The Winners of the Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition


Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, April 27, 2009


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 Gala concert on April 27 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall was once again the best possible proof of this and presented music making of the highest order. It also seemed to be a celebration of siblings, with two brother combinations performing, each special in their own way.


The evening’s festivities opened with the gifted American violinist Thomas Huntington, accompanied by the extraordinary pianist Anna Rutkowska Schock. He presented a substantial segment of Ravel’s Tzigane with wonderful maturity and depth of sound, great poise and stage presence.


Next up was his brother, American cellist Austin Huntington, who introduced a Gaspar Cassado work as having been played by the great Casals. The maestro would have been proud of Mr. Huntington’s intensity and enthusiasm, especially given that he introduced the music as “one of my favorite pieces.” Very well presented and the audience clearly enjoyed it.


Then came pianist Terry Eder, who presented intense, characteristic Bartok, which she gave a rather seductive, jazzy flavor. Very good control of resources – her performances have an agreeable swing to them.


This was followed by the duet of violinist Kevin Matheson and violist Bryan Matheson presenting a selection from Three Rags for Violin and Viola. The brothers created an agreeably old-timey sound and presented very stylishly, with real flourish and attention to detail.


Next was English pianist and composer George King performing his original music. His 1st Etude was an attractive, quiet idea. He builds simple fragments into lovely, complex structures. His 2nd Etude featured very deft fingerwork that created an evocative sonic landscape, at times invaded by bursts of pianistic thunder. Oh, and by the way, Mr. King is also quite a good pianist.


This was followed by one of the types of performers that make the Ibla Grand Prize unique. Jill Kemp is a recorder virtuoso from the U.K. She is a natural talent of striking technical ability who navigated a torturous set of variations by one E. Krahmer with ease, agility and great musicality. This was an excellent choice to showcase her considerable gifts. She was accompanied by the always wonderful Ms. Rutkowska Schock on piano.


After this Julija Bal, another young pianist and composer, this time from Serbia, performed her own take on Albeniz’ Asturias. Her variations actually sound like something written by the original composer or a contemporary. I’d like to hear some more contemporary ideas and sounds in her work. She’s still got plenty of time to develop her compositional profile. Good pianist, though.


Next up was Elin Kolev, a little man from Germany in a little white tuxedo, followed by a small armada of TV cameras. He presented Paganini capably (he gets points for even considering the Italian master’s music for performance), but is perhaps too young to really give this music its due. He had moments and flashes of brilliance, which indicates that he will continue to grow into a fine virtuoso. I look forward to seeing him again in the future.


Following on was of my particular favorites, Adalberto Riva from Italy. He presented a Schubert/Liszt creation that I usually cringe from when announced, however, Mr. Riva is a lovely pianist with a lovely touch and feel for this music. He made the music elegant and presented it beautifully, making me interested and even caring about music I generally don’t care for. That is a sure sign of artistic communication.


Russian violinist Sarkis Nazarov was up next to present Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. He has exceptional intonation and played quite lyrically. This was strong, severe, high-quality performing, not afraid of a singing line rather than the all-too-common “look at me” variations. Ms. Rutkowska Schock was again eminently supportive.


Next up was four stylish hands from Holland – Scholtes Lestari and Gwylim Janssens. Fine music by Rachmaninov, finely presented by 20 very gifted fingers, although it could well have been 25 or 30 fingers, so big and well integrated was the sound. Terrific duo in top form.


Finally, to put an exclamation point on the evening, the Korean cellist Hee-Young Lim, accompanied by pianist Noreen Polera closed the festivities with a performance of a cello/piano arrangement of Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. You can’t lose with this music. Ms. Lim is an intense player with a big sound and fine musical instincts. There were many moments and extended passages of fine music making, with good use of space and texture in her playing, and a nice dynamic sense.


The audience was then treated to three encores, from recorderist (is that a word?) Jill Kemp, pianist/composer Juljia Bal and violinist Elin Kolev.


Finally, Dr. Salvatore Moltisanti paid a special tribute to the accompanist for the evening, Anna Rutkowska Schock. This was very well deserved, both for her wonderful performances that evening, but also for the many years of accompanying every conceivable type of artist in wildly varied repertoire that she has been asked to undertake as part of the Ibla Grand Prize competition. I would also add personally that I believe she is now playing at a very, very high level that I’m sure she’ll find a way to improve even further.


Dr. Moltisanti and The Ibla Grand Prize organization can once again take great pride in its accomplishments, as evidenced by this varied, immensely enjoyable and wonderful concert event. This was, as it has 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.


Jeffrey James

Editor, International Composer