Koreans dominate an updated Busoni Competition
The Busoni Piano Competition, one of Europe’s oldest events for young pianists seeking to kick-start a career, concluded two weeks of elimination rounds recently (Sept. 3) with a grande finale dominated by Koreans. Top prize, worth 22,000 euros, went to Jae Hong Park, a flamboyant, emotive player with and a firm grasp of Rachmaninov, and second prize went to Do-Hyun Kim, who played Prokofiev’s second concerto with some considerable verve. Placing third was Lukas Sternath, a young Austrian who performed Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto with cool charm -- the opposite of Park’s style.
Artistic Director Peter Paul Kainrath says he was pleased with the outcome despite unusual pressures from covid-19 restrictions. Early eliminations were scattered around 19 locations in Europe and Asia.
Players entered the stage of the finals wearing masks but discarded them to facilitate playing. Several international competitions have been canceled or postponed, faced with withdrawals due to the pandemic. The Busoni, determined to maintain its schedule, found ways around the restrictions.
As usual in international competitions, the rules mandated a concerto with full orchestra at the finals. The local Haydn Orchestra, now rated “pretty good” by competition administrators, performed notably better than at the previous edition two years ago when it drew criticism from international critics for coordination problems. This time, conductor Arvo Volmer was in control of his 55 musicians. Orchestra players and not permanently engaged. They come and go between performances as the roster of rotates each year among available players.
The Busoni, staged in Bolzono, Italy, its long-time home since launch 72 years ago, attracted a respectable 506 registrations and 93 participants.
Kainrath professed satisfaction with new strategies for appointing and managing jurors. He sought to bridge generational gaps and avoid working with the usual array of professional jurors. He says he wanted “independence, curiosity and transparency”. Jury president was the well-established Canadian Louis Lorte. The ten others came from a range of music cultures – Brazil, Ukraine, Armenia, France, Italy and the United States.
Another innovation was setting up partnerships with modern media outlets. This strategy brought the Busoni to Eurovision networks, You Tube, and the major international streaming platforms. In Korea, the finals were moderated in the Korean language, and in China, two large movie theaters of the Emperor group offered the event in Beijing and Shenzhen.
The partnerships with international multi-channel media reflect Kainrath’s vision of new ways to reach large audiences at reasonable cost “if you have the right ideas”. But, he added, if competitions continue to operate in academic traditions, “there is no hope. They will die.” Kainrath has recently been elected president of the World Federation of International Music Competitions. He is also CEO of the contemporary music ensemble Klangforum Wien. He promises to update the competition concept to operate with broader geographical reach. Other competitions may follow his lead.
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