Tom Strini

A music festival weekend and a competition, too

PianoArts hosts its first competition for Wisconsin pianists aged 11-15, even as it puts on an array of concerts focusing on Vienna and Paris.

By - Jun 6th, 2013 03:04 am

Inside a Steinway Grand. David Maiolo photo via Wikipedia Commons.

Musical Milwaukee knows PianoArts for its biennial international competition, a high-stakes affair for pianists 20 and younger. But in the “in-between” year of 2013, PianoArts is starting something new: A lower-pressure competition, with modest prizes ($750, $500, $250) for Wisconsin pianists age 11-15, as part of a larger, themed music festival. The inaugural edition of this event runs Friday through Monday, June 7-10, at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

In recent years, PianoArts’ board and volunteers have added a music festival to its big biennial competition. The relationship is reversed in this “off-year” event, which is a music festival with a competition attached.


Sue Medford

“We’ve been thinking about a youth competition since 1999,” said Sue Medford, PianoArts artistic director. Medford founded PianoArts in that year. It took a few tries for the group to find its format and clarify its mission, and the present activity shows that it continues to evolve.

PianoArts has always been about more than just playing the piano. The group has long required contestants in the major competition to do some public speaking about music. Pianist Catherine Kautsky,  of Lawrence University, will coach the eight young finalists in the subtle art of public discourse, an important job skill for any musician these days.

Medford and her board have also worked to make the competitions more than pianistic combat. The festival settings give the competition music context and enhances the understanding of the young pianists.

Kautsky and special guest Aaron Wunsch are scholar-pianists. Both have written dissertations on various aspects of music history and its place within social, economic, political and philosophical eras.


Catherine Kautsky

“I heard Catherine speak about music in Paris and Vienna in Mozart’s time,” Medford said. “That repertoire is perfect competition music for students in that 11-15 range.”

Thus a theme for the weekend was born: Music in the Cities — Vienna and Paris.

As Kautsky, Medford and other key advisers in their circle started signing on local and national guest artists as performers, judges (under head juror Francesco Lecce-Chong, assistant conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony) and lecturers, they found — sometimes serendipitously — troves of scholarly expertise on music in Vienna and Paris.

Aaron Wunsch received his bachelor’s degree cum laude from Yale University, which granted him the Henry Hart Rice Prize for the best essay in International Studies for “The Impact of Ideologies upon the Formation of Music.” A Fulbright Grant enabled further studies at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. He went on to master’s and doctoral degrees at The Juilliard School. Wunsch now teaches a course at Juilliard that places Viennese music in the cultural context of the city’s social, political, architectural and artistic cultures.


Aaron Wunsch

Sunday evening, Wunsch and Milwaukee pianist Stefanie Jacob will collaborate on a lecture/performance that interweaves music from Vienna and pre-and-post revolutionary Paris, both major destinations for innovative artists and composers. The program includes Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos, then moves through time to early 20th century French compositions for two pianists.

The concert will be a reunion and a homecoming. Wunsch is from the Milwaukee area and studied with Robert Moeling and then, during his senior year of high school, with Jacob at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

Jacob was among the small group in Medford’s living room that dreamed up PianoArts in 1994 and worked for five years to create the first competition. Jacob has been heavily involved ever since. She is now chair of the artistic committee.

“Sue is still the prime motivator, and (music director) Andrews Sill,” Jacob said. “My main job is finding pianists other than me to play orchestra reductions during the preliminary concerto competition and string players for chamber music.”


Stefanie Jacob

She has a hefty playing schedule herself this weekend. In addition to the concert with Wunsch, on Monday Jacob will play Chopin’s Cello Sonata with husband Scott Tisdel, associate principal cellist of the MSO. That will come in the context of a lecture — Frédéric Chopin – Georges Sand: The tumultuous partnership of two romantic artists — by Bernard Zinck, a UWM violinist-scholar and Paris Conservatoire alum.

