The Winners of the Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition
New York University Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo, April 18, 2006
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, April 19, 2006
A review by Jeffrey James
The Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition is surely one of the world’s cultural treasures. Held each year in early Summer in the glorious southeastern corner of Sicily, in the beautiful and charming Baroque city of Ragusa-Ibla, this competition has proven to be a consistently open, innovative and fertile breeding ground for musical talent of the highest order.
The competition’s founder, Dr. Salvatore Moltisanti, has created an atmosphere at this competition that encourages openness to any and all forms of music, a spirit of innovation that allows presentation of all musical styles as well as instruments (this has included performances by several types of jazz ensembles, electronic music composers, domra virtuosos, accordian players, folk singers, piano improvisers, whistlers and many others from outside the classical mainstream, as well as, of course, classical instrumental and vocal virtuosos), and a place where the ideas of wonderfully talented people can be exchanged and nurtured in a spirit of international brotherhood.
This year’s events at New York’s Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo on April 17 and 18 and Gala concert on April 18 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall was the best possible proof of this and once again presented music making of the highest order.
The events at New York University’s Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo on April 17 and 18 were highlighted by Master Classes on the afternoon of April 18 and a marvelously intimate concert that evening.
The Master Classes had several Ibla virtuosos performing for and working with three distinguished and internationally renowned piano virtuosos, Alia Alhan of Kazakhstan, Mirian Conti of Argentina and Dr. Alicia Zizzo of the U.S. These classes were wonderfully helpful to the players and were characterized by a marvelous spirit of teaching and interchange of ideas.
The evening opened in the lovely, small theater of the Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo with a fascinating video presentation about the life of Duilio Cambelotti (1876-1960) a Roman artist whose work was strongly informed by his childhood experiences. The film explored this in great detail and showed many wonderful images of his sketches. A number of Ibla jury members were privileged several years ago to be given a private tour of a very special apartment area of the Ragusa City Hall that contains some Cambelotti frescoes that date from the 1930s.
The actual concert began with the Ukrainian/Russian/Mexican-resident four hands piano duo of Vlada Vassilieva and Anatoly Zatin. They got things going with a driven, percussive and quite witty performance of Poulenc’s Sonata. This was followed by Zatin’s own Polca, a raucous bit of business which could serve as a soundtrack for Russian cat-chasing-mouse cartoons, or maybe for “The Keystone Cops in Moscow Rush Hour Traffic.” Complete with duo whistles, this piece was a complete hoot.
They were followed by Indonesia’s Jesslyn Julia Gunawan, a lovely and charming young lady who performed both as violinist and pianist. The first performance was as pianist, and she offered charming, young Mozart. Very accomplished for one so young, Jesslyn seems like a nicely confident young lady who enjoys playing – and she was quite adorable in her little, big red dress. More about her later.
Next came of the highlights of this, or any other concert I’ve heard, the Polish accordion duo of Hubert Giziewski and Pawel Sulej. They are incredibly fine musicians, playing two parts of the same mind, and gave a motoric and exciting performance of Piazzolla’s Libertango. More about them later, as well.
The festivities continued with the Austrian piano duo Johanna Groebner and Veronika Trisko, who presented “Trolperchtenreigen”, a sort of semi-demonic ragtime troll dance by one Ulf Diether Soyka. This was very well played, with fine control of dynamics and shaping of the music.
Then came Japanese violinist Kyoko Ishigame with a J.S. Bach Solo Sonata, which she presented with a big sound, strong technique and a good sense of the shaping and pacing of this most exposed and virtuosic music.
Albanian pianist Mirsa Adami was next on the bill, and performed rarely heard Albanian and Dutch Toccatas with great fingerwork and real concentrated power playing. The Albanian piece had echoes of Chopin, Liszt and Gershwin (might as well have the best influences) and the Dutch piece a bit more dynamic range, but both were well done.
Korean pianist Rajun Yang, winner of the Ibla Bartok-Prokofiev-Kabalevsky Competition, then presented the Allegro Molto of Bartok’s Sonata, with drive and real purpose. This was vintage Bartok, with fine form and shaping of this fiercely difficult piece.
