IBLA New York Awards 2002
Lincoln Center

On Wednesday evening, March 20, the IBLA Foundation presented the winners of its visionary competition program in Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. How long will it be before the other competition "factories" take note of these endeavors and cease with their cheap marketing gimmicks and all their unimaginative musicians giving polished but mechanical performances? IBLA indeed carries a different message. With musicians representing eleven countries, the evening was a rich odyssey of diverse musical styles and performance personalities. And despite the chill in the air and the dull rain that graced the shoulders of those waiting to get into Alice Tully Hall, the audience was surely warmed by the artists and the noble musical vision they brought to life.

The first performances of the evening took place in the nearby Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Those at mass were able to hear Francesco Palazzo's performance of Sofia Gubaidulina's accordion work, De Profundis. Mr. Palazzo brought out the inner intensity of the work, which though uncompromising in its harmonic language, communicated directly with a powerful dramatic integrity. During the service, the evocative and commanding improvisations of Rome-based Luca Di Donato also filled the church with thoughtful and inventive conjurations of organ timbres. One had the full sense of an original intersection of creative musical talents and worship in dynamic synergy.

The New York Children's Chorus, led by Mr. Peter Coulianos, opened the Lincoln Center portion of the presentation with the American national anthem, a stirring cantata by J.S. Bach and Mr. Coulianos' charming arrangement of music by Lowell Mason. The children were well prepared, held the stage with poise, and Mr. Coulianos' spirited leadership brought out a delightful musicality from the children.

Moon Jun Kim, from Korea, opened with a performance of Handel's Chaccone in G Major that launched the evening's veritable marathon. Rather than focusing on the more detailed nuances of the work, she opted for a striking fullness of sound. And while this occasionally resulted in a sense of phrase lacking in natural breath, what lacked in subtlety was made up for in impressive tactile strength.

The French Mathilde Carré then presented a delicately inflected musical portrait of Mozart's Variations KV 398. It was one of seductive understatement, and one that let the musical gesture sing naturally.

11 year-old Iakov Jourkine from Russia charmed the audience with his solid and manually dexterous performance of Chopin's Etude Opus 25, no. 12. He impressed greatly with his stoic demeanor and calm and secure arpeggios.

Italian Domenico Piccichë was next with the fiery transcription of Verdi's "Miserere" from Il Trovatore made by Liszt. Picciché highlighted Verdi's naturalistic side with a robust yet refined interpretation, convincingly rendering Liszt's fiendishly difficult melodic figurations.

A change of pace was distinct with American baritone Blake Davidson's robust performance of Lerner and Lowe's "If Ever I Would Leave You." Clearly assured and confident in his vocal delivery, he evenly and systematically filled out all the phrases with his dark and full sound.

The Norwegian pianist Zelina Sannum followed with a thoroughly enjoyable performance of Edward Grieg's Ballad in G minor. Fluidly illuminating Grieg's idiosyncratic musical imagination and writing, Ms. Sannum delivered a polished and impressively smooth interpretation of the work.

The mystical and dramatic sonic musings of Scriabin's Prelude Opus 9 No. 1 were brought to life in the Italian Cinzia Dato's focused and committed performance. With a compelling sense of urgency, her interpretation projected an exquisite sense of shading and voicing.

Winner of IBLA's composition prize, J.A. Lennon's Sonatina was confidently presented by the Connecticut-based guitarist Benjamin Verdery. Mr. Verdery's performance strived for brilliance, intimacy and passion, though the acoustics of Alice Tully Hall seemed to thwart him at each turn of phrase. Certainly, Lincoln Center should know by now to amplify solo classical guitar performances. Mr. Lennon's Sonatina surely might have been an audience pleaser, with quaint reminiscences of Spanish guitar masters such as Albeniz, Arragon, T∑rrego and Torroba in a lyrical and meandering style.

German Thorsten Lindner fascinated with his interpretation of Frederic Rzewski's Klavierstłck No. 4. His forthright, well-crafted articulations of sound and inventive harmonic shading compensated for Mr. Rzewski's over-simplified rhythmic construction. Mr. Lindner's well directed playing projected much integrity and power despite his seemingly aloof appearance, offering an engaging variety of sound and commitment to the music.

The Canadian pianist Chie Nagatani succeeded in introducing a new level of musical energy and intensity to the evening with her energetic and dynamic solo performance of the first movement from Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3. While Christopher Cooley duly accompanied in a transparent manner, Ms. Nagatani delivered a positively intelligent, crisp, clear and powerful performance of Prokofiev's alternately lyrical and explosive music.

Swiss Gilles Vonsattel appeared next with his thoroughly dignified and well-shaped presentation of Counterpoints 1 & 9 from Bach's Kunst der Fuge. Throughout, intelligence and sensitivity were apparent.

Russian pianist Ksenia Yurist beguiled with her performance of Chopin's integral Mazurka Opus 24 No.4. Avoiding the ephemeral side of Chopin's expression, she commanded a centered, supremely controlled and satisfyingly hearty sound.

The German pianist Henning Vauth followed with a stoic and reserved interpretation of Leschetizky's transcription of the Andante finale from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Though he seemed to favor digital accuracy for imagination, he emitted an unmistakable sense of confidence and commitment.

The robust and hearty Hungarian sentiment was admirably conjured by duo pianists Chinese Ning-Wu Du and American Helen Sim. In both Hungarian Dances No. 1 and No. 5, they delivered impressive pyrotechnics and well-focused passion.

Once again, the musical tone turned to the vocal, as Russian bass Igor Tchernov maneuvered through Srizidov's "Russia Cast Adrift." With his assured stage presence, and well-placed gestures, his was a sturdy and powerful performance.

Spirited marimba virtuoso Naoko Takada's rendition of Stevens' Rhythmic Caprice was surely a delight for all. She was exuberant, intensely focused and gave an extraordinary performance, from memory, drawing a vast array of colors from her instrument with humor and verve.

Russian soprano Yana Besdaydinskaya followed and enchanted with her agile and silvery tone in Rachmaninoff's. "It's nice to be here" and "Volta la terrea" from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. Her singing was supremely controlled and expressive and her demeanor was fascinating, at once both distanced and impassioned.

IBLA President and Founder Dr. Salvatore Moltisanti and his duo partner Chie Sato Roden filled the hall with musical fireworks to bring the evening to a close. George Crumb's fascination with exploring every nuance and inner aspect of sound was put to good use in this dramatic and exquisitely charged performance of the Gamma DraconisÓ from Makrokosmos IV. Projecting great authority and confidence, the two imbued musical meaning into a vast array of sounds, satisfying both the mind and the ears.

The evening was a great testament to IBLA's musical philosophy and tireless search for diverse musical talent. The approach is certainly refreshing in these days of monotonous concert series and the banal stream of cookie cutter artists. Hopefully the Foundation's efforts will soon serve as a model for redefining the possibilities of what a competition might accomplish in the role of enriching musical culture.

-- JD Hixson

Conductor and clarinetist JD Hixson is a recent graduate from the doctoral program at The Juilliard School, and is founder and Artistic Director of STUDIO for New Music (NY).