Yuanfan Yang takes Rome by storm The XXVIII Rome International Piano Competition
It was in 1989 that Marcella Crudeli decided that Rome merited a competition like many of the other major cities.
With her enormous energy and indomitable spirit the first Rome National Competition was won by Roberto Prosseda and Enrico Camerini.
Two pianists that had been giving recitals from an early age in the Ghione Theatre which for years tried to give a platform to musicians who for one reason or another were not being invited to perform in Rome.
( Young and old alike included Vlado Perlemuter,Guido Agosti,Shura Cherkassky,Annie Fischer,Dame Moura Lympany,Fou Ts’ong,Peter Frankl,Rosalyn Tureck,Gyorgy Sandor,Alicia De Larrocha,Peter Katin,Ruggiero Ricci,Idil Biret,Dominique Merlet,Bruno Canino,Pina Carmirelli,Jeno Jando,Vadim Repin,Mikhail Pletnev,Tatiana Nikolaeva,Andor Foldes,Paul Tortelier,Janina Fialkowska,Angela Hewitt,Ivo Pogorelich,Friedrich Gulda,Jerome Rose,Dmitri Alexeev,Oxana Yablonskaya ,Boris Berman,Gervase De Peyer,Bary Tuckwell,Paul Badura-Skoda,Franco Mannino,Fausto Zadra,Lya De Barberiis,Martha Noguera,Alberto Portugheis.Alexander Romanovsky,Bruno Canino,
Karlheinz Stockhausen,Luciano Berio,Marilyn Horne,Lucia Valentini Terrani,Carlo Bergonzi,Jose Cura,Mariella Devia,Margaret Price,Dame Gweneth Jones,Olga Borodina,Dmitri Hvorosovsky,Nicolai Gedda,Giuseppe di Stefano,Goffredo Petrassi,Eliot Carter, Dame Eva Turner,Roberto Prosedda,Jayson Gillham,Alexander Ullman,Vitaly Pisarenko,Pablo Rossi,Leslie Howard,Carlo Grante,Enrico Camerini etc)
The Theatre was built and run by the distinguished actress (my wife) Ileana Ghione for over thirty years.
It is still going strong and is a just monument to her.
And as Marcella Crudeli said in her closing speech tonight at the end of its 28th edition: “This is the International Piano Competition of Rome” and not the Marcella Crudeli Competition as it is familiarly known.”It must carry on long after I have gone.”
The same sentiments of my wife who died on stage in her theatre 13 years ago.
It was a nice coincidence that in the interval between the Final and the gala concert at the Teatro Quirino – Vittorio Gassman I was able to visit an exhibition mounted for a colleague of that other famous Italian actor Vittorio Gassman- Marcello Mastroianni.
The final exhibit is a film where he quotes Kafka saying so poetically that the hill that had seemed so far away in his youth was now only a stone’s throw away.
It is truly admirable to see the strength of women ready to fight for what they believe in and to never give up until they succeed.
Such was the determination of Fanny Waterman with the International Competition that she brought to her city of Leeds.
Sulamita Aranowska did the same for her adopted city with the London Power Piano Competition.
Carla Grindea too founded EPTA(European Piano Teachers Association) with Perlemuter President and Sidney Harrison ,chairman.
It is now an organisation worldwide of which Marcella Crudeli is the Italian representative.
The first competition was followed the following year by the first “International” Competition which has since seen 28 editions.
A list of prize winners over the years includes Dmytro Choni,Dmitry Masleev,Denis Zhdanov,Ilya Maximov,Luca Rasca,Boris Giltburg all of whom have gone on to distinguish themselves in competitions such as Van Cliburn,Tchaikowsky,Queen Elisabeth and forge great careers.
It was Enrico Camerini who won the very first Roma 1991 prize and was today on the jury of the competition together with Carles Lama( Spain),Martin Munch and Frank Wasser (Germany),Kathryn Page(UK),Arturo Stalteri(Italy).
The President of the jury was Enrica Ciccarelli,distinguished pianist and artistic director of the Societa dei Concerti in Milan.
I was only able to listen to the Final round with orchestra of the three finalist selected during a week of sessions at the Confraternita di S Giovanni Battista de’ Genovesi.
.Soo Jin Cha from South Korea opened with Chopin First Concerto op 11.
Actually studying with Pavel Gililov in Salzburg whose assistant, Ilya Maximov, had won the Rome 2008 prize.
At 33 she was the eldest of the three finalists and was able to give a very fine beautifully shaped performance inspite of an orchestra and conductor who had not played this repertoire before.
The slow movement in particular was of ravishing beauty.
The outer movements equally beautiful but missing the drive and rhythmic energy that Rubinstein had taught us was so much part of Chopin’s personality.
She went on to win second prize and give some equally poetic solo performances in the gala concert.
Her Chopin Mazuka op 17 n.4 brought spontaneous applause for its poetry and complete understanding.
Debussy “Jardins sous la pluie” and Rachmaninov Etude Tableau op 39.n.5 were equally beautiful but here again missing that energy and drive that was missing too in the Concerto.
