Tom Strini

2010 Winner David Ko returns for PianoArts Competition

Ko will play a recital Friday, bestow awards to the 2012 piano competition winners, and make several appearances in between.

By - Jun 5th, 2012 06:43 pm

David Yokiashi Ko, performing with the Milwaukee Symphony in the concerto final of the PianoArts competition. Woodrow Leung photo courtesy of PianoArts.

Since 1999, the PianoArts biennial competition has grown quickly from a regional affair mostly for youngsters to a significant piano event with national and even international reach.

Twelve finalists, age 15 through 20, selected by recorded audition, are arriving in Milwaukee Wednesday for the 2012 edition of the competition.

It culminates in a final round on June 13. The top three finishers will play concertos Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, with Andrews Sill conducting. David Yoshiaki Ko, the 2010 winner, will present the top awards on that evening. Ko will also play a Competition Prelude solo recital at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 8.

“A lot competitions, you win some money and give a concert and it’s see you later,” Ko said, over lunch at Alterra Humboldt Tuesday. “PianoArts is really good about the number of engagements, and engagements over the longer run. I played here last year, too.” Ko had a Milwaukee residency in 2011, the year between competitions. And he’s in Milwaukee for the duration of the competition this year.

Milwaukee aside, Ko, who will turn 20 next Tuesday, has been too busy to stray far from New York. He is studying neuroscience at Columbia University and working on a piano performance degree at The Juilliard School. The two institutions offer a dual, five-year program that appealed to Ko.

“The first four years are mainly at Columbia, where I’ll get a bachelor’s degree, and the last two are Juilliard, for a master’s in piano,” he said. “My current research at Columbia is in visual modality. If I stay in neuroscience, I might switch to research in music, which is something of a hot topic right now. Of course, I could become a musician and just do that.”

Ko said that he tends to compartmentalize neuroscience and doesn’t really think about the mental processes of music when he practices or performs. He realizes that his scientific studies at Columbia might put him a little behind Juilliard colleagues who spend all their time practicing. But he finds the mix rewarding.

“Columbia has a traditional core curriculum,” Ko said. “It’s a two-year sequence. The first is all literature, from The Iliad and The Odyssey on through Virginia Woolf. The second year is philosophy, Plato and Aristotle through about Nietzsche. That helps my playing in some way, even if I can’t put it into words.”

Ko turned to the dual track after more than a year of concentrated musical study in Europe. After graduating from high school at sixteen, Ko attended a summer master class at the Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg. While there, professor Karl-Heinz Kämmerling invited him to stay on in Europe and study with him at the Hanover (Germany) State University of Music and Drama during the 2009-2010 school year. He came back to the U.S. just in time to participate in PianoArts. That turned out to be the last of many competitions, for the time being.

“When I was 8, I won a local competition in San Francisco,” he said. “Then I went on the international circuit at 12, at the Gina Bachauer Competition in Salt Lake City. That made me realize that I really like this and want it to be part of my life in some form.”

Music first appealed to him at age four. The family home, in southern Japan, happened to be next door to a music studio. The music distracted him to the point that his mother agreed to piano lessons.

Ko proved precocious on the academic front, as well. His parents decided to move either to Tokyo or the U.S. to get their son a more accelerated education. They had some options because Ko’s father had grown up in China (his mother was Japanese, his father Chinese/Korean). His father’s reward for suffering through the Cultural Revolution was to be one of few Japanese nationals to speak Chinese and to have connections in China as it just began to emerge as an economic power. He arranged many business ventures there. He retired shortly after the family moved to San Francisco, when David was 8.

“I had been in an international school in Japan and already spoke English,” Ko said. “I went to a private school in San Francisco, and its tagline was ‘for the gifted.’ We’ll see whether that’s true or not.”

Oh, I think we know by now.

Piano competitions are by nature stressful. Perhaps Ko’s calm, which I gauge as natural but also cultivated, sets a good example for the 12 pianists who will compete in Milwaukee over the next eight days.

“Competitions are always interesting,” he said. “Of course I’ve lost more than I’ve won. I can accept that, it’s my personality. I don’t get nervous. I take it all in stride.”

The 2012 PianoArts Competitors

Ariela D. Bohrod, age 16, Madison, Wisconsin; Brian Yuebing Lin, age 20, New York City and Shenzhen, China; Christian S. Gamboa, age 20, Hamburg, New Jersey; Garrick H. Olsen, age 16, Madison, Wisconsin; Josephine Yang, age 20, Phoenix, Arizona; Philip M. Kwoka, age 20, West Palm Beach, Florida; Pin Hsiu (Emma) Liu, age 20, Taichung, Taiwan/Rochester, New York; Sahun Hong, age 17, Fort Worth, Texas; Xiaohui Yang, age 20, Chaoyang, China/Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Yesse Kim, age 19, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Yinuo Qian, age 19, Wenzhou, China/San Francisco; Yoan P. Ganev, age 16, Wheeling, Illinois.

PianoArts Events

David Yokioshi Ko’s recital will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 8, at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, 1584 N. Prospect Ave. Admission if $15, $10 for students.

This year’s jurors are Pavlina Dokovska, James Giles and Julian Martin. Dokovska and Giles will give a joint recital at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, 19805 W. Capitol Drive. Tickets are $25 and $21, $10 for students.

Wednesday, June 13, is the final night of the competition, at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. At 5 p.m., a free “piano promenade” concert will open the festivities. At 6:30 p.m., Stephen Basson will give a free talk on the evening’s repertoire. The Finals and Awards Concert will begin at 7:30 p.m.; admission for that is $30 and $21, $15 for students.

In addition to the showcase concerts above, the public is invited to preliminary rounds, master classes and a panel discussion — six events, in all — over the run of the competition. Several are free. For the full schedule, visit the PianoArts website.

What’s At Stake

First place: $10,000

Second place: $6,000

Third place: $4,000

Best Performance of a Prelude and Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach: $1,000

Audience Communication: $500

Wisconsin Contestant: $750

Best Performance of a Duo: $500

Junior Jury Prize: $300

Scholarship: International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College of Music in New York City in July 2013.


Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts

Artist Series of Sarasota

Green Lake Festival of Music

Finalists, who receive awards as PianoArts Fellows, perform programs in Milwaukee area schools, churches, private homes and recital halls. Residencies are from five days to three weeks and include training on “Engaging Audiences” and “Building Programs for Diverse Audiences.”










0 thoughts on “2010 Winner David Ko returns for PianoArts Competition”

  1. Anonymous says:

    thanks for this article, Tom!! I’ve been a part of PianoArts since the beginning (several years before our first, 1999, competition), and I continue to be amazed at the level of our competitors–and how much they, without exception, love the competition, and feel they have gained by being a part of it, even when they don’t win a thing. I hope lots of Third Coast readers will join us for both semis and finals–both are always inspiring!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Piano Arts is more than a festival, and more than a competition for some of the newer pianists starting out. It brings warmth, gentility and grace to the culture of the piano and its social environs, something that’s missing from the more hard-edged staircases in the competition world. Like other competitions, it fosters note for note accuracy and towing the line, and today for a concert pianist to “make it” they have to do something no one else has ever done, something that for practical reasons the scoring procedure can not take into account, as this process is compelled to faithfully tally all mistakes and gross interpretive errors, a procedure which, by the end of the day, can fairly reduce the number to the required number of finalists based on accuracy and compliance with the norm. However, at Piano Arts I have seen a transparent, sensitive performance that bordered on fragile given a higher rank than a blistering, mechanical, finger-focused delivery, which proves that at least in this competition there there is honor given to what has true value in art.

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