NTD International Piano Competition: A Lifeline After the Chaos

March 19, 2021 Updated: March 25, 2021

The jurists of the New Tang Dynasty International Piano Competition are classical musicians as well. They are pianists and teachers, and when the pandemic last year brought the world to a halt, they were keenly aware of how classical musicians were affected worldwide.

“Under this abnormal situation, the world has been chaotic. There has been suffering, and everyone is isolated, but traditional classical music can play the role of soothing and comforting the soul,” said Becky Yao, head judge and music department professor at Fei Tian College. “Great music is capable of elevating people, giving people peace, giving people courage, and giving people hope.”

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Professor Becky Yao is a jury member of the 2019 NTD International Piano Competition. (NTD Television)

“The NTD International Piano Competition was originally developed to promote and revive Western classical music, but in this special period it’s come to play a different role,” Yao said. In our post-pandemic world, people have been reflecting on many things, changing their lifestyles, and seeking guidance as they plan for the future. Great music can aid in our reflection during these times, she explained.

“It will allow people to reflect on the true meaning of life, and regain hope in life so that that they have the courage,” she said. “We can find a way out of this confusion.”

And this competition, scheduled for October 2021 in New York, affirms the importance of classical music. Applications recently opened and the deadline for applying is Sept. 23. Information can be found on www. competitions.ntdtv.com/piano

“We’re all friends in the music industry, and classical musicians can at this time support and encourage each other,” she said. “This competition represents that overcoming of difficulty.”

Divine Inspiration

The competition puts the spotlight on music from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras. Save for a work commissioned especially for the competition, which the pianists will play by heart in the semifinals, the competition repertoire is entirely music written between 1600 and 1900.

“The music of these three periods is the most representative of the most orthodox and traditional of the art of piano music; it has been tempered by and withstood the test of history and passed down to this day,” Yao said. “This is music that will last forever.”

These are masterworks that are an example of divine inspiration. Yao notes that early music was largely for the purpose of expressing respect and praise for the gods, and over time it developed into the structured and complex form we know as classical music.

Music theory, melody, harmonic structure, counterpoint, dynamics, and rhythm formalized during this time, she further explained, and even the development of musical instruments came to a head, setting a standard for the kind of ensembles and academies that still endures. Then there is a whole set of performance skills and training and musical analysis—all of this together has been left to us as a gift from the divine, Yao said.

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(Illustration – Shutterstock)

Yao recommends that young musicians acknowledge the gift the divine has given us.

“Use this universal music to express your devotion to the most beautiful and purest gift given to us by God,” Yao said. As for herself, she listens, and “thanks God for His tolerance and redemption.”

“The most important thing is that we must have kind thoughts in our hearts and be grateful to God, then we have the opportunity to welcome a hopeful tomorrow. In this respect, holding the competition this year is especially meaningful,” Yao said.

The purpose of the competition is to uphold those musical traditions that have withstood the test of time.

“We hope to return to this tradition, and foster this talent,” she said.

Purity of Performance

Every artist is concerned with more than just their technique.

Part of what the judges will be looking for in the pianists is purity of performance, which will really be put to the test when semifinalists have to perform the commissioned piece.

Like the rest of the repertoire, it follows tradition. But it will be a unique challenge because it is based on a Chinese piece.

Jurist Susan Liu is arranging a Chinese vocal piece by Shen Yun Performing Arts Artistic Director D.F. for the piano. Divinely inspired ancient Chinese melodies will be expressed through Western classical music forms with the power and precision of the piano.

“It is also one of the most notable features of our competition,” Yao said. This will be the third year the competition has commissioned a special piece.

“It is the use of the Western piano to condense the harmonies, pentatonic scales, and traditional Chinese culture with Western classical music,” Yao said. “There are deep connotations in the Chinese melody that a pianist can fully demonstrate. The music is beautiful and magnificent and the perfect combination of Chinese and Western music.”

Many pianists are new to Chinese music, and the judges typically advise them to watch a performance of Shen Yun, and experience how the company’s unique orchestra blends East and West with Chinese instruments that sit in the pit with the classical Western orchestra, and how the Western instruments pick up Chinese melodies.

It’s a musical treasure to be cherished, and worthy of careful consideration, Yao said. If a pianist can play in a way that reflects his or her pure spirit, “the soul feels joy, and it feels that it has reached that very pure and selfless state,” she said.

“The piano performance requirements are very high. The whole person must be involved in the performance, and the person and piano are integrated. Therefor, the piano must be played to the most perfect, best sounding, and highest level. The performers themselves must have that moral state, a peaceful state of mind,” she said. “Only with that pure heart, that awe and heart to glorify God, is the music one plays the best. That kind of melody can penetrate people’s hearts and stay for a long, long time, moving the listener and inspiring the listener.”