Thursday, October 11, 2018

Listening Like the Pros

Michael Wu, Xiaoping Wang, Jr., and Chair of the Junior Jury, Andrew Cannestra

Reflections from the 2018 Junior Jury

Listening Takes Practice 

You might say that listening is the real job of a musician. The 2018 Junior Jury agrees. When Michael Wu (Left), Xiaoping Wang, Jr., and Andrew Cannestra returned to their piano studies this fall, they had ”like-new” ears. The previous June, they had listened intently for over 10 hours to pianists playing at the highest level. Their mission was to choose only one pianist for a prize. The pay-off was also for them. They are convinced that their higher level listening skills are making differences in their own performances.

How the 2018 Junior Jury Was Selected 

The 2018 Preliminary Jury (Jean Barr, Jacob Ertl, and Jeannie Yu) recommended the individuals for the jury. After listening to recordings by the applicants and ranking the performances at the top, the preliminary jury read about the applicants' experiences. Throughout this process, the three applicants were anonymous. Names were revealed only after the preliminary jury had made their decision.

From Individual Contributions to Teamwork

In June, the Junior Jury gathered for the first time. Each brought knowledge to their panel. They had performed and studied much of the repertory that the semifinalists were to play. Musical scores were available, and, from time to time, they consulted with their senior adviser, Shanti Daya.

Impartiality was key to the process. Andrew, Michael, and Xiaoping did not speak about the contestants until they had heard each perform. Talking to the Master Jury and the contestants was also out of bounds until the competition had ended. Finally, they had to agree. They chose Muzi Zhao.

Muzi Zhao, Junior Jury Prize Winner

Drawn to study piano at the early age of four, Muzi Zhao was eight when he was accepted into the Junior Music Program of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Currently, he is junior at Northwestern University, where he is pursuing a dual degree program of journalism and piano performance under the tutelage of James Giles. His programs for the 2018 PianoArts competition illuminated the connections of ancient and modern compositions that included Variations on a Theme by Corelli by Rachmaninoff.   Click Here to Listen to a Performance by Muzi on YouTube

Take-away from the Members of the Junior Jury

Andrew James Cannestra, Junior Jury Chair

More than anything else, what I took away from my experience serving on the PianoArts junior jury was understanding how to approach listening critically to music, not only with the contestants, but also applying some of the same concepts to my own practice and performance. After the first few contestants on the first day of the semifinal round, what exactly to listen for came more and more naturally, as paying attention to every single musical detail and comparing them to one another got harder and harder the more music I heard. But, at the same time, in deliberating with the other junior jurors, we couldn't just say "I thought this performance was the most compelling" and not have any specifics to support it. Striking this balance between listening for details, while also weighing overall impressions, helped to hone my ears to know what to pay attention for. In the weeks since I've been applying this same kind of critical listening to my own practicing. 
Other facets contributed significantly to the experience, most notably my master class with Peter Tak√°cs, one of the judges on the main jury... Overall, this experience was not only beneficial intellectually in furthering my musicianship, but also spiritually renewing in gaining a newfound inspiration for pursuing music at a high level.
I really felt like PianoArts is about more than just being a competition with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners, but a platform to showcase young artists like all of the semifinalists, and the inclusion of a junior jury offers another opportunity to take advantage of the experience. For this opportunity I, as well as the others on the junior jury, am very grateful.

Michael Wu

Being a member of the junior jury was such an enriching experience for me. Apart from listening to so much great music by such talented pianists, I was able to make new friends, participate in a master class with the legendary Ann Schein, and get a true taste for what it's like to judge a very prestigious competition (such as PianoArts). Seeing so much talent in one place has since convinced me to work even harder in my pursuit of artistry, and the inside experience I gained by evaluating others' performances has greatly changed my approach in preparing for competitions and performances alike.

Xiaoping Wang, Jr. 

What I really liked about being a Junior Jury member was the commitment to attention that I had in listening to all of the spectacular finalists do their magic at the piano. It was definitely not the same as sitting back and listening to a typical recital. Listening carefully for over ten hours for two days was not exactly an easy task. But don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved the whole experience. Every single finalist had something to say at the piano, and paying close attention to every single detail really made me have a deeper understanding of the meaning of the music performed. Being a Junior Jury member, I was also offered to play in a master class and in recital following that. I had a master class with Ann Schein, and it was wonderful… 
I thoroughly enjoyed working and judging with my colleagues, Michael and Andrew…As for the Junior Jury award, we had to think for a bit, due to the fact that the level was high throughout and it was difficult for us to settle on one contestant, but in the end, we were satisfied with our choice. 
One very important thing that I learned from being a Junior Jury member is the importance of listening with intent, whether it's listening to someone else's performance or your own playing. That, I think, is the key to being able to make music at the highest level. Without careful listening, we would all just be playing notes, not the music. That being said, I will continue to listen with intent, regardless of whether I'm judging or not. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016