Some very fine professional performances under difficult circumstances from an artist of some experience
Gen Li at 27 ,who I have heard in London play Prokofiev superbly well (St John Smith Square celebration concert for his teacher Deniz Arman Gelenbe on her retirement from Trinity college).
He also studied with Bryce Morrison and now receives guidance from Dmitri Alexeev.
His choice of Mozart D minor Concerto K466 took me by surprise especially as he had played Prokofiev 7th Sonata and Liszt Mephisto Waltz n.1 in the previous rounds.
Very clean and clearly played with a rather cheeky little cadenza added to Beethoven’s,all perfectly in style.
Some beautiful playing but somehow missing that demonic spark that I know he possesses.
A little too in awe and respectful he gave a very solid musical account but as with Soo Jin Cha it missed that special spark that holds an audiences’ attention to every single note as with a Curzon or Serkin.
Gen Li was give third prize and went on to astonish us with his Mephisto Waltz at the final gala.
Although not note perfect as he was obviously drained after a gruelling week competing, it did have that spark that marks his performances out as “very special “in that piano expert Bryce Morrison’s words .
Yuanfan Yang,the scottish pianist of chinese origin, at only 21 was the youngest of the three finalists.
Trained from an early age at Chethams with Murray McLachlanwhere he received that superb early training and support that is so important and that Chethams continues to surprise and provide in abundance.
Now with Christopher Elton at the Royal Academy in London he is not only a pianist but also a composer in his own right.Having played his own piano concerto all over China to audiences in their thousands.
He has also been accepted by the Keyboard Charitable Trust of which I am a co artistic director together with Leslie Howard and Elena Vorotko,for monitoring and guidance.
He gave a very fine performance of Beethoven 3rd Concerto under very difficult circumstances indeed.
Enough said that every time he played a trill in the cadenza the conductor gave the up beat and brought the orchestra in.
There are many trills in the cadenza unfortunately and the magical coda was the sacrificial lamb to the conductor’s inexperience.
Far from being put off Yuanfan rose to the occasion with an injection of Beethovenian fervor that had been missing in a beautiful but rather lightweight performance.
It was the performance that gained him first prize and another performance of the entire concerto at the Gala Concert.
This time both orchestra and conductor were in almost complete syntony with our young soloist who had retained the same authority and Beethovenian rage acquired under duress that same morning.
Receiving numerous prizes in particular the Medal from the President of the Republic,the Cuomo Foundation and the International Federation of Chopin Societies. Also generous sponsors glad to be associated with Marcella Crudeli and her crusade to bring youth into contact with culture in the name of the Eternal City.
In fact it is the Cuomo Foundation that prominently states:
“The Art of Education is Education of the Heart”
A very fine account of Beethoven’s 3rd Concerto followed where all the difficulties of the morning performance had been ironed out.
A charming speech of thanks from Yuanfan was followed by a very poetic account of La Campanella Study by Liszt.
And then the surprise of the evening which took us all by storm after an evening of prizes and performances that had started three hours earlier.
Yuanfan had been asked by some of the jury if he would give an example of his improvisations that they had heard about from me.
Marcella Crudeli provided the theme which was “La ci darem la mano” and there followed a transcendendal performance in which Marcella’s melody appeared in every part of the piano amidst the most amazing Lisztian or Thalbergian arabesques and octaves.
This is what we had been waiting for.
Someone born to play the piano fearlessly with that “goie de vivre” and authority that had up until now been lacking.
It brought the house down and as the cheering died down we realised that “our” Marcella had done it again!
Mention should be made of her beautiful performance of the Fantasie Impromptu by Chopin as accompaniment to the historic film archives of the past editions.
A young Lithuanian at only 17 years old had won two categories and gave some very fine if rather lightweight performances of Rachmaninov and Tchaikowsky.
Kasparas Mikuzis is obviously a name to watch as he gains in experience and authority
A cheer from the audience for the piano duet team made in Italy of Giuseppe Carmine Atorino and Armando Sabbarese .
A performance of Petrouschka more remarkable for the fact that they played this very complex work without the score than for its lack of demonic rhythmic drive and colour.
I wish I could have heard more of this duo than the Stravinsky.
Obviously the jury had, and justly gave them first prize.
Remarkable though were the two piano team of Kyungchan Nahk and Jonghwa Park from South Korea.
A strepitoso performance of Lutoslawski’s Pagnini variations.
In which that spark that had been missing from many of the young pianists was ignited by the pianist with the lid to the piano and complimented by the composure of the one without.Sorry to say I do not know the names of each one individually but what does it matter when the sparks fly in such an exciting and intelligent performance
Before the ceremony the National Hymn with orchestra and with a performance of the choir of young ladies with speaking impediments expressing the music so movingly with the movement of their hands.
As my wife would so often say “It is not only theatre but also a social service “
It can help so many express our true feelings in a world where we seem afraid of having them at all!
Words so eloquently expressed by the President of the Jury: Enrica Ciccarelli in her thank you speech to Marcella and her colleagues on the jury