Andy Shen, Vincent Lertchareonyong, Holly Hadsell, Noelle Hadsall,
Simon Liu & Max Affi
One of the most interesting events in the 2017 Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles is the Awards Concert featuring the winners of the Youth Piano Competition. This is a formal event in the great ballroom of the Paso Robles Inn. It is well attended, it is recorded and it is video taped. Proud parents (and proud teachers) can share the glory as the six award winners wearing medals around their necks stand on stage and enjoy well-earned accolades for performances for which they worked so diligently.
A hundred years ago most children from middle-class families routinely took piano lessons. Today, sadly, a preoccupation with sports (and very serious time consuming league sports, at that) has displaced this former vital enrichment of our artistic culture. Ask a student today: when is the soccer (or swimming, or tennis) season over? The answer is usually “never,” for league sports have become multi seasonal. Two years ago in Monterey, a very tall blond girl received a $300,000 volleyball scholarship to UC Santa Barbara. Scouts had recruited her as a potential future Olympic champion.
Most piano teachers I know daily give thanks to the Asian community, in which parents value academic and musical accomplishment over sports (plus they exhibit a strong commitment to the work ethic). Thus, its was not a surprise to observe on this occasion that four out of the six award winners were of Asian ethnicity, for this reflects the tendency observed everywhere in the world — that International Piano Competitions are dominated by Asian pianists. Without knowing the various activities in which the six awards winners are involved, my guess is that although they are probably equally strong in academics and sports, music is very important to them.
The concert opened with a sparkling performance of Ernst Toch’s Der Jongleur (although it is a difficult piece, Andy made it look very easy) by the Paderewski Legacy Award winner, Andy Shen, age 11, a pupil of Alan Boehmer. In the Junior Division we heard Vincent Lertchareonyong, 14, a pupil of Dr. Charles Ashe, in a neat and precise performance of Bach’s Sinfonia No. 15 in B Minor, BWV 801. Next we heard two sisters, both pupils of Lana Bodnar, Holly Hadsall, 12, and Noelle Hadsall, 8. Noelle had a minor problem — she is so tiny that her feet can’t reach the floor, so the acting stage manager brought out a higher artist bench and a foot pedal extension adapter for her. We observed that despite her diminutive size and very young age, she gave us a very expressive and mature performance.
The Senior Division opened with Second Place winner Simon Liu, 16, a pupil of Lyn Bronson, dazzling us with a performance of Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase, followed by First Place winner Max Afifi, 17, a pupil of Barbara Ruzicka in mature and artistic playing of Paderewski’s soulful Nocturne in B-flat Major, Op. 16, No. 4, and a richly detailed performance of the Lark, by Balikirev.
A very appreciative audience gave these students a standing ovation, and it was well deserved.