Meet the Jury: DIPC

Interview and write-up: @EmerNestor

Photographs: @FMarshallPhoto

The tenth triennial Dublin International Piano Competition is currently underway at the RDS. As a result of the collective visionary insight of distinguished pianist John O’Conor and respected arts administrator Ann Fuller, the DIPC has emerged as one of the most prestigious piano competitions within the classical music circuit since its conception in 1988. This year’s truly global line up of competitors hail from China, Korea, Japan, USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, Russia, Belarus and Israel.

The highly sought-after first prize offers an attractive footing on the career ladder of the aspiring concert pianist: receipt of a monetary bursary of €15,000; debut recitals in London’s Wigmore Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Steinway Prizewinner Concerts in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, and Dublin’s National Concert Hall; alongside a series of engagements in the leading concert venues of the world. The winner will also receive guidance in securing an agent and networking effectively within the Arts. Previous first-prize winners include celebrated figures such as Philippe Cassard, Pavel Nersessian, Davide Franceschetti, Max Levinson, Alexei Nabioulin, Antti Siirala, Romain Descharmes, Alexej Gorlatch, and Nikolay Khozyainov.

The 2015 jury comprises elite pianists and recording artists from around the world: John O’Conor (Chair and Artistic Director of DIPC); James Anagnoson (Dean of The Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School, and one of Canada’s best-known pianists and pedagogues); Fumiko Eguchi (Chair of Piano Department at Shōwa Academia Musicae in Japan, and board member of Piano Teachers’ National Association of Japan); Thérèse Fahy (one of Ireland's foremost pianists, and a member of the RIAM teaching faculty); Peter Frankl (Hungarian-born British pianist, pedagogue at Yale School of Music, and Honorary Professor of the Liszt Academy in Budapest); Pavel Gililov (Ukrainian artistic director and jury president of the Telekom Beethoven Competition in Bonn); Anton Nel (Professor of Piano and Chamber music at the University of Texas at Austin, and Head of Keyboard Division); Soo-Jung Shin (member of the National Academy of Arts, Korea, Professor Emeritus of Seoul National University, and Chairperson of the Great Mountain Music Festival & School's Steering Committee); Max Levinson (faculty member of both the New England Conservatory and the Boston Conservatory); and Veronica McSwiney (seasoned Irish concert pianist and former music director of Irish National Opera). The arts administration sector is represented by Gregg Gleasner (founder of GleasnerMusic, and artistic advisor for both the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Indianapolis Symphony).

Final Note caught up with judges Anagnoson, Levinson, Nel, Shin and Fahy to get their thoughts on the DIPC so far.

Why did you get involved in the DIPC?

Anagnoson: In 2003 one of my students entered the competition and asked me to go to Dublin with him — I rarely do this as a teacher, but really believed in this young man so I agreed to go. His experience in Dublin turned out great and he won the second prize that year. I had the opportunity to see the competition in action and was very impressed with the level of playing, and the professionalism of the organizing committee — in particular how graciously they treated all competitors.

Levinson: I competed in the 1997 Competition, and after two very stressful and exhausting weeks was chosen as the First Prize winner. What impressed me about the competition was not only the level of piano playing, but also the wonderful warmth and hospitality of the army of volunteers — most especially my hosts who went out of their way to make me feel at home so that I could do my best on stage.

Nel: I’ve been a friend and colleague of John O’Conor’s for many years, and he has asked me on more than one occasion to judge the DIPC. I deeply respect all that he has achieved, and I’m happy that my schedule “cooperated” this year, enabling me to serve on the jury!

Shin: John and I have a long friendship reaching back to the Wilhelm Kempff Beethoven Master Class in Positano (1974). I was also a member of the jury in Dublin in 2000.

Fahy: I was delighted to be invited on the jury of the 2012 competition, and thrilled to be asked again this time. As an Irish concert pianist, it is an honour to represent my country on the jury panel. This is a wonderful triennial event for all pianists in Ireland, and I am very proud to be involved.

How does the DIPC compare with other international piano competitions?

Anagnoson: It is one of the top international competitions in the world, so the level of playing is extremely high. Every effort is made to make competitors feel welcome. Under the guidance of John O'Conor there is meticulous attention to detail in running a fair competition in every way — this is not always the case in every competition.

Levinson: DIPC is one of the world's most respected piano competitions.

Nel: Extremely well! There are attractive prizes and engagements, and the previous winners have done very well for themselves.

Shin: It is as high as the other piano competitions.

Fahy: The DIPC has a wonderful reputation as one of the top competitions in the world, and it attracts young competitors from major worldwide music institutions. Many competitions have very specific repertoire requirements, but ours allows competitors to be highly imaginative — in each of the first three rounds they can play their own choice of recital programme. The only solo requirement is in the Semi-Final, where they must play one of the newly composed Irish pieces, specially commissioned for the competition. Of course, as in other international competitions, the Final Round is a concerto with orchestra. The DIPC Final Round is always a glittering occasion in a packed National Concert Hall with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra.

I have been on many international juries, and maybe I am biased, but the Dublin competition is one of the best. Many of the jurors have told me that they love coming here, not only for the very high standard of playing, but also because of the friendliness, warmth and hospitality of this very special event in Dublin.

How important is competition within a young musician’s life?

