The Winners of the Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition

Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, April 11, 2005

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 concert on April 11 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 concert opened with duo-pianists Salvatore Moltisanti and former Ibla Grand Prize Winner Chie Sato Roden performing their signature George Crumb Makrokosmos IV. They are internationally renowned for their performances of this music and never fail to show a deep, intense understanding of these complex and deeply moving scores. Their performances show a real connection to each other and to this music and are always an object lesson of why George Crumb is so widely renowned.

Next was German soprano Brigitte Jaeger. She performed Aria di Violetta from La Traviata and made a strong case for her choice, with a nice sound and a very good stage presence.

She was followed by Polish pianist Aleksandra Szeredi presenting one of my personal favorites, the Prokofiev Concerto No. 3. This was a motoric and committed performance by a young performer that one would like to hear more from. She was accompanied on second piano (would that the competition could afford to bring in an orchestra!) by the always wonderful Anna Rutkowska-Schock, who never fails to complement and enhance whoever she is working with.

This was followed by Japanese soprano Toshie Nakai, who presented a lovely, seasonally appropriate song by one Tirindelli. Her voice grew in warmth and at times had an almost “Primavera” quality of freshness.

Next came one of the true highlights of the evening, and strong evidence for my very first statement in this review. Japanese pianist Atsuko Seta is obviously in love with the music of the 20 th Century Argentinean master Alberto Ginastera. She presents his music with such abandon and high-wattage enthusiasm, smiling with such delight in what she is creating, that you cannot help but be persuaded by her. The only thing that I missed was the lovely Latin-American style Spanish-dresses she wore at Ibla last Summer.

Next up was Japanese violinist Riyoko Matsui, who presented a Bach Chaconne with a clear, deeply felt, singing sound. Technically wonderful playing of a very high level.

This was followed by American pianist Nathan Carterette, who presented strong, intelligent Bartok. Very compelling in its power and his presence.

The first half concluded with German pianist Gesa Luecker. After extensive bench adjustment to compensate for her height, Ms. Leucker presented a good if perhaps overly brisk Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13. I must say that this is by no means the best available Liszt, and I would like to hear something that called more on the pianist’s lyrical and sensitive side, rather than the “fancy fingerwork” that was on display here. However, it was good for what it was and the audience was pleased.

The second half began with Finnish pianist Jani Aarevaara, who presented a handsome, elegant reading of Szymanowski’s Variations, Op. 3. This performance had a lovely range, and achieved a very appealing emotional balance of all elements.

Another highlight of the evening was next on the bill – American virtuoso whistler Michael Barimo. His is an astonishing and wonderful talent that cannot help but elicit amazement and delight. How can you not enjoy an aria by Verdi from Vespri Siciliani whistled with astonishing accuracy and intonation and accompanied by the always splendid Anna Rutkowska-Schock? I suspect that the great composer himself, having heard Mr. Barimo’s artistry, might well have been sorely tempted to recast one of his great roles for such a talent. A whistling Radames or Otello…the mind boggles.

After this came Indonesian pianist Gensly Ediansyah Syams in her signature Carl Vines Sonata No. 1. As a performer, she has charm and delicacy, but with great strength of artistry. The Vines piece shows all of these qualities to very good advantage. This is a very contemporary piece that calls for great virtuosity and control, which Ms. Syams displayed in abundance. Wonderful music making.

French Guyanian soprano Annic LaFrontiere was next with a selection from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. This was very well done – a good, sensitive performance with nice voice support and articulation. She is a lovely lady with a lovely voice, which was just right for the chosen repertoire. The redoubtable Anna Rutkowska-Schock again accompanied.

Following this came Korean pianist Soyeon In. Her Rachmaninoff Corelli Variations showed pianism of great tensile strength – strong yet flexible. Much to be admired here and terrific pianism on a very high level.

The marvelous American baritone Blake Davidson was next and gave his wonderful stage presence and rich, house-filling voice to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Soliloquy from Carousel. He is a splendid performer, who brings a great dignity and maturity that goes beyond his still relatively few years. As he grows as an artist, I will not be at all surprised to see him join the ranks of such great singers as Thomas Hampson or William Sharp. And, as usual, Ms. Rutkowska-Schock provided strong accompaniment.

The rousing (as if we needed much more elevation) finale was provided by the superb Korean pianist Min-Kyung Choi, accompanied by Wonyoung Chang, with a smashing performance of the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2. Remarkable teamwork that provided the best possible showcase for both of these brilliant performers.

One of the highlights of the evening was the chance to hear the music of Italian composer Gaetano Lorandi for the first time in New York. A full presentation of Mr. Lorandi's music had taken place in the previous days at the Yamaha Piano Salon on Fifth Avenue. This is strong, individual and beautifully crafted music that will surely be heard again in American concert halls.

The Ibla Grand Prize organization can take great pride in its accomplishments, as evidenced by this wonderful concert event. It was, as it has been for many years now, a showcase for this competition where the talents of superbly gifted people from around the world can be brought to the capital of the world, New York City, in a spirit of international brotherhood.

Jeffrey James

Editor, International Composer
April 22, 2005

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