Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 1: Orientation and Chamber Music

One day about 16 years ago, Stefanie Jacob casually wondered out loud to Sue Medford as they left an excellent performance by a young pianist, "Why doesn't Milwaukee have a professional-level competition for young pianists?" Sue replied seriously, "Why don't we start one?" Since then, PianoArts has evolved into one of the highest-level competitions for pianists, ages 15-20, in the world. Not only do the monumental expectations of repertoire and the level of excellence give this competition distinction; it is the professional guidance during and the festival that lasts long after the competition is over. At the welcome yesterday, Sue pointed out that PianoArts has 12 Semifinalists that are working with 16 professional artists, besides the numerous volunteers and host-families. The emphasis of PianoArts is to build complete, musical artists. As she said, the expectations are so high because "the concerto is a 3-movement art form," and because collaboration is something a pianist will do throughout his or her life, and because speaking knowledgeably about music to diverse audiences is necessary in the 21st century in order to maintain an audience. And this well-rounded sense of preparation goes further. Dancer and instructor Jane Pink will be working with each contestant about how to physically present themselves professionally and with ease on stage, not just at the piano. Wisconsin Conservatory's resident Prometheus Trio then offered some pointers on how to deal with other musicians. Pianist Stefanie Jacob and her husband, cellist Scott Tisdel, performed two movements of a Bach Sonata, then proceeded to discuss trill execution, balance, cues, and adjusting to tempo. Finally, the Prometheus Trio treated the audience with a movement of Shostakovic's first Trio, Op. 8 and the first movement of Mendelssohn D minor, Op. 49. Shockingly, Shostakovic composed his trio when only 17 years old. As Ms. Jacob put it, "It's much better than one would expect from a 17 year old." Yet, what could be more fitting at this competition than a work which is exceedingly more advanced than one would expect? She went on to demonstrate the main themes, built around ominous half-step movement, which builds to multiple exciting climaxes. It seemed to take into the Development section for the players to lock into each other's energy, which stood out especially in the Coda. As Jacob said afterward, the trio would usually end a concer with a big finish such as that one. But they were only warming up for the Mendelssohn trio - AKA "concerto with tiny orchestra." I even heard other orchestral instruments this time that I had never heard before, such as the trumpet (or maybe it was that cell phone back a few rows). They began intimately, with gravity. Throughout, the trio was well attuned to each member, maintaining a well-balanced sound and joining together for a compelling finish.

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