NEW YORK—Hailing from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States, nine contestants moved on to the final round in the Chinese International Piano Competition this Saturday at the Gerald W. Lynch auditorium. In its second year, the competition draws artistic talent from across the global Chinese community.
During the semifinal round on Saturday, 16 contestants played 19th century composer and pianist Felix Mendelssohn's Variations Sérieuses in D minor, Op.54—a technically challenging piece with a total of 17 variations over the course of around 12 minutes. Sometimes the tune is heartfelt and sonorous, other times booming at lightening speeds.
Most of the contestants are relatively young. A few just made the minimum participation age of 16.
Young Finalists Speak
Sixteen-year-old Shih-Ting Huang from Taiwan has practiced the piano since age eight. Don't judge her by her young age and innocent demeanor—this girl has a lot to say. “This piece—it's not deep in feeling like Beethoven—it just seeks to display that thin, thin layer of emotion,” she said. Huang goes on to explain how Bach's influence lives on, how she understands music, and what she believes makes a good musician. “You have to experience more art,” Huang said.
Also 16 years old, Ping-an Lin from Taiwan comes from a musical family, of sorts. Although his father is not a musician by profession, he has been a long-time lover of classical guitar. His passion for music passed down to all three of his children, who have undeniable talent for it. Just this August, Lin's elder brother Richard won the silver award at NTDTV's violin competition.
“My brother is my idol,” says Ping-an. “Ever since we were young, I have watched him play violin so well, and I just wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
They made regular trips to the public library for classical CDs. “Any piece we wanted to learn how to play, 99 percent of the time we were able to find it at the library.” Ping-an said he loves classical music because unlike so much contemporary music, it provides solace. “You never get tired of it, and it's not repetitive like pop songs.”
On Sunday evening before the award winners are announced, all of the finalists will participate in a “Future Star Concert.” They will be asked to play their best contest pieces for each other. Because contestants are under a lot of stress and avoid listening to each other perform during competition, the concert will serve as an intimate environment for them to connect via music.
Ping-an, for one, is just a tad nervous about the concert. “I was chatting backstage with some 20- and 30-year-olds, some of whom are established concertmasters, and I'm completely blown away,” he said. “To think that I will be sharing a stage with them…wow.”
Judges chose the Mendelssohn Variations Sérieuses because each segment requires a different set of skills. By judging semifinalists on this one piece, it's easy for judges to score each contestant. Not only are judges looking for contestants' technical skill, but also his or her connection with the music.
“We're looking to see if they can fully express the solemnity of the piece,” said judge Becky Yao.
One of the variations, a slow four-part harmony, requires that the pianist play each of the different voices in a church choir. Another critical portion of the piece is variation 14, said Yao. “It's a religious piece, so it's got to have that sacred solemnity. We listen for this majestic sound.”
The competition, held by satellite television station New Tang Dynasty TV, is part of a nine-competition series that serves as a platform for Chinese people all over the world to engage in the arts. Already taken place this year are the Chinese classical dance competition, vocal competition, violin competition, Chinese culinary competition, martial arts competition, and Han couture competition. Photography and figure painting are to follow in November.
More information about all of NTDTV's events is available at competitions.ntdtv.com/en