The 22nd annual New Orleans International Piano Competition, held by the Musical Arts Society of New Orleans, may not be quite as old as Jazzfest, or quite as wired as Voodoo Fest, but its fans are equally fervent. They gather to hear eight days of concerts, played by some of the most brilliant young pianists in the world today.
Just ask Elissa Bluth. She’s a grandmother five times over, but readily admits that she’s also a music groupie.
When her favorite festival gets under way on Sunday, she and her fellow music devotees will be sitting near the stage in Roussel Hall at Loyola University, “biting our nails, talking about our favorite players. It’s just fun to be there, to feel the energy and excitement. And the music is gorgeous, gorgeous.”
For anyone who loves a Chopin etude or Beethoven sonata, it’s a phenomenal experience. “The opening concert is amazing,” Bluth says. “And it really gets packed by the end of the week.”
Sunday’s 4 p.m. opener features concert pianist Andrey Ponochevny, a bronze medal winner of the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, a veteran of Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and past featured soloist with symphonies across the globe.
On Monday through Friday, the accompanying New Orleans Keyboard Festival offers master classes and lectures during the day. Piano competition concerts follow each evening at 7 p.m.
The professional atmosphere makes for a great backdrop to The Piano Institute, a solo performance program for talented junior-high, high-school and college piano students that takes place concurrently with the competition. Coursework includes private lessons, lectures and even auditions for an opportunity to perform with the New Orleans Civic Symphony.
It’s a great opportunity, points out MASNO executive and artistic director Daneil Weilbaecher, for piano students to not only work with renowned teachers, but also to hear performances by some of the top players in the world.
That should particularly resonate with students this year, as the Piano Competition will spotlight young artists, with the 12 semifinalists all between 14 and 18 years of age. They are: Joey Chang, USA; Anna Han, USA; Kimberly Hou, USA; Seika Ishida, Japan; Dong-Yeon Kim, Korea; Hugo Kitano, USA; Peng Lin, China; Yifan Sun, China; Yutong Sun, China; Trenton Takaki, USA; Min Joo Yi, Korea; and Angie Zhang, USA.
Each semifinalist performs during two competition rounds, with order determined by lot. Friday evening, three finalists will be announced. A showcase recital takes place next Saturday afternoon, followed by the competition finals on Sunday.
The stakes are high: Winner takes home $5,000 in cash and performance fees; second place garners $4,000 and third place, $3,000.
All that expertise comes at a great price for classical music enthusiasts: Tickets to the opening concert (Sunday at 4 p.m. at Roussel Hall, Loyola University) and each of the first two competition rounds (7 p.m. each evening Monday through Friday) are $20, or $15 for students and seniors. The showcase recital at 2 p.m. July 30 is free, while the final competition concert at 2 p.m. July 31 costs $30, or $25 for seniors and students. All event pass is $125.
For more information on schedules and tickets, click here.
For a video about the piano competition and institute, click here.