Pianist Aristo Sham, age 20, a native of Hong Kong and student preparing for joint degrees at Harvard University and at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he studies with Victor Rosenbaum, was named the first place prize winner of $12,000 in the PianoArts 2016 Biennial North American Piano Competition on June 8, 2016. During the competition’s final round, Mr. Sham performed Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G major with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under the baton of PianoArts Music Director Andrews Sill. He also won the Audience Communication Award of $500 and the Best Performance of a Composition by Johann Sebastian Bach of $2,000. To be considered for these prizes, Mr. Sham performed two 45-minute recitals– a solo recital followed by an ensemble recital that included a duo with Scott Tisdel, Associate Principal Cellist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

During his elementary and secondary school years, Artisto Sham attended Harrow School in the United Kingdom. While there, he had the opportunity to perform, on several occasions, for the Royal family and was featured in the documentary, The World’s Greatest Musical Prodigies, broadcast in the UK on Channel 4. He has won several international competitions and has performed in the United Kingdom, China, Portugal, Argentina, Slovenia, Morocco, and throughout the United States.


The second place prize of $6,000 was awarded to Angie Zhang, age 20, from Princeton, New Jersey. Ms. Zhang studies with Professor Yoheved Kaplinsky at The Juilliard School. She also won the prize for the Best Performance of a Violin or Cello Duo of $500.


The third place prize of $4,000 went to John Schindler, age 17, from Hartland, Wisconsin, a student of Alan Chow at the Music Institute of Chicago. He also won the Wisconsin Contestant Award of $750 and another prize for the Best Performance of a Violin or Cello Duo of $500.

Semifinalist Linda Ruan, age 18, a native of Surrey, British Columbia, and student of James Anagnoson at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto, won $500 for the Best Performance of an America Work, and the Junior Jury Prize of $300.

Evelyn Mo, age 17, from Oak Hill, Virginia, a student with John O’Conor, was awarded a scholarship, valued at $1,500, to attend the 2017 International Keyboard Institute and Festival in New York City. Recipients of music from Hal Leonard Company were presented to Evelyn Mo, Linda Ruan, and Seho Young, age 18, a student of Francine Kay at Princeton University, from Dedham, Massachusetts.

Each semifinalist also was awarded $1,000 as a Listener’s Appreciation Gift. Semifinalists were JeongMin Kim, age 18, a student of Yoheved Kaplinsky at The Juilliard School from Corona, New York; Yuan Liu, age 19, a student with John Owings at Texas Christian University, from Taiyuan City, China; Evelyn Mo from Oak Hill, Virginia; Linda Ruan from Surrey, British Columbia; Harvey Zhi Yiang Wu, age 20, a student at Columbia University who studies piano with Martin Canin at The Juilliard School, from Beijing, China; and Seho Young from Dedham, Massachusetts.

Monday, June 6, 2016

What Sets the PianoArts North American Competition Apart from the Rest?

PianoArts is known as a "competition with a difference." Founder Sue Medford shares in the program booklet:

From the beginning, we built into the competition a strong collaborative program with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra musicians. Another unique initiative was the requirement that competitors speak about their music, deepening the musical experience and, ultimately, building audiences for classical music. 

The "behind-the-scenes" learning experiences brought PianoArts its international recognition.

Catherine Kautsky coaches semifinalists on speaking about music.

Gretta Assaly coaches the semifinalists on mental preparation for a performance.

Jill Zager coaches the semifinalists on preparing to perform for an audience.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Pallavi Mahidhara Sets the Stage for the 2016 Competition

Friday night was a beautiful night in Milwaukee. As the sun began to set and the gentle breeze from the lake caressed the historic Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, Sue Medford, PianoArts Founder, welcomed Ms. Mahidhara to the stage in the breathtaking Helen Bader Recital Hall.

Sue Medford challenged the audience "when you leave, you will feel like music changed your life." As she continued, she shared that she has known Ms. Mahidhara since she was 10 years old and that "through music, you make connections for the rest of your life." She also introduced the three members of the jury:

Ms. Mahidhara, splendidly dressed in a beautiful gown made from her mother's sari, began the recital with Chaconne in D minor from Violin Partita No. 2. Playing only with her left hand, she embodied the music. She continued with Maurice Ravel's "Night Moths", "Sad Birds", "A Boat on the Ocean", "Morning Song of the Jester" and "The Valley of the Bells". The deep connection with the music was displayed in the emotion and intensity in which she played. Her fingers danced and fluttered over the keys just as the moths flutter in the night sky.

Ms. Mahidhara finished the evening with Grandes Etudes de Paganini, S. 141, which are a series of six etudes for the piano by composer Franz Liszt. I watched as the 2016 semifinalists were captivated by her astounding technique as her dazzling performance and artistic versatility set the stage for the 2016 competition!