Next up was the Italian pianist Nazareno Ferrugio, whose Chopin Grande Polacca Brillante showed his fine sense of dynamics and real pianistic sensitivity. He lets music breathe and is a very, very fine player.
Another highlight of the program was next, Greek pianist Lenio Liatsou. She is an advocate for some of the more difficult music of the mid to late 20th century (both for players and audiences) and gave a marvelous, thoroughly convincing account of Boulez’ Incises. She used dynamics beautifully, displayed excellent fingerwork and excercised great control of this challenging piece, the performance of which I suspect would make M. Boulez proud.
Next came another of the highlights of the evening, the return of the Polish accordion duo of Hubert Giziewski and Pawel Sulej. Again, incredibly fine musicianship, with Vaclav Trojan’s Tarantella the feature of the moment. Tarantellas were originally intended to ward off tarantulas and other arachnids, but in this case, the insects would have been having too much fun listening to this super duo to want to leave. A bit more about them later, as well.
American pianist John Rose followed, and presented November from his lovely and original Preludes calendar set. I like this Gershwin-esque piece and, indeed, the other pieces I’ve heard from this opus. It is harmonically very attractive, sincere and well and convincingly performed music that deserves a wider audience.
This was followed by Russian pianist Julia Udod presenting Liszt’s Liebestraum. Lovely, romantic playing with a nice touch and very attractive sound from this lovely and gifted young lady.
Then came another fine, younger performer, American pianist Alex Tuchman. This was a young man possessed by the crazed fire of Prokofiev’s Toccata, which he kept in very good control (given that the piece is barely controllable) and showed a big stage personality that bears watching. Fine work from this quickly developing virtuoso.
Next up was a short talk about composer Pietro Floridia, a local boy from Ragusa and Modica, Sicily, whose operatic works are rarely performed today. So, to at least partially remedy this situation, the next performer, American soprano Isabella Baer-Lara performed the beautiful Aria di Maruzza from Floridia’s opera of the same name. Isabella has a lovely soprano voice and is a fine actress who really knows how to sell an aria. She is also a lovely woman with fine stage presence and a real sense of how to scale her presentation to the venue of the moment.
Our young Indonesian friend and audience favorite Jesslyn Julia Gunawan returned once again, this time on violin and accompanied by her pianist father for some marvelous Chopin. Jesslyn, a little fiddle player playing on her little fiddle, seems to have fine fingers and a strong understanding of the music she presents. This is a young lady who is very accomplished for one so young, and has a fine future in music.
The rousing (as if we needed much more elevation) finale was provided by the third visit of the superb Polish accordion duo of Giziewski and Sulej. Again, knockout playing, this time of a smashing arrangement of a Khatchaturian Waltz. Anyone who thinks the accordion is either dull or not really an instrument fit for classical music hasn’t heard these boys tear it up. Performances like this leave little room for anything other than superlatives.
A spectacular way to end a superb evening of music.
Then, the next evening, came the REALLY big event, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.
A full house was treated to another Ibla extravaganza which began with German pianist Hinrich Alpers performing Szymanowski’s L’Isles des Sirenes. This was enormously atmospheric, with lovely dynamics and elegant, veiled impressionism that was very satisfying to listen to. Nice to hear him performing this underperformed Polish master.
This was followed by Russian pianist Julia Udod again presenting Liszt’s Liebestraum. Although this performance was as lovely and romantic as the evening before, with a nice touch and very attractive sound, I was gratified to hear a rather unsentimental tone to her playing (for which the music was, I believe, much better off). Very fine performance by this gifted young lady.
Then, the Jesslyn Julia Gunawan show came to the Weill Hall stage, first with her solo piano Mozart and then with her father’s accompaniment in a charming, simple piece by Friedrich Seitz for violin and piano. Jessyln is a lovely child who seems to be genuinely happy to be performing and whose audience obviously enjoys her performances. A symbiotic relationship that one hopes will work for many years to come.
Next, the remarkable (as always) accordion duo of Giziewski and Sulej, who, of course, practically tore the roof off the place with their incendiary Piazzolla Libertango. I cannot say enough about the high quality of their musicianship and almost inhumanly good integration of sound, so I’ll just leave things at hoping to hear them again very soon.
