‘The Sydney’ Semi-Final Highlights

For their semi-final rounds each participant was expected to present a 50-minute programme of their own choice. The only stipulation is that they must present a themed selection rather than just a random list of showpieces. Most participants did very well and some for instance Artem from Ukraine chose an extremely unusual programme. The extra challenge however was for them to introduce their theme in their own words but of course in the English language as they perform the program live to the cameras. This may not seem as a particularly difficult task but to many of the semi-finalists, English is not their first language. One or two of them almost disqualified themselves by their gauche presentation. One even used a script to read from, not a bad solution.

Session 17 | Alexander Gadjiev from Italy/Slovenia

This young man spoke very confidently about his choice of 20th century Russian composers who have been strongly influenced by European music. If his preliminary round he acquitted himself very well playing Haydn and Chopin. Here he made a fine case for three 20th century Russian masters. Starting his programme with The Prelude and Fugue in E minor by Dmitri Shostakovich from his book of 24 inspired by Bach’s 48. This was followed by a selection from Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives. Strongly influenced by the Debussy these character pieces are none the less typically Russian. Two piano pieces opus 88 by the lesser-known Russian composer Tcherepnin were followed by a masterpiece of Russian piano literature. This last, the sonata number 7 in B flat major by Prokofiev is a towering work. Young Alexander was equal to every demand and matched it with virtuosity refinement and extreme lucidity in an imaginative and complete performance. Alexander Gadjiev has got to be a laureate of this competition. We can look forward to hearing him in the final round playing Chopin’s second Sonata and the Liszt arrangement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony.

Session 18 | Shion Ota from Japan

This 21-year-old girl is a confident performer but not yet verbally competent. The theme of her programme is Theme and variations by very well-known composers. She started off with a magisterial Bach/Busoni D-minor Chaconne. The second piece was Rachmaninov’s Variations on a theme by Corelli and she ended her cogent recital with Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole. Technically reliable and with sensitive musicianship she made it to the finals but did not have the flair of a concert performer yet.

Session 18 | Ádám Balogh from Hungary

Here is a thinking man’s pianist. Speaking eloquently about his chosen theme of music as a language that is still alive and well especially in folk and world music traditions. He chose to combine the music of Bartok and Chopin who were both heavily dependent on local flavour in their compositions by Hungarian and Polish folk music respectively. An extraordinarily thoughtful man who got under the skin of both composers and projected their music with great individuality and flair. Whatever the results of this competition this young Hungarian has a very promising career.

Session 19 | Calvin Abdiel from Australia/Indonesia

The only semi-finalist from Australia was Calvin Abdiel. The theme which Calvin has chosen for his recital in the semi-final round is the keyboard music of the Spanish masters spanning four centuries. He opens with two pieces from Granados’ Goyescas. The Spanish composer Enrique Granados was strongly inspired by the colourful and nationalist painter Goya. He wrote two books of piano pieces which have remained the cornerstones of late romantic piano music repertoire. Himself a virtuoso pianist these pieces are often ideal to show off a pianist’s skills. Calvin then played 2 Scarlatti sonatas with extreme relish and virtuosity. Although born and raised in Italy Scarlatti made his home in Spain. Calvin finished his recital with two pieces from Albeniz’ Iberia suite. Ending his recital with Falla’s Fantasia baetica he brought to a rousing end his spotlight on Spain.

Session 21 | Artem Yasynskyy from Ukraine

This 33-year-old is very gifted. He chose to prepare a programme of entirely. It shows that if you are daring enough to pull off convincingly something completely off the beaten track it may well work in your favour. It remains to be seen what happens in the finals. It is my judgement that he will not be victorious. His programme started with the early opus 5 “Holiday diary” by Benjamin Britten. He followed this with a Prelude and Fugue by Ukrainian composer Miroslav Skoryk. Jehan Alain a French organist who died very young and pieces by Josef Hofmann ended the recital.

Session 22 | Alice Burla from Canada

This young girl from Toronto is an outright winner. We will be watching her very closely in the final round. She has shown a consistently high standard of performance regardless of repertoire. She played a big work by Bach to open her recital: the Overture in French style. Next was a selection of Préludes from both books by Claude Debussy. Ending her recital on a jubilant and joyous note she played Messiaen from his monumental Vingt regards. Her programme for the finals is mouth-watering. We will hear Faure, so far not programmed in the competition, Barber’ Sonata, a work by CPE Bach and as the centrepiece Schumann’s sonata in F minor (Concerto sans Orchestre).

The 6 Finalists of the Sydney International Online Piano Competition