PIANIST - Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - Written by Mario-Felix Vogt

Piano Summer in Manhattan

Since 1999, the International Keyboard Institute and Festival (IKIF), which takes place every year, is one of the most important piano events in New York City. It was founded by the Pianist Jerome Rose, who has always managed to engage significant Interpreters and Pedagogues for the Festival. PIANIST has been following the whole Festival.

It is hot in New York City, extremely hot. The thermometer shows 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the second half of July and, additionally, there is a sweat-driving humidity which is over 80 percent. The Mayor, Edward de Blasio, has already canceled the New York Triathlon and a City Festival in Central Park. However, the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, in short, IKIF, can be held thanks to air conditioners. During the first half of IKIF, recitals will be organized in Merkin Hall, a concert hall with 450 Seats on Manhattan's Upper West Side, just a stone’s throw away from the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center and The Juilliard School. The later Concerts, Masterclass- Lessons and the Piano Competition will be performed in Lang Hall at Hunter College. Hunter College is a part of the public City University of New York, and rises like a neo-gothic knight’s castle in the sky above the Upper Eastside.

IKIF was founded by Jerome Rose, who was taught by Schnabel’s pupil Leonard Shure, and by Rudolf Serkin and who won the Gold Medal at the Busoni Competition in Bozen (Bolzano). Rose is valued as one of the leading interpreters of the German Romantic piano repertoire. In 1981, he created the International Festival of the Romantics in London, which included all arts in the form of performance and reading. Another Festival was created by Rose in 1986 for the 100th Birthday of Franz Liszt. Furthermore, has he organized the Schubert/ Brahms -Festival in 1997 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In 1999, IKIF was started in New York, and he has been leading it, together with his wife, Frau Julie Kedersha (who had been an active Artist Manager in her own Agency for many years) since 2000.

Precision and Clarity

Traditionally, Jerome Rose opens IKIF with a piano recital. He has chosen two portentous pieces of the German Romantic school for his Recital: Schumann’s “Kreisleriana” and Brahms’s Third Piano Sonata in F minor, in combination with Chopin’s “Polonaise-Fantaisie”. In spite of his age of 81, Rose plays the piano with precision and clarity. Every voice progression is pronounced, nothing sounds blurred. He would never shape something, which only gives a good delivery to the audience, as every Crescendo or Rubato is much more based by his deep understanding of the harmonic, rhythmic and syntactic structure of each piece; still, his playing is not dry at all, but rather filled with emotions. His recital’s listeners mostly consist of the the students of IKIF- Masterclasses, Pianists-colleagues and New York “Piano Freaks”. They appreciate his performance so much that they have been giving plenty of applause; Rose showed his gratitude with a Chopin- Miniatur.

Many more artists of IKIF have presented themselves also with a high level, such as Jeffrey Swann, who comes from Texas. He was interpreting Liszt strictly, fragrance-free and with less pedal, so to say from the Beethoven- Perspective. This was pianistically brilliant, worked musically sometimes better and sometimes less, and he was highly interesting in his radicalism. Likewise, the Ukrainian Vadym Kholodenko, winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition, acted idiosyncratically. He made strong contrasts within Mozart and was impressive with an extraordinary sound-control and high transparency. Alon Goldstein and Vladimir Feltsman have also shown themselves as strong musical characters, and who have moved the audience into their paths with unusual programs and original views.

Romantic Chopin Playing

The Italian Massimiliano Ferrati and the second award winner of the 2019 Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition, Mao Fujita could showed their romantic Chopin playing, and Beethoven-lovers could also have a taste of Beethoven because of the performance of Nina Tichman, a piano Professor from Cologne. The young Spaniard, winner of the 2018 IKIF competition, Martín García García, enraptured the audience with his sensual as well as virtuosic Paganini- Variations of Brahms, as Jeffrey Siegel, famous for his lectures, was expertly explaining pieces from Bach and Chopin, before Martín García García was playing them. With the almost 80-year-old Ann Schein, even a real Rubinstein student came on the stage, who performed at the White House before John F. Kennedy.

Nowadays, there are truly a lot of Piano Festivals around the globe. However, what makes IKIF in New York so unique are the amount of master classes given by the Concert Artists on site. In the course of IKIF, students from all over the receive lessons three hours per week and also can attend every other class as a listener.

In addition, they are also allowed to take part of the IKIF Competition. Twenty-three IKIF students signed up to perform for the jury this year, chaired by the renowned pianist and conductor Eduard Zilberkant. The prize pool had a total of $10,000, which was awarded by the jury for further musical education. Four pianists made it to the final: The Californian Rachel Breen who delighted with a beautiful piano sound and original detail, but lost herself in a larger form. The Russian-German Alexander Sonderegger impressed with great virtuosity in Liszt's Paganini etudes, but neglected a bit the capricious moments of this music. The Russian Simon Karakulidi scored with a brilliant representation of Prokofiev's études, but failed sonically with Mozart's cantilenas, and the Chinese Wenting Yu played a wonderful, symphonic-powerful Brahms, but did not consider that Rameau's pieces were composed for the delicate harpsichord.

No first prize

Since none of the finalists was completely convincing, the jury decided not to award a first prize and to divide the prize money by four; so each of the finalists could feel victorious. As all of the participants in IKIF have grown into a large family over two weeks, Jerome Rose later invited the Award Winners and selected guests of IKIF to his stylish New York apartment. There they were served his highly valued homemade (!) guacamole, and his legendary spaghetti. So the festival found a worthy graduation in a small circle.

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