“I didn’t know the rich backgrounds all these people have,” Medford said. “We were bringing them in for their musicianship. But Kurt Ollmann (Milwaukee baritone) lived in Paris. Gloria Chuang (Madison pianist/lecturer) wrote a dissertation on Mozart’s travels. We have enough material for three festivals.”

Amid all this, eight young pianists will compete for cash, glory and — most treasured of all — a soloist spot on a youth concert with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. They are: Madeline Joy (age 12), Noah Serwin (age 11), Mara Bajic (age 12), Andrew Cannestra (age 14), John Schindler (age 13), Lauren Arnett (age 15), Nathan Qi (age 15), Ksenia Kostelanetz (age 12).

Tickets and Information: Individual tickets $10-$20, festival passes, $30-$60, buy online or call 414 255-0801. For further details, visit the PianoArts website.

Festival Schedule

6 p.m. Konservatorium Kaffeehaus

7 p.m. Festival Preview

8 p.m. Magical Evenings in Vienna and Paris, pianist Catherine Kautsky and baritone Kurt Ollmann. Concert features Mozart’s and Debussy’s music of the commedia dell’arte.

10:30 a.m. – noon and 1 – 2:30 p.m., Semifinal Competition Performances,open to the public; semifinalists perform the first movement of a concerto with a second pianist.

3 – 7 p.m. Konservatorium Kaffeehaus coffee, pastries, and readings in The Poet’s Corner

4 p.m. Travels with Mozart lecture by Sylvester Kreilein

5 p.m. Mozart in Paris lecture/recital by pianists Gloria Chuang and Aaron Wunsch, on Mozart’s three visits to Paris during just prior to the French Revolution

3 – 5 p.m. Playathon – open to all pianists, French and Viennese music

5 – 8 p.m. Konservatorium Kaffeehaus coffee, pastries, and readings in The Poet’s Corner; Kurt Eckroth, zither, Emily Boden, vocalist

7 p.m. Life, Ideas and the Artists of Vienna and Paris, lecture by Stefanie Jacob and Aaron Wunsch

8 p.m. Two Pianos, Two Cities pianists Stefanie Jacob, Aaron Wunsch; Music from Vienna and Paris, destinations for innovative artists and composers, highlighting duets and two piano compositions from Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos to Ravel’s Ma mére l’Oye.

All day Exhibit of French posters by artists who had a powerful influence on Paris c. 1900 (posters courtesy of Sue and James Wiechmann)

1 p.m. Finals Rehearsal with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra musicians and conductor (closed to the public).

3 p.m. Finals Competition with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra musicians and conductor (open to the public).

5 – 8p.m. Conservatoire Café tea, pastries, and readings in The Poet’s Corner; Claude Monet’s Garden at Giverny virtual tour through the photographs of Milwaukee artist and former MSO violinist Dottie Diggs

7 p.m. Frederic Chopin–George Sand: the tumultuous partnership of two romantic artists, lecture/recital with Bernard Zinck and pianist Stefanie Jacob, cellist Scott Tisdel

8 p.m. Seeing Debussy, Catherine Kautsky, presenter/pianist, Adrien Zitoun, cellist, concert with readings and images from Debussy’s Paris

9:15 p.m. Conservatoire Café wine, cheese, and songs of Edith Piaf by Leslie Fitzwater and Paula Tillen



Categories: Classical, Music

0 thoughts on “PianoArts: A music festival weekend and a competition, too”

  1. Anonymous says:

    AND…if you like coffee, Sue Medford has researched all about coffee and coffeehouses – -a great place for the exchange of ideas. The Conservatory dining room will be transformed into an authentic Viennese coffeehouse featuring authentic Viennese coffee service. Ask Sue about all that she has learned in the last couple weeks. Who knew?!

    PianoArts is pleased to be collaborating with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra to present the Wisconsin Youth Piano Competition!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this, Tom!! One small correction–Cathy Kautsky WAS at U-W for several years but returned to Lawrence a few years ago…

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