Anagnoson: Competitions give the most talented players a high-profile venue in which to perform — they need this for the motivation to take their playing to the top level — and at times, when the stars line up and they play their best for a jury that responds to their particular approach, they can gain some invaluable recognition and support for what they are doing. So, these competitions are an extremely important part of our profession.

Levinson: For me, competition was important for two different reasons. First of all, as the winner I was immediately given more attention in the music world. The prize included a number of important concert engagements (including debut recitals in New York and London), which further helped make my career. But the other benefit was in the preparation for the competition — I needed to learn to have a huge amount of music in my fingers, ready to play at my very best. I also needed to learn how to perform under immense pressure. For any young musician, entering a competition is a stepping-stone not only to building a career, but also more broadly to developing as a performing artist.

Nel: With the large number of young musicians trying to make careers these days, a competition is one important way to be heard, recognized, and promoted as an artist. There are many established musicians who never won a first prize, but were heard in competitions by managers or someone willing to promote their careers. Nowadays the Internet is very helpful since many competitions (including Dublin) stream their events online, enabling anyone, anywhere, to hear all the competitors live or archived.

Shin: In this fiercely competitive world of piano, competition plays a very important role in establishing one's career, though it is not everything.

Fahy: Just as in the Olympic Games for sports, piano competitions motivate young pianists to work, strive, explore and search within and beyond themselves. It also enables them to meet their international peers, to compare repertoire, discuss interpretations and, above all, make lifelong piano friends! Of course, the prizewinners will benefit enormously, not just monetarily, but more importantly they are awarded prestigious concert engagements throughout the world, which helps to launch their careers as concert artists.

Can you comment on the level of competitor this year?

O'Conor: I think the standard is higher than ever before, and I am delighted that two of the Irish have reached the 2nd Round! My fingers are crossed for them!

Anagnoson: The standard of playing is extremely high. It is very inspiring to hear the next generation of wonderful young artists. Choosing the winners will be very difficult.

Levinson: The level of competitors is amazing. There are so many exceptional young artists making our job on the jury very difficult!

Nel: The first round is underway now, and I’ve heard some terrific playing!

Fahy: This year, the standard has been extremely high, even higher than 2012. The competitors, who have been accepted to play at DIPC, are all major prizewinners in other international piano competitions. We have just finished Round 1, and although there were 63 competitors, each playing a 30-minute recital, it has been 4 exhausting, but exhilarating days, of fantastic piano playing.

What do you look for in a performance?

Anagnoson: The most important thing for me is musical connection — it is so important that a player is extremely connected to the music they are playing and communicating that to us (the jury and audience). I rarely hear pieces performed in exactly the way I would like, but that is not important. It is a big world with room for many variances of interpretation — what matters most is connection to the music and communication with the audience.

Levinson: Ideally, a performer should make us forget where we are, and distract us from everything else that is happening in the world. As a listener I want to hear a story being told in sound. The technical challenges should be so completely conquered that we can forget that they exist, and only hear the music.

Nel: At a competition of the level of DIPC, I already assume that all the competitors will be perfectly prepared technically, so what I am looking for is an artist. This person might have excellent stylistic discrimination, a unique and compelling pianistic personality, and/or absolute technical and musical consistency. Every so often a competitor will touch the instrument and will instantly draw you into their world — this is wonderful when it happens! Sometimes there will be a performance of an often-played work that a competitor presents in a completely different, but totally, convincing way.

Shin: Integrity towards the music and composer alongside a personal deep feeling for the music.

Fahy: At this level, technical security, memory reliability and accuracy is already assumed. What I look for is someone who plays with imagination and feeling, with depth, with wit (if required), and with variety of colour and style. But above all else, someone who passionately communicates all of these things, and brings the music to life for an audience — very difficult!!!

Have you any advice for the final competitors or indeed any aspiring pianists who wish to compete in the DIPC in the future?

Anagnoson: The most important thing is to be solidly prepared. I have often heard successful competitors say that most students, and certainly average audience members, have absolutely no idea how hard the winners have worked to have their programs prepared at this level. There is tremendous pressure on these young players every time they play and the only way to be ready for it, and to be able to perform well under it, is with extraordinary preparation — just like the most successful athletes.

Levinson: In any performance it is important to focus on what you the performer is trying to say with the music and not to devote any attention to what the jury or other audience members are thinking. Focus on what you can control, rather than such things as thoughts on what the other performers may be doing. Any great performer will be loved by some, but not by all. Don't worry about that. Just express the music in your way.

Nel: My teacher always advised me to work towards a competition in the same way I would for a concert, and that the goals should be the same: to be as well prepared as I can, to serve the composer and the music, and to enjoy myself. With a competition being a less-than-comfortable environment, “enjoyment” is perhaps a tall order, but it is always a pleasure for a juror — or anyone listening, really — when a performer exhibits a genuine love of music.

Shin: Be overjoyed, when you win. If not, continue on!

Fahy: General advice is difficult, as each competitor, whether aspiring or mature, is so different. But it is vital to listen (to acoustic, piano, pedalling, clarity, balance etc…), to communicate and characterize, and to be strong and passionate in committing to every single performance. This is a very difficult, almost impossible, thing that we do, so above all, we must have courage!!!

For more information on the DIPC and details on live streaming see http://www.dipc.ie/

We here at Final Note wish all the remaining competitors the best of luck for the finals (Semi-Final 23-24 May at the NCH; and Finals 26 May at the NCH).

All images displayed in this article are subject to copyright.