The Winners of the Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition


Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, May 2, 2013


In a time when many public institutions and long established traditions are under almost contact pressure from political and economic forces and have to fight ever harder for their survival, we should greatly value those things that continue despite the odds. I’m very happy to say that despite such pressures, the Ibla Grand Prize International music competition yet continues and brought another musical report of hope on May2 to New York City’s Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.


Held each year in early Summer in the magical and beautiful Sicilian Baroque city of Ragusa-Ibla, this competition is an international showcase for musical talent of the highest order.


Its founder, Dr. Salvatore Moltisanti, himself one of the world’s great pianists and this year a particularly good Master of Ceremonies, has created a place open to any and all forms of music and musical expression. Over the years, this has included hundreds of pianists and instrumental performers of standard and contemporary repertoire and singers of every description from inside and outside the musical mainstream. The competition is not really against other musicians, but against the highest possible professional standard. Those standards were well represented by this presentation of their 2012 winners at Weill Recital Hall.


This year’s concert opened with Polish accordionist Tomasz Ostaszewski (Elon University Audience Award and Pietro Floridia - Ausilia Pluchino Award recipient). There must be something in the water in Poland that produces such high-level accordion virtuosos (for I’ve heard a good number of them both here and in Poland), and Tomasz is indeed a high-level virtuoso. He presented music by Zolotaryov - music of subtlety and tension, with hints of Mussorgsky and Shostakovich-like strong forward motion. It was extremely well performed and a fine concert opener.


Next up was Sicilian pianist Gabriele Gallo (Carnegie Audience Award recipient). He opened with a Bach Prelude. He could have cleaned up the articulation a bit, but it was generally good, with lots of technique. He still has plenty of time to grow into his ambitions. The Sollima was better, with more committed playing – obviously more in his comfort zone. Very nice audience reaction to this piece. Dr. Moltisanti then asked him to play and sing, and he obliged. Although a bit strained vocally (his is a voice in transition), I hope he stays with it and continues to develop musically.


American soprano Audrey Ann Southard Rumsey (Carnegie Audience Award recipient)  was next. She has apparently been through a lot to be where she is, and the commitment to her voice and development of her talent has been well worth it. She presented lovely Menotti, with an attractive, unforced, well-supported sound, and very fine accompaniment from Finnish pianist Liisa Pimia (Carnegie Audience Award recipient). Although her Gershwin could use a bit more refinement, I was glad to hear this fine singer moving ahead in her artistry.


Then came 12-year old Albert Gu (Chopin Award recipient)  from the U.S. He performed Lizst’s La Campanella. Lots of notes, lots of good fingerwork and a nice centeredness in his stage presence. This was clear, bright, happy playing that I truly appreciated from one so young, or from any age for that matter.


Italian soprano Angelica Cirillo performed Verdi’s Pace mio Dio, sincerely, but perhaps too heavily. Her sound is good needs a bit more focus, subtlety and attention to dynamics. Again, good accompaniment from Finnish pianist Liisa Pimia.


Following this was the American pianist Jim Erickson, performing his own music - a cool, jazzy piece with echoes of McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea and other jazz piano greats. The piece was well played, although probably a bit too episodic and fragmented, and contained some fine ideas that make you want to hear more of his work.


This was followed by another American pianist, Jason Chiang. (Carnegie Audience Award recipient)  He presented Prokofiev and Ginastera. With the former, it was off to the races with a tempo that was too fast for me (and I suspect for the score), but generally well managed. Some detail of this very detailed score was obscured in the hurry, but he generally did well with the initially established pace. The same was true of the latter work, again too fast, but again well done with authority and fingers of steel. Jason is a fine player who could become even better by letting up on the accelerator from time to time.


Finnish soprano Eija Raisanen then presented Talking/Singing. This extraordinary music calls for an extraordinary performer and Eija is that. She is asked to present the full range of human sounds, and does so with a large, strong, clear voice and physicality that is quite remarkable, calling forth the marvelous ghosts of both Cathy Berberian and Victor Borge. Her transition into Puccini was also well done, again with the same big, clear sound, good focus and support. Fine performances from a fine performer - and, once again, good accompaniment from pianist Liisa Pimia.


South Korean pianist Laehyung Woo (Baroness Costanza Arezzo di Donnafugata  Memorial Award Recipient) has a sure technique and command of the Lizst she presented, with fine articulation and control of dynamics. This was a shortened version of this sometimes dull and decidedly overlong piece, but it was more than enough to establish her as a fine, fine pianist who is someone to watch. My only complaint was the music itself. Liszt sometimes didn’t know when to let things go, and I don’t believe this selection was a good choice for either a competition or for a concert of this type. I must say the audience loved it, but I didn’t. However, no complaint about the performer. She was marvelous.


Next was another Polish accordion virtuoso, Patryk Sztabinski (Radford University Audience Award recipient). After the blood and thunder of Lizst came Patryk’s Scarlatti, performed beautifully, almost delicately, on the accordion. Then came the fascinating, harmonically captivating Kusjakov. This was spectacularly virtuosic and expertly performed, the second movement of which sounded like the march to one of the levels of a Brechtian hell.


Then came a surprise (something that the Ibla Grand Prize is good at) - a countertenor whose name I was not smart enough to record (Adona Moma) . My apologies to the performer. He has a strong, effective sound, with nice dynamics and control – very sopranistic.


Next up was American pianist Ian Miller (Carnegie Audience Award recipient), performing music of Elton John. Big sounds in these Elton variations – straightforward, perhaps wanting for some more variety, but presented with strong technique. I assume these are Dan’s ideas. If so, he should keep developing projects like this.


American pianist-composer David Cieri (Carnegie Audience Award recipient) followed with his own work, accompanied by bagpipes. two basses and cello. You don’t hear much new music with bagpipes. This had lots of texture, a lot of improvisation and lots of new sounds to either caress or insult (depending on your feelings toward bagpipes) the ear. The interesting thing is that the insult may actually be part of the creativity. This music was atmospheric and striking, almost volcanic at times.


Finally, to end things, the superb team of pianists Yuka Munehisa from Japan and Samuel Fried (Carnegie Audience Award recipients) from Switzerland presented 4-hands music by Rosenblatt, who at times channels Gershwin and George Shearing, with strong hints of Kapustin. Their performance was highlighted by their cute stage presence, with a nice little “after you” sort of act, complete with Twister-type bench movement. They have great teamwork and present a beautifully matched, fully integrated sound. This was a fabulous concert-ender that received a big audience reaction.


One more surprise beyond the finale - Ian Miller and Salvatore Moltisanti leading the audience in a singalong of Elton John’s Your Song. It gave the evening a lasting warmth and resonance.


So, institutions and traditions still matter, and the The Ibla Grand Prize still matters. Yet again, Dr. Moltisanti and the Ibla organization can take pride in its accomplishment with the 2012 competition and its winners. I expect it will continue to matter for many years to come.


Jeffrey James

Editor, International Composer



June 9, 2013