On Thursday, June 19, students and parents from around the United States arrived in Milwaukee for the start of the PianoArts 2008 National Competition. After registering at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and practicing a couple hours, contestants were summoned to the Helen Bader Concert Hall for a random selection of the performance order. For Sunday: First will be Choo Choo, then Yoshiko, Brian, Amy, Paige, Sejoon, Yi An, Sean, Alexander, and finally Hunter. For Monday, Sean will lead off, followed by Sejoon, Amy, Choo Choo, Yoshiko, Brian, Hunter, Alex, Yi An, and Paige.
After the drawing, contestants, their parents, and some host families were treated by the Prometheus Trio's thrilling performance of Schoenfeld's "Café Music" piano trio, a bluesy and showy piece, in short. The trio - Stefanie Jacob at piano, Timothy Klabunde on Violin, and Scott Tisdel on Cello - will assist competitors on Sunday in violin and cello duos and the first movement of their concerto. The trio has an active residence at Wisconsin Conservatory, and the individuals are outstanding teachers and professional musicians for Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Arriving late, I caught most of the trio's performance from the hallway. When they had left the stage, Sue Medford came to congratulate them and was surprised to see me outside the recital hall. She introduced me and hurried back offstage. I told everyone that I am in intern with PianoArts, that I will be writing about the competition online and will later try to publish a story, and that if they have questions, they can ask me. Later, when Yi An Pan's mother did ask me a question, I realized that I should have said, "Ask me, and I'll gladly ask someone else for you." Her question regarded piano practice rooms. Although Wisconsin Conservatory and host families provide pianos, the conservatory closes around 7:30 - much earlier than is convenient for contestants staying in hotel rooms. Fortunately, PianoArts is an integrated organization in Milwaukee. The Steinway Gallery's owner, Barbara Wanless, will keep the Wauwatosa store available after hours during the competition for practicing.
Perhaps having one central practice location would be more convenient. But PianoArts' involvement around the city is unique. There are events at a musical center (Wisconsin Conservatory Thursday through Sunday), at an Art Gallery (Charles Allis on Monday), and at a college concert hall with nationally praised acoustics (Schwann Hall at Wisconsin Lutheran College on Tuesday). This publicizes and promotes the arts in two ways: First, it brings top-notch classical piano music to a variety of settings. Secondly, it opens up the contestants to those settings and allows them to see different sides of the city. For many competitions, one may come to a city and never see anything besides the one building where it takes place.
Likewise, Thursday's reception integrated local flavor and offered competitors and their families a chance to see more of Milwaukee. Among the refreshments generously provided by Marguerite Alpers, punch, elegant shrimp wraps and tasty asian dishes were countered by Wisconsin turkey-brats, Usinger's sausage and cheese, and Sprecher Sodas. "Very Wisconsin," contestant Amy Lauters said with a smile.
Following the reception, those of us who weren't too exhausted from long travels and 4AM alarm clocks accepted complimentary tickets to see "Classical Connections" with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at Uihlein Hall. The program featured pleasant Strauss and Mozart music, humourous and informative speeches by Andreas Delfs and Frank Almond, and an astounding performance by guest Gil Shaham of the second and third movements from Brahms' violin concerto.
From there, everyone headed to bed for sleep, or back to the piano.