The Winners of the Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition – Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, May 1, 2012

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May 13, 2012 by Admin

As the music world continues to move in new and different directions, some exciting and truly forward looking, some rather foolish and too much of-the-moment, I find myself comforted by the existence and constancy of the Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition. Despite the near contact state of flux planet Earth now finds itself in, Ibla has maintained a high level of performance and faithfulness to the classic and timeless ideals of music.

Held each year in early Summer in the magnificent, timeless quarters of the beautiful Sicilian Baroque city of Ragusa-Ibla, this competition is an international showcase for musical talent of the highest order – and this year’s New York concert, presented on May 1 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, was another opportunity for that feeling of comfort.

The competition’s founder, Dr. Salvatore Moltisanti, himself one of the world’s great pianists, has created a place open to any and all forms of music and musical expression. Over the years, this has included hundreds of pianists and instrumental performers of standard and contemporary repertoire, singers of every description, several types of jazz ensembles, improvisational composers, a cimbalom virtuoso, accordion duos, a saxophone quartet, marimbists, a creator of electronic music, an Armenian folk singer, a virtuoso whistler of opera arias and many others from inside and outside the musical mainstream. He does this in an atmosphere of international respect, where the competition is not really against other musicians, but against the highest possible professional standard.

This year’s Carnegie concert opened with Polish pianist composer Maciej Granat performing his own work. His music is dynamic and nuanced, with a wonderful sense of how to use rests and silence to enhance the notes and phrases he plays. Lovely contrasts. His music features a very nice use of arpeggio and his playing shows a good sense of touch and articulation on the keyboard. His composition displays an obvious lineage from the classical, but also features very interesting and effective new ideas, informed by several other styles of music. There is real intelligence in his composing and playing.

Next up was Ibla 2011 Bartok Prize Winner, violinist Mina Shiraishi and pianist Martin Karlicek, she from Japan, he from the Czech Republic. They presented very spirited Bartok Romanian Dances. Shiraishi is a good fiddler and Karlicek is a nicely nuanced accompanist. She displays very fine intonation and has a big, secure sound, produced without strain, employing lovely harmonics that have an almost ghostly sound – very helpful in this music. The pianist has a fine sense of touch, and was exceptional in the 3rd dance.

Then came Serbian cellist Ana Topolovic performing the music of Peteris Vasks. This featured many of the composers signature sounds and special effects. These are often both haunted and haunting, and Ms. Topolovic performed them exceptionally, including a passage of vocal harmonies from the soloist. This was a brief, but beautiful selection.

Following this was the Mongolian pianist Chimed-Ochir Yesunkhand. She is a charming young lady (and winner of the Ibla 2011 Kabalevsky Prize) and is a sensitive, well-schooled young player from an impressive group of Mongolians who came to Ibla in 2011. This was efficient, expressive playing, without histrionics. Her Kabalevsky was a good repertoire choice – right for her age and considerable ability. She showed a fine sense of forward motion and a mature understanding of this music for a 13 year-old. I believe she has a bright future.

This was followed by Spanish soprano Paloma Chiner performing Puccini. Her lovely voice perhaps needs a bit more shading and nuance at times, but she showed good vocal support, a nice ease of production, a good understanding of the music and a charming stage presence. Fine accompaniment by pianist Martin Karlicek.

10 year-old pianist Brielle Perez then presented a Chopin Ballade. She’s got the notes, but an incomplete understanding of the music. This will grow as she does. She has a solid start – with some occasional fireworks – and more than enough evidence that we can expect a future of fine music making.

15 year-old Spanish violinist Laia Montserrat has a somewhat small sound, occasional adventures in intonation and is almost too cautious in her playing of Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy. Again, this will grow with her. There are certainly more than enough good elements in her playing to build on. Again, fine accompaniment by pianist Martin Karlicek.

Next was American pianist and composer Haley Kallenberg performing her own music, which is quite jazzy, with very cool, nicely original musicality. She seems to really enjoy playing and this gives the audience permission to enjoy her performance. Not all performers do this, so it was lovely to see. She really has something to say, with a strong sound and feel for the keyboard. I especially like her sense of harmony and development of her ideas. Fine work that was nicely received by the audience.

Then came the extraordinary Polish violinist Magdalena Langman. A small lady with big musicianship, she dove right in with both feet, with a strong sound, sure technique and playing that was accurate, precise and articulate. Her Wieniawski had lots of notes, all of them used to very good effect.

Next up was English basso Jonathan Story, an older performer who presented Old Man River, complete with the original (and politically incorrect) introductory lyrics. He has a booming voice that comes from deep within and throws himself wholeheartedly into his performances. He’s singing because he loves it and that comes across quite clearly to his audience. Very odd, almost lounge-style accompaniment.

American pianist-composer David Cieri followed with his own work, accompanied by bass and cello. He is an improvising cat in a hat, with strings behind him. The performance was mostly good, with lots of nice moments and effects, but sometimes became a little too loose and free. Very nice strumming textures from the cello and energetic bass as well. Players sometimes get lost in this kind of improv and rattle on a bit too long, but David pulled things back from the brink and finished strong. Interestingly, this was the best, loudest audience reaction of the evening.

Dana Zemtsov of The Netherlands was next with yet more string hijinks, this time a Carmen Fantasy arranged for viola. What a big sound she has – and generally good technique. There were a few performance issues evident, especially relating to articulation in the closing pages, but her stage presence, many fine qualities and obvious love of sharing her music made everything fine. I’m not sure this material “sounds” well on viola, so I would be interested to hear her in other repertoire.

This was followed by Dutch pianists Lestari Scholtes and Gwylim Janssens performing Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. This was one of the highlights of the evening, with amazing playing of this great music. Superb teamwork – two as one – with excellent, turn-on-a-dime transitions between episodes. They have a bright, colorful, sonorous sound that is clean, well articulated and wonderfully musical.

Finally, to end things, the superb French violinist Boris Borgolotto, with even more Carmen. This was, however, the best of the bunch. He sometimes worked too hard to fill the hall, which he doesn’t need to do. He is an exceptional player with big sound, large technique and beautiful control of harmonics. He showed excellent attention to detail, especially in the race to the finish of the last few pages. A few notes went astray, but that’s bound to happen in kind of showpiece. He was quite fine, and was rewarded with a big audience reaction.

Once more, Dr. Moltisanti and The Ibla Grand Prize organization can take much pride in its accomplishment from the 2011 competition and its winners. This was, as always, a showcase where the gifts of superb musicians from around the globe are brought Carnegie Hall for New Yorkers to see and enjoy.

Was I still comforted at the end of the performance? Given the talent on display that evening, emphatically yes!

Jeffrey James, Editor, International Composer

May 13, 2012

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