An enthusiastic audience turned out Saturday evening at Sunset Center to enjoy the 8:00 pm Awards Concert featuring the three winners of the Carmel Music Society’s 2016 Piano Competition. This competition is open to pianists between the ages of 18 and 30, who live, study or were born in California, Oregon and Washington. There were 27 applicants who submitted audition CDs, and an audition committee consisting of CMS board members Barbara Ruzicka, Rudolf Schroeter & Erik Dyar listened to the CDs and narrowed the field down to the six finalists heard during the morning and afternoon competition.
The Society’s President, Dr. Anne Thorp, welcomed the audience and introduced the competition judges, Heidi Hau, a member of the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (and the First Prize Winner in the 1998-99 Carmel Music Society’s Piano Competition), Jung-Ho Pak, Conductor of the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra (also a resident of Carmel Valley) and Dr. Anatole Leikin, Professor of Music and Department Chair at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Dr. Thorp presented the awards on stage. The Grand Prize, consisting of $5000, which in part includes an opportunity to perform in 2017 as part of the Carmel Music Society’s subscription series, was awarded to 21-year-old Man-Ling Bai, a student at California State University Fullerton, where she studies piano with Mr. Ning An on full scholarship. The second prize of $2000 was awarded to Misha Galant, 18, who will be attending Columbia University this coming fall as one of eight students accepted into its joint exchange program with Juilliard this year. The third prize was awarded to Dongni Xie, 26, a DMA candidate studying this fall with Pamela Mia Paul at the University of North Texas College of Music (on a full scholarship plus a Teaching Fellowship). During the awards concert, the young prizewinners were scheduled to play in reverse order with the Grand Prize Winner ending the evening’s program.
Opening the concert we heard third prize winner Dongni Xie in a bold and riveting performance of the first movement of Bartok’s Piano Sonata, a neatly articulated and stylish first movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D Major, K.311, and finally in a huge exciting performance of Ravel’s La Valse in the solo piano version.
Second prize winner, Misha Galant, 18, astonished us with a sparkling performance of the first movement of Haydn’s Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI/50 that was as brilliant as it was precise. After performing a richly expressive Rachmaninoff Prelude in B Minor, Op. 32, No. 10, and the dazzling Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 10 in F Minor, he really blew us away with the the jazzy “Serpent’s Kiss” by William Bolcom — this was a performance like none other heard during the competition. Galant’s playing was such an extraordinary mixture of infectious rhythms, juicy melodies and entertaining percussion effects (slapping the piano fallboard and inserting clucking sounds with his mouth) it convinced us that Galant was a master tour guide taking us on a wild ride we would never forget. The audience rewarded him with a standing ovation and bravos!
The concert ended with a performance by the first prize winner Man-Ling Bai giving us exciting, high-powered, extroverted performances of Bach’s Chaconne from the unaccompanied Partita for violin in D Minor (in the transcription by Busoni), an over-the-top rendition of Ravel’s La Valse, and a a concluding Etude Op. 40, No. 1, by Nikolai Kasputin. Responding to her masterful performances the audience gave her thunderous applause and a standing ovation. In response to the ovation, she gave us one encore, another Etude (No. 10) from the set by Nikioai Kasputin.
Those who were not able to attend the morning and afternoon sessions of the competition missed an opportunity to hear the other three finalists, all of whom played on a very high artistic level. Especially impressive was the solid and dramatic playing of Christopher Goodpasture, 27, a DMA Candidate at Yale University’s School of Music in the fall, who gave us a powerful performance of Liszt’s Funerailles, a work we don’t hear often enough, the first movement of Beethoven’s Op. 111 Sonata, and a luscious performance of Rachmaninoff’s meaty Etude-Tableau in E-flat Minor.
Pianists in the audience were much taken with the lovely performances by Ellen Pavliska, 23, who played the first movement of Avner Dorman’s Piano Sonata No. 1 and Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30, Op. 109. What impressed us most was her masterful playing in Rachmaninoff’s Etude-Tableau in A Minor (the best performance I have ever heard) and her truly lovely and profound performance of Bach’s Prelude & Fugue in E-flat Minor, WTC, Bk. 1. Unlike the dry Andras Schiff treatment (he never lets his right foot get closer than a mile to the damper pedal), Pavliska gave us a romantic and soulful performance using the pedal artistically and rendering the Prelude with lovely ornaments and embellishment. All of us who are pianists will probably be bringing out our Urtext Editions of the WTC and revisiting this piece in the near future. That’s how inspiring her performance was.
Benjamin Hopkins, 26, a recent graduate of USC’s Thornton School of Music, played a challenging program consisting of the E-flat Minor Etude-Tableau, Op. 39, No. 5, by Rachmaninoff, the first movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata and the final movement of Chopin’s mighty Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58 — certainly one of the most ambitious program heard during the competition. He may not have been at the top of his game on this occasion, but it was obvious that he is a powerful performer with strong and compelling ideas about the works he plays.