American Record Guide - Friday, November 1, 2019 - Written by James Harrington

Best Deal in New York

The International Keyboard Institute and Festival, now in its 21st year, has been the high point of my summer musical events for three years now. IKIF offers people in the New York area two full weeks of outstanding concerts, masterclasses, and lectures at Hunter College. More than 100 piano students come from around the world to study and compete; their lessons and masterclasses are augmented by the opportunity to interact with and hear world class pianists perform every day. No event that I attended was less than superb; and, as in past years, there were several recitals that rank among the best I have ever attended.

The masterclasses and 6 PM recitals (Prestige Series) were held in Hunter’s Lang Concert Hall. Owing to asbestos abatement near
Hunter’s Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, six of the big evening concerts (Masters Series) were across town in Merkin Hall (a block north
of Lincoln Center). The remaining 8:30 concerts were held in Lang Hall, whose smaller seating area (about 150) resulted in several sell
outs and the need for some stage seats. At only $10 a ticket for the Prestige Series and $20 for the Masters, a better concert deal could not be found anywhere in New York.

On July 14, festival founder and Director Jerome Rose gave the opening concert, as he has done each of the past seasons. He was present
for almost every event over the next two weeks. This year he played Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy, Schumann’s Kreisleriana, and a towering
performance of Brahms’s huge Sonata No.3. I was immediately struck by the fabulous sound of the Yamaha CFX Concert Grand in
Merkin Hall, a step up in both acoustics and comfort from the Kaye Playhouse. (Merkin will be used for the major concerts next year.)
Rose’s encore was Chopin’s Etude, Opus 25:7.

This year Chopin was the most played composer, especially when one includes the Godowsky Studies, big sets of variations by Mompou
and Rachmaninoff, and Liszt’s transcriptions of his 6 Polish Songs. We heard 3 of the 4 ballades, all 4 scherzos, Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3, 5
nocturnes, 3 polonaises, the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise, and several others. Author and historian Alan Walker was there to
discuss his recent biography of Chopin with Rose on a Saturday afternoon. Beethoven, in advance of his 250th birthday in 2020, also was
very well represented: 5 of the last 7 sonatas, plus the Pathetique, Quasi una Fantasia, Moonlight, Funeral March, Les Adieux, and Waldstein, plus both sets of bagatelles, the ‘Andante Favori’, and the ‘Rage over a Lost Penny’—a wonderfully broad picture of Beethoven’s piano music.

Many of Schumann’s big works also were programmed: Kreisleriana, Carnaval, Davidsbundlertanze, Humoreske, Kinderszenen, and
the Symphonic Etudes, plus a few others. Liszt certainly got his due, especially from Jeffrey Swann. Brahms, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff
were also well represented.

I complemented Festival Director Julie Kedersha on her ability to gather so many great pianists and keep program duplications
to a minimum. As the Festival is a learning experience for all of the students, the opportunity to hear two different performances of the
Waldstein or Chopin’s Sonata 2 is not a bad idea at all. Rachmaninoff ’s Sonata 2 was played in two different versions—also a good
learning opportunity.

There is general agreement that the Tchaikovsky and Van Cliburn piano competitions are the most important. IKIF continues
to have a significant group of medalists from those two quadrennial events, sometimesbooked to perform even before their wins. This
shows a keen awareness on the part of the festival’s directors. Several years back, less than a month after winning Tchaikovsky, Daniil Trifonov made his New York debut at the IKIF. This year Mao Fujita did likewise, only a few weeks after taking the Silver medal in Moscow.
The night before, 2013 Van Cliburn winner Vadym Kholodenko played a recital, and the day before that was 2013 Cliburn Bronze
medalist Sean Chen. The 2015 Tchaikovsky Silver medalist George Li played, as did 1977 Cliburn Bronze winner Jeffery Swann. An
unscheduled surprise came after a wonderful recital by Aleksandra Kasman of Russian preludes (including all 13 of Rachmaninoff’s Opus 32),
when she called her father up to the stage for a rollicking duet encore by Valery Gavrilin. Yakov Kasman was the 1997 Cliburn Silver
medalist and told me, following the performance, what the obscure encore was.

Li’s recital included Beethoven’s Variations in C minor, ‘Andante Favori’, and Waldstein. In the second half Schumann’s ‘Vogel als
Prophet’ was followed by Carnaval. I had only seen him play Prokofieff ’s Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 before, so this was a very different side of
his playing. He had brilliance when called for, but much sensitivity and some beautiful quiet sounds as well. His pianissimo octave glissandos
towards the end of the Waldstein were perfect. The encores brought Liszt into the recital quite effectively. The arrangement of
Schumann’s ‘Widmung’ (Dedication) was the first of several performances of this warhorse over the course of the festival. Then an unbelievably fast and accurate ‘Campanella’brought the house to its feet.

