Leeds Piano Competition 2015: the semi-finals

Pianist Lucy Parham picks some of the highlights from the competition so far

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Leeds Piano Competition 2015: the semi-finals
Sarah Walker, Peter Donohoe and Lucy Parham
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One of the pleasures of being an older musician is that you no longer have to enter competitions. Gone are the days when you need to impress a jury in order to try to further your career. Not that I am against competitions at all – quite the contrary – but the stress of this kind of 'competition pressure' is not suited to everyone.

But for the finalists – and in particular the winner – the Leeds International Piano Competition can be a life-changer and when I received a call from BBC Radio 3 inviting me to be a commentator at this year's competition, I was delighted to accept. What could be better than having a great vantage point in the audience and listening to 12 hugely talented semi-finalists followed by the concerto finals? So this week Peter Donohoe and I sat in the audience for all the 70-minute recitals and then chatted to Sarah Walker on air about what we heard. 

Highlights of repertoire, which ranged from Scarlatti to Carter, included a mighty account of Brahms's Sonata No. 3 from Alexander Panfilov, pure poetry from Yunqing Zhou in Liszt and Rachmaninov and then some spellbinding Debussy from Anna Tcybuleva.

We encountered extraordinary maturity and self-possession from 17-year-old Szuyu Su, a young woman from whom we will surely hear more in the future. Then we experienced a tour de force of memory and pianism in the Elliott Carter Sonata from Drew Petersen, followed by some truly mesmerising playing of Bartók and Brahms from Tomoki Kitamura.

The Britten Notturno – originally composed for the competition in 1963 and used as the required piece again for the semi-final this year – was a great leveller and I felt few pianists drew the extraordinary levels of pianissimo from the piano as Vitaly Pisarenko did. To have a compulsory work at this stage really gives extra insight for a jury, and the fact that everyone must play on the same piano, unlike many other competitions, I think is a really positive thing. It truly sounded like 12 different instruments.

I have sat on several juries myself and I think there is often a misconception that they work as one organic unit, but of course they are 12 individual people who may all have very different tastes and opinions. No final result will please everybody but I must say (with one exception) that this is the line-up I would have chosen myself.

The concerto finals are promising to be quite a thrilling event this weekend and I will be reporting back with some thoughts on the results early next week. In the meantime, I hope you can tune in to Radio 3 on Sunday and hear all the extraordinary pianistic talent that is on show at Leeds this year.

This week on Lunchtime on 3, Radio 3 is broadcasting performances from the Leeds semi-finals and you can also watch complete performances here. Radio 3 will be broadcasting two programmes from the concerto finals this weekend on Sunday 13 September at 4pm and 8pm. BBC Four will broadcast the finals over three episodes starting from Friday 18 September

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  • Article Type: | Blog |
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