Leeds Piano Competition 2015: concerto final

Pianist Anna Tcybuleva scoops first prize, as Lucy Parham reports

Leeds Piano Competition 2015: concerto final
Sarah Walker and Lucy Parham

Being a BBC Radio 3 commentator for the Leeds International Piano Competition is a real luxury. As we joined Radio 3 presenter Sarah Walker, Peter Donohoe and I had none of the pressure of being on the jury and yet all the pleasure of being able to listen to the finalists, while hopefully making some informed commentary for the radio. And glancing through the list of previous finalists at this prestigious competition, it is quite clear that the winner does not always take all! Previous non-first prizewinners include András Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida, Dmitri Alexeev, Peter Donohoe and Lars Vogt, to name but a few.

Having listened to all the semi-finalists I felt I had an idea about how people might play in the Final, but in many ways this could not have been further from the truth. And that made it all the more exciting.

The Concerto Final presents another challenge entirely. To enter a competition of the stature of Leeds is often a real endurance test; after three hours of solo piano playing you then need to pull a 'concerto rabbit' out of the hat. And of course the level of concerto experience varies greatly between competitors. On Friday Tomoki Kitamura was first on to the stage with the Hallé Orchestra and conductor Sir Mark Elder. He presented a personal and lyrical reading of the Schumann Piano Concerto, a piece with which he clearly identified. This concerto is always risky choice for a competition as it is such a connoisseur’s piece. The Finale was possibly little rushed but this pianist is a sensitive and highly artistic musician from whom I look forward to hearing a lot more in the future.

Heejae Kim's thoughtful and stylish rendition of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 was clearly an audience favourite. She particularly shone in the second and third movements and will definitely be a name to watch. She also made a real impression with the orchestra as they awarded her the Terrence Judd prize, which entitles her to several more dates with the Hallé. The last competitor on Friday evening was Yun Wei. She played Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, which is so often a sure-fire winner in competition finals. There were moments of beauty and expansive playing but sadly this was not her night as were just too many moments of insecurity.

Drew Petersen set the ball rolling on Saturday evening with a sparkling account of Rachmaninov's First Piano Concerto - a regrettably neglected work in competitions. Drew is a fearless player with a dazzling command of the keyboard and he seemed totally unfazed by the challenges of this piece. A certain sense of detachment prevailed at times but the audience loved him and it was especially rewarding to hear this work performed. Vitaly Pisarenko was the penultimate competitor and he presented a highly accomplished and polished performance of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. Pisarenko is another formidable technician, an impressive pianist with a huge sound, but he didn't always communicate with the orchestra too well, which I sense may have cost him a higher placing. Finally, Anna Tcybuleva stepped onto the stage and changed the mood completely with her performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2. It was a risky choice, but it paid off. Her mature, elegant and communicative reading of this hugely demanding work deservedly won her the First Prize.

The founder of the competition, Dame Fanny Waterman (now 95), retires this year and the prize-giving ceremony rightly focused on her extraordinary achievements and dedication. As the competition is taken over by Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse there will surely be changes afoot for 2018, but her legacy is surely a formidable one.

Lucy Parham


1. Anna Tcybuleva

2. Heejae Kim

3. Vitaly Pisarenko

4. Drew Petersen

5. Tomoki Kitamura

6. Yun Wei

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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