Other notable recitals included 20-yearold Mao Fujita’s NY debut. He began with Mozart’s Sonata No. 10, delicate and balanced
with wonderful legato phrasing. This was followed with etudes by Liszt and Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dumka’. After intermission
he played Chopin’s four Scherzos with brilliance and almost no wrong notes, though there was no risk taking beyond what was
called for in the music. I suspect Fujita will mature into a true world-class pianist.

With only half an hour to clear Lang Hall and tune the piano, 80-year-old Ann Schein played the most heroic program of the festival.
At her orchestral debut in 1957 she played Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s No. 3 on the same program (a year
before Van Cliburn won the first Tchaikovsky competition with the same works). Coincidentally, Fujita played the same pair, back to back
just three weeks earlier in the finals round. Schein was clearly the old master and took time to talk with the audience and share her
thoughts on the pieces she played: Beethoven’s Les Adieux, Copland’s Variations, Ravel’s Sonatine, Debussy’s ‘Isle Joyeuse’, a big
group of Rachmaninoff’s etudes-tableaux and preludes, and, after a brief intermission, Chopin’s Sonata No. 3. Her encores were
Chopin’s Nouvelle Etude No. 2 and the brilliant Prelude in B-flat minor. Despite her frequent finger slips, if I could have one piano
lesson from any of the festival’s pianists, she would be the one.

Vladimir Feltsman played Beethoven and Chopin and gave the students a lesson in how to control an audience. Don’t try to applaud
between the Bagatelles or he’ll hold up a finger and silence things. When someone chuckled at that, his look from the stage really silenced
things quickly. Four nocturnes and a ballade were played without a break on the second half, perhaps a little selfish of the pianist. He played
extremely well and modified Chopin’s cadenza at the end of the Nocturne, Opus 9:2, with great taste, but he cracked only one brief smile during his final bows. I contrast that with Sean Chen, a personable, at-ease young man who constructed a “Homage to Chopin” recital with
program notes given from the stage in a very engaging manner. Several works on the first half were for left hand alone, including Godowsky’s notorious arrangement of the ‘Revolutionary Etude’ for one hand. All six of Liszt’s arrangements of songs by Chopin were played as a group quite effectively. Each half ended with a big set of variations on Chopin themes: Mompou’s on the Prelude in A and Rachmaninoff’s on the Prelude in C minor. After all of that Chopin, Chen’s encore was his own arrangement of Bernstein’s Candide Overture.

Perhaps the most satisfying program was Vyacheslav Gryaznov’s. I was fortunate to review his most recent CD of Russian transcriptions
(his own) and had high expectations, which were not disappointed. After a little delay in getting the recital started, he
arrived at the piano and sat for a few moments before saying “Waiting for morning mood” in a deep Russian voice. That set the tone for
beginning his transcription of ‘Morning’ and ‘Anitra’s Dance’ from Grieg’s Peer Gynt. His playing of three Transcendental Etudes was
phenomenal; rarely do I get to see this kind of playing about 15 feet from the keyboard. The second half included a couple of his own transcriptions followed by Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2. It was a test for me to hear because he began with the original 1913 version and
incorporated some of the revised 1931 version— similar to Horowitz’s in 1943 but not quite the same. His performance rivaled the
one I heard Horowitz play (from a far greater physical distance) back in the late 1970s. Encores were the Prelude in G minor, Etude-Tableau in E-flat minor, and a Grieg nocturne that brought us back to the opening composer.

Ilya Yakushev, part of IKIF since 2002, again played the final concert, which included an exciting Pictures at an Exhibition. He was
joined in the second half by cellist Thomas Mesa for Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata. This was the only time over the festival’s two weeks
that a second musician was scheduled in performance. I’d like to see more duets (like the Kasman encore) and chamber music with piano.

One of the great aspects of attending many concerts over two weeks was getting a chance to speak with some of these great artists. They
typically attend recitals by their colleagues; in fact it was Kholodenko who sat down next to me at Sean Chen’s recital. Both played some of
Godowsky’s Chopin studies, and it was interesting to observe one’s response to the other’s performance. Gryaznov talked to me about his
version of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2. Yakushev spoke with me at length comparing Rachmaninoff’s similar piano writing in the Cello
Sonata and the Concerto No. 2 that he was also scheduled to perform in the coming months.

There are summer music festivals all over the world. There are also summer workshops for students of all ages with opportunities for
lessons and performances. IKIF remains unique in that it is both, plus an opportunity for the best to compete for cash prizes and being
invited back next year to perform on one of the concert series. The past two winners, Martin Garcia Garcia and Dina Ivanova, played wonderful recitals on the Masters Series this year and last. No outright first prize was awarded this year, and the prize money was divided
among the four finalists, who will all be designated as laureates. I agree with this as the best solution when all are good with no clear standout. Each will have an honorable credit to add to their resumes along with $2,500.

Now I have to go through a period of withdrawal.

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