Spectacular Chops Showcased at a Preview of This Year’s American Pianists Awards
“There are more piano competitions than there are pianists,” a snarky singer in the crowd observed at last night’s performance at Steinway Hall by five finalists in this year’s American Pianists Awards. But this contest champions artists worth following: Aaron Diehl is probably the most prominent of recent winners. Was there a champion among Steven Lin, Sam Hong, Drew Petersen, Henry Kramer and Alex Beyer?
Considering how vastly different each’s choice of repertoire was, any kind of verdict would be subjective to the extreme. In terms of fluid, nuanced and often strenuous command of the kind of keyboard acrobatics required for the showstopping dramatics of La Legierezza from Liszt’s Three Concert Etudes, Petersen was flawless. For that matter, so was Kramer, whose bravely quirky choice of a relatively less demanding trio of Ligeti miniatures from the Musica Ricercara was a platform for a triumph over cruelly brain-warping lefthand-versus-righthand polyrhythms and cramp-inducing circular motives.
The way Lin artfully let the few lingering phrases of Bach’s Echo from the Overture in the French Style, BWV 831 – a harpsichord piece – resonate to a minute but vivid degree was particularly striking, and intuitive. Hong’s confident, vigorous virtuosity shone through two Schumann Fantasiestucke selections. And perhaps partly because of his choice of his material – here is where things get very subjective – Beyer channeled soul, and gravitas, and historically-informed programmatic savvy in addition to formidable technique through Rachmaninoff’s arrangement of the scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The pianist made it easy for a listener to take it in with eyes closed, to imagine a young Rachmaninoff having every bit as much fun as he was, finding counterpoint and fugal roots in a piece that drew both a straight line back to Bach as well as the ironic dichotomies that would take root in the Russian composer’s own music.
May the best man win when, after a rigorous program of solo, chamber and symphonic performances, a new champion is chosen in the spring of 2017 in Indianapolis.