liebermann. Most works were from the classical and romantic periods, with Beethoven,
Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt heard most often. Debussy, who died 100 years ago this year, was also on a number of programs.
Given the vast quantity of piano music played at this festival, it was surprising (and probably owing mainly to the efforts of Festival Director
Julie Kedersha) that there were so few duplications. Piano sonatas abounded, with 11 by Beethoven and one or two each by Mozart,
Haydn, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Prokofieff, and Ives. Besides the Concord Sonata and Liebermann’s
Gargoyles, 20th-Century composers included Messiaen, Takemitsu, Tania Leon, Tudor Dumitrescu, James P Johnson, and Art Tatum,
though modern works were less numerous.

Festival Founder and Director Jerome Rose, now an octogenarian and still indefatigable, performed the opening concert as usual. He also was present for nearly every event over the next two weeks. This year he played Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30, Schumann’s Humoreske, and three pieces from Liszt’s Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses, including one of the most exciting ‘Funerallies’ I’ve ever heard. He played one encore (Hungarian Rhapsody 13) before thanking the audience for their attendance and inviting them to return during the festival.

There were also pre-concert talks. Two or three individuals gathered at a small table downstage for at least half an hour. One of the
participants was the scheduled pianist for the following evening’s recital, which worked as a wonderful advertisement for the artist and the
program. There was a discussion of both the current and next evening’s programs, often with examples played and the opportunity for
those in the audience to ask questions.

IKIF was the place to hear Van Cliburn gold medalist Yekwon Sunwoo this summer. His recital on a frightfully rainy day began with
thanks from the pianist to those who braved the weather to attend. Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor was a perfect opening, played
in a more lyrical manner than usual. This was followed by the lengthy four Impromptus, D 935, by Schubert. Sunwoo took a very personal,
introspective approach to these works. Rarely did he reach a full forte, especially in the first three pieces, but there was a world of
dynamics in the more limited range. His phrasing and variety of touch complemented musically alive rhythms from start to finish.
After intermission the big work was Brahms’s early Sonata No. 2, delivered with full romantic gusto. Finally, a major competition winner
could not be in the middle of his first concert season without a virtuosic closing. Ravel’s solo piano arrangement of La Valse served that
purpose with as much musicality as flying fingers.

Etudes by Chopin and Liszt are fundamental to these programs (no doubt repertoire brought to the institute by students), but the big group of Debussy’s Etudes played so marvelously by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet was one of the festival’s high points. His recital also included an astounding performance of the first and longer version of Schumann’s Sonata No. 3 (Concerto Without Orchestra). Even Horowitz could not have taken the final Prestissimo Possibile any faster. The opening, Haydn’s Sonata No. 46, was a model of tasteful ornamentation that included a brief cadenza in the second movement. Before seven of Debussy’s Etudes that ended the program came a group of the composer’s less heard works, Ballade, Nocturne, and Tarantelle. I was expecting The Isle of Joy as an encore, and Bavouzet did not disappoint me.

Of the 100+ major works programmed over the two weeks, the one I anticipated most was Liszt’s paraphrase of Les Patineurs from
Meyerbeer’s Prophet. This was likely my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear one of the most difficult of all of Liszt’s legendary operatic
transcriptions and fantasies. I bet American pianist Drew Petersen, 24, played more glissandos in this nine-minute piece than he will
play during the rest of his career. It was an exceptionally brilliant ending to a program that began with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5,
3 waltzes by Chopin, and his grand Fantasy, Opus 49. Petersen reminded me of what I have read about the demeanor, physical appearance,
and ability of young Van Cliburn in Moscow so many years ago.

Alon Goldstein and the Fine Arts Quartet combined for the one major concert than was not solo piano. Their superb program consisted
of Mozart works with three consecutive Köchel numbers: String Quartet No. 19 and Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 21—K 465, 466,
and 467. The concertos were Ignaz Lachner’s arrangements for string quartet, double bass, and piano (he did the same for 19 others).
This group has recorded these two for Naxos, and another pair is to be released this fall. It was a wonderful break in repertoire and instrumentation.

The Fine Arts Quartet fully lived up to its reputation with the kind of precision expected when great artists have been together for as long as 35 years (violinists Evans and Boico). Goldstein played with style and flair but never pushed beyond the basic nature of Mozart’s mature piano writing. He used Beethoven’s cadenza in the first movement of No. 20, but played his own in all other movements. The interaction between piano, the quartet, and bass was quite enjoyable to watch as well as to hear. The piano part was not changed from the original, but all of the wind parts were integrated into the string parts. I sometimes missed the full orchestra but deepened my knowledge of these works with these effective arrangements.

Each of the festival’s main recitals could justify a full review, but I’ll just list some of the works played for an idea of the depth, variety,
and quality of the piano playing at IKIF. Vladimir Feltsman played Schumann’s Arabesque and Kreisleriana plus 14 mazurkas and three ballades by Chopin. Jeffery Swan offered Beethoven’s Sonatas Nos. 2, 21, and 28 covering early, middle and late periods, Claire Huangci programmed sonatas by Scarlatti and Schubert followed by Chopin’s 24 Preludes. Massimiliano Ferrati played Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor followed by Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 in the same key. Steven Mayer played the world premiere of his own transcription of Gottschalk’s Night in the Tropics.

Hunter College Director of Piano Studies Geoffrey Burleson, currently recording the complete piano music of Saint-Saens, treated us to several of these neglected works before a powerful Dante Sonata by Liszt. Ilya Yakushev played the final solo concert with a program built around Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata, among the most exciting performances of it I’ve ever heard. Mozart’s Adagio in B minor opened the program with intensity. Yakushev’s second half was devoted to Liszt, including an epic performance of Vallée d’Obermann and ending with a great Mephisto Waltz. And there were two Distinguished Faculty Artist Concerts where several pianists played one or two major works each. These were all Masters Series concerts—and I haven’t even touched on the same number of Prestige Series recitals played at 5 PM every day.

Even though there were good sized, appreciative audiences at all of these concerts, I found myself wondering why there wasn’t a long line of people waiting to get tickets every night. Compared with the regular concert season, there are few programs at this level in and around New York in the summer. In July, people looking for fascinating programs, expertly played by world class artists—and at a bargain price—could do no better than the IKIF. It is worth a special effort to get here as often as possible—the concerts are a summer nirvana if you love great piano music.

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