Next up was the Italian pianist Nazareno Ferrugio, whose Debussy was even better than the Chopin he had presented the previous evening. He again showed his fine sense of dynamics, real pianistic sensitivity and a strong sense of how to present characteristic Debussy. Again, he lets music breathe and is a very, very fine player. Fine performance.
Then, Japanese violinist Kyoko Ishigame favored us again with her J.S. Bach Solo Sonata, which she again presented with a big sound, strong technique and a good sense of the shaping, structure and pacing of this most exposed and virtuosic music. Lovely tone from a lovely young musician.
The festivities continued with the Austrian piano duo Johanna Groebner and Veronika Trisko, who presented a Molto Allegro from a Mozart two piano sonata with excellent coordination (and even matching dresses). Attractive ladies, attractive Mozart.
Then, a new face, Russian pianist Ioulia Verchinina, who brought her fine, strong BIG Russian technique to aChopin etude.
Another highlight of the program was next, Greek pianist Lenio Liatsou, with another performance of Boulez’ Incises. I must say that I first heard her perform the piece at the Tuesday, April 18 masterclasses at Casa Italiana. After working with Ibla’s distinguished panel of teachers, I heard her perform the piece that evening and then the next night at Carnegie. The growth in her understanding and insight into this music was astonishing and shows a quick and lively mind that considers her music-making carefully. I believe this is a young pianist with a wonderful future.
Next were two more new faces to Ibla week in New York, the Japanese four hands piano duo of Yuriko Hinami and Masaki Mochida. They presented Alfredo Casella’s Pagine di Guerra with powerful, evocative teamwork. War practically came to the Yamaha and the Weill Hall stage, with the two of them rumbling the daylights out of floor in this stirring work. Terrific performance.
Next up was another performance of Pietro Floridia’s, Aria di Maruzza by American soprano Isabella Baer-Lara, this time perhaps even more full-bodied and impassioned than that of the previous evening. Again, Isabella has a lovely soprano voice and is a fine actress who really knows how to sell an aria, and seems to grow stronger with each performance of a role. Once again she showed great understanding of how to scale her presentation to the venue of the moment, in this case the larger Weill Hall stage.
Korean pianist Rajun Yang, then presented a movement from the Prokofiev Sonata No. 7 with good ideas and a fine, individualistic approach that certainly works. Her temperament and technique seem eminently suited to this music.
Then, another true highlight of the evening, the Romanian pianist Cezara-Lucia Vladescu. She chose a section of one of the glories of the piano literature, the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. Cezara-Lucia is a young lady in command of the piano and plays with finesse, power, poetry and at time even grandeur. She also has a remarkably centered and poised stage presence that projects beautifully to an audience. I expect great things from her in the future.
Then came the return of another fine, younger performer, American pianist Alex Tuchman. Once again, burning Prokofiev, which he kept in hand with a fireman’s sense of control, allowing it to be motoric, purposeful and beautifully structured. Alex is a growing boy growing in artistry.
Russian soprano Yana Besiadinskaya Eminova was next, presenting nice, audience friendly Donizeet, deftly performed. Yana has a lovely voice that is nicely suited to this repertoire and should take her to many international stages.
American pianist John Rose followed, this time with March from his lovely and original Preludes calendar set. I like everything I’ve heard from this opus. It is new music with a popular edge that makes for lovely listening time after time.
Whatever roof was left on Weill Hall after Giziewski and Sulej was completely finished off by the Ukrainian/Russian four hands piano duo of Vassilieva and Zatin. They played the daylights out of Khatchaturian’s Sabre Dance and then brought out the whistles and high spirits for another round of Zatin’s Polca. This lively and colorful music is more fun than a barrel of Moscow Circus monkeys and was a great way to end yet another remarkable evening in the world of Ibla.
Dr. Moltisanti and The Ibla Grand Prize organization can again take great pride in its accomplishments, as evidenced by these wonderful concert events. They were, as they have been for many years, an ongoing showcase for this competition where the talents of superbly gifted people from around the globe can be brought to the capital of the world, New York City, in a spirit of international brotherhood.
Editor, International Composer
June 10, 2006