Carmel Music Society’s 2018 Piano Competition Awards Concert

1st Prize Winner Kevin Sun, 2nd Prize Winner Xiao Chen, 3rd Prize Winner Christopher Richardson

It was a grand occasion for local piano buffs yesterday when the Carmel Music Society held its 40th Piano Competition at Sunset Center. Six finalists competed from 10:30 am to 3:00 pm, each playing a half-hour solo program. At 3:30 Dr. Anne Thorp, Co-President of the Carmel Music Society announced that the judges had selected 24-year-old Kevin Lee Sun from Sacramento as the Grand Prize Winner, who, in addition to his cash award, will be returning to Sunset Center at 3:00 pm on Sunday, January 13, 2019 to perform a full recital on the CMS regular subscription series. Dr. Thorp then announced that 29-year-old Xiao Chen, who holds a Master of Music degree from Juilliard and a DMA from UCLA, was awarded Second Prize, and 19-year-old Christopher Richardson, a much lauded competition winner who is currently a pre-med student at UC Berkeley, was awarded Third Prize.

At the 8:00 pm Awards Concert Dr. Thorp introduced the distinguished judges for the event: Heidi Hau, Grand Prize winner of the 1999 CMS Piano competition, pianist Hans Boepple, a frequent performer on the CMS regular subscription series, and Jung-Ho Pak, Director and Conductor of of the Cape Cod Symphony. Dr. Thorp announced that in the Awards Concert to follow, we would be hearing the winners in reverse order with the Grand Prize winner ending the program.

An enthusiastic audience greeted Third-Prize-winner Christopher Richardson as he came out on stage to perform Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole, the first movement of Beethoven’s Les Adieux Sonata and the Toccata, Op. 15, by Robert Muczynski. Exhibiting a self-confident mastery in all three works, we had the impression we were hearing three different pianists — a dazzling virtuoso who brought artistic dignity to a much maligned Liszt warhorse, a sensitive Beethoven player and a sincere advocate for 20th-century music who was totally convincing in his exciting performance of the Muczynski Toccata.

Second Prize winner Xiao Chen then took the stage, and in addition to her solid and masterful performances of the first and second movements of Beethoven’s Sonata in F-sharp Major, Op. 78 and the first movement of the Brahms Sonata No. 1, she really blew us away with a work probably none of us had ever heard before — the “Mardi Gras” Prelude from Richard Danielpour’s “The Enchanted Garden. This was a knock-out performance, and one we would love to hear again.

After intermission we had an opportunity to hear Grand Prize Winner Kevin Sun, who also seemed to have three different personas inhabiting his artistic soul. He played an elegant, extroverted Overture to Bach’s Partita No. 4, two lovely and expressive selections from Schubert’s Drei Klavierstücke, D.946, and finally an over-the-top performance of the Gigue from Schoenberg’s Suite for Piano, Op. 25. I normally wouldn’t go out of my way to hear any of Schoenberg’s piano works. But, I shamefully admit my prejudice was misguided, and it was Kevin Sun who showed me the error of my ways. His performance of the Gigue was an eye-opening (and ear-opening) experience. We will look forward to his appearance in January for the CMS.

Those who did not attend the competition performances earlier in the day missed some interesting performances of significance and charm. Soyeon An, 26 and a DMA candidate at USC studying piano with Stewart Gordon, performed Chopin’s Ballade No. 2, two movements from Beethoven’s Sonata in E Major, Op. 109, and then surprised us with a work none of us had ever heard before: Earl Wild’s lovely transcription of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You.”

Yirong Wang, 21 and a student at USC where she studies with Bernadene Blaha, played a refreshing program of works most of us have never heard in live concert. She performed the first movement of Kabalevsky’s Sonata, Op. 45, No. 2, two movements from Clementi’s Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 24, No.2, and finally the Schatz Walzer by Johann Strauss in a clever transcription by Ernst von Dohnányi.

Mai Mizuno, 24, who this fall will be a DMA candidate at the University of North Texas at Denton studying piano with Vladimir Viardo, dazzled us with a varied program of works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Ginastera. It was with the first movement of the Ginastera that she won our hearts.

After the Awards Concert members of the audience had an opportunity to meet the young musicians informally in the lobby.


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