World-Class Pianist Competition Returns

After one year delay, Milwaukee-based PianoArts Competition returns in virtual format, with top performers on continent aged 17-22.

By - Mar 29th, 2021 03:30 pm
Aleksandra Kasman. Photo by Pat A. Robinson.

Aleksandra Kasman. Photo by Pat A. Robinson.

The PianoArts North American Competition begins this week online. After a one-year postponement of the biennial competition, PianoArts created a virtual solution that improves the experience for competitors and audience. Professionally produced recitals, created in Shanghai, Toronto, Taipei, and across the United States, will be available over four sessions beginning Wednesday, March 31 at 7:30 pm.

The competition is limited to those living or studying in the United States, but a number of students have been at home during the epidemic. Sue Medford, founder and Artistic Director of PianoArts, marvels at this year’s experience. “The team has expanded. The studios and schools and the videographers have all come together to create this experience.” By insisting on high-quality audio, the playing field is leveled for the judges, who will also work together remotely.

Those whose experience with piano recitals is limited to their children’s performances or of other children struggling to master challenging works, will be blown away by the talent attracted to this Milwaukee-sponsored competition. The nine semi-finalists, ages 17-22, have mastered the technical challenges of performance. They often began at age 4. Now they are immersed in college or conservatory studies, building experience through competitions and preparing for a professional career.

This talent is attracted to the benefits of the Milwaukee competition. Former PianoArts winner Aleksandra Kasman and host for this competition observes that “the PianoArts North American Competition stands out as a major competition that seeks not only to award a few prizewinners but to nurture each and every competitor. Whether PianoArtists leave the competition with a medal or not, they gain knowledge from professionals in the field through coachings with conductors, string players and body movement experts.”

“Performance of substantial memorized repertoire, speaking from the stage (a required component rarely encountered in other competitions), bonding with talented peers (future colleagues!), and evaluation by highly distinguished jurors are just a few of the advantages of competing in PianoArts. Past winners of PianoArts have gone on to achieve tremendous success as well-rounded musicians who not only play at the highest level but are also skilled communicators and passionate creative artists,” she notes.

$30,000 in prizes will also be shared by the participants. Several will be invited to return to Milwaukee to participate in PianoArts educational programs with Milwaukee schools.

Milwaukee audiences can enjoy these performances on the streaming link at Frankly, this format is superior for audiences compared to the slower pace of a live competition. Try a sample of the first recital on Wednesday night and you may be hooked. The selections will include works by Prokofiev, Ravel, and Liebermann so challenging that most pianists will not attempt them, but competitors are eager to show off their mastery. Skillful interpretations of works by Bach, Mozart, and Chopin are also a standard part of the competition. Two students will also showcase works they have written.

On March 31, Kasman will introduce the first three contestants, the jury members, and special guests, and moderate the program. Each recital is about 45 minutes long. The full program schedule is online. Each participant will also speak briefly about their selections.

The following evening, Kasman will host another three contestants, then the final three on April 2. All of these programs begin at 7:00 p.m.

The finale, on Saturday, April 3, at 10:00 a.m., will feature all nine contestants performing Encore! Afterward, the competition jury, led by Prof. Pavlina Dokovska, will announce their selections of award winners and three finalists to advance to the concerto round with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Yaniv Dinur. The timing and circumstances for the Milwaukee Symphony appearance will depend upon the COVID-19 status this summer.

Kasman was also a frequent participant in the PianoArts Fellowship Program with Milwaukee schools. A graduate of The Julliard School, she is now a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan. In 2019, she served as Young Artist in Residence of National Public Radio’s Performance Today. Already a veteran of international tours, she has a longstanding collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. At the 2018 PianoArts Competition she served as host at special programs built around the competition. This Saturday’s event will include a video from an NPR Performance Today recital by Kasman.

Those who may have only heard of Houston’s Van Cliburn or Warsaw’s Chopin competitions are encouraged to check out Milwaukee’s own contribution.

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