Open Piano Competition 2012 Winners announced!!

The OPC team arrived in Grosvnor Chapel this morning taking over its gem of a hall: powerful spotlights glinting off gilt edged frescos with a black Fazioli 212 gleaming in centre-stage. A fantastic setting.

Piano tuned, microphones positioned and equipment installed and set-up, accoustical engineer John Connolly paused for only a very brief lunch-break in the chapel's bright and airy gallery, before beginning his careful sound checks as the finalists tried out the piano in turn.

Preparations were complete by 4.30pm and by 5, with the jury getting to know one another and the chapel filling up, it was time to start the show. Marco Nannini, OPC director, opened the night with describing in a nut-shell what this competition is about: "we are a piano competition open to pianists of all levels, all ages and all backgrounds. We don't want to restrict amateurs to amateur only competitions, and similarly we don't want professionals to have to play only against professionals, and only up to a certain age. The OPC closes the gap between these two types of pianists, as you will shortly see".

The stunning black machine was first tackled by technically brilliant Antoine Joubert, 32, from Montreal, Canada, playing Janacek's "In the Mist" followed by Beethoven's Pathetique sonata. Antoine was quickly followed by 48 year old, London-based, Graham Rix, keenly kicking off his 35 min recital with his own composition "Prelude & Fugue in E minor" and ending with a delicate rendition of Rorem's Song & Dance. An amateur pianist stuck right between two professionals in a competition is not an easy position to be in, and Graham fared very well in this respect. Polish born Adam Kosmieja, 26 years-old and a concert pianist from the young age of 11, mesmerised the audience with technical brilliance and a range of sounds not yet heard before in his playing, with Ravel's "Gaspard de la nuit".

With the scheduled 15 minute interval becoming just five minutes, to make up for time lost at the start of the evening, the crowds started to gather for what was to become a spectacular second-half. Jury re-seated, audience coughing out of the way, OPC director Marco Nannini introduced the man who designs a race car in the morning and gives a concerto performance in the evening: Dominic Smith. Aeronautics engineer, Dominic currently works for Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team. How he manages to put in time to practice to the level of playing he achieved tonight one can only wonder. "In my opinion he played with the same level of technical expertise as most of the professional pianists, so he is clearly at their level", said Ella Connolly, OPC director. "What is a "professional" pianist then, when one has a full-time profession of a wholly different kind yet is still able to perform Liszt's Chasse-Niege at what is clearly "professional" level?", she asked in wonderment. "It's been a bit of a mad week coming backwards and forwards from work, but I'm really excited to perform my programme", said Dominic before playing. Having been asked if this was the first time he had played against "professional" pianists, he stated "absolutely, yes, this is the fourth competition I have done but the other three have been specifically for amateurs, so this is really exciting. Although this is a competition, it's a really nice, new idea to bring musicians together", commented Dominic.

The penultimate performance of the night was given by 24 year-old Viviana Lasaracina, a finalist and winner of many international piano competitions in Europe and in her native Italy, she currently studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Walking on stage in a stunning red dress, the jury were surely surprised by her very poignant interpretation of Debussy's Images. Having performed Prokofiev's Stalingrad sonata to close her semi-final round recital, Debussy's impressionistic Images saw Viviana produce of a gamut of sounds seemingly from the opposite end of the spectrum, and a command of the piano during the soft sections that went beyond what the jury had heard from her in the first two rounds. "It was a joy to listen to her play so delicately tonight", commented Marco.

Even though she is well used to the competition atmosphere, Viviana admitted to feeling very nervous always before competitions and stated: "I will try to imagine that this is not the final of a competition, but a concert". 

Finally, almost shyly taking to the stage, 64 year-old Latvian-born, Valentin Bogolubov, a Canadian citizen since 1995, delighted the audience with the broadest range of music on offer tonight. The last time Valentin competed in an international piano competition was when he was just 24 years old, some forty years ago. Asked what he thinks of the competition, Valentin stated "I am too mature. I'm nervous. This competition is full of really great players. I think a great job was done."

Commencing with contemporary English composer Graham Lynch's "Sadness of the King", Valentin very delicately launched into the E flat major Impromptu by Schubert, a piece which is full of very rapid descending scales and ascending chromatic passages in the right-hand. Completing the Roccoco-period work with flair, Valentin gave us more romantic playing, with the Schubert-Liszt Waltz Caprice from "Soirees dans Vienne", playing with such a lyrical waltz step that really did send the foot tapping as if breaking out into dance. A step forward into the present day and a journey to the South of Spain; Valentin played yet another Graham Lynch work: the challenging "Night Journey to Cordoba" before launching into what was simply the most stunnning playing of the night with Prokofiev's Satanic Apparition. "I could barely stop myself from smiling with excitement: with the bravura of the glissandi and the sheer artistry he displayed throughout the Prokofiev, my heart was racing throughout", commented Ella. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, Valentin stood up proudly to bow to the rapturous applause before retiring to the competitors room at the back of the chapel for a well earned rest.

The suprise performance of the night was given by Vivian Fan, a citizen of the USA and Taiwan, Vivian was the recipient of the "Spirit of the Open Piano Competition" award, a prize decided upon and awarded by the directors of the competition to the pianist they feel best fits the competition's ethos, that being one open to pianists of all levels, all backgrounds and all ages. Dr Fan currently holds the position of Director of Accompanying at the Colburn Conservatoire in the US, and while she does get the opportunity to perform regularly as an accompanist, she has relished the solo performances she has given at the OPC. "I have been doing [accompanying] for about 10 years now and I started to feel the balance was missing for me...I have just realised that preparing for this competition was so great for both my psyche and my technique, and just everything, it was just wonderful to be pushing myself to do something like this again and getting back to a solo repertoire just opened up another world" commented Vivian. Vivan performed Granados' Sentimental Waltzes and Etincelles by Moszkowski.

Carefully deliberating their decision on the prize-winners during Vivian's performance due to limited time, the tension was racking up in the chapel. The finalists came out to sit in the front right pew to await their fate or glory. After a couple more minutes, the jury was ushered one by one into the main hall from their deliberation room: Ashley Fripp, Zina Zubova, Yuki Negishi and Clara Rodriguez were followed by OPC 2012 Artistic Directors Marianna Prjevalskaya, Tamara Gabeiras and Coady Green, receiving each a bouquet of flowers as a token thank you for their huge efforts over the course of the last year in making the OPC happen.

With the full jury seated, OPC 2012 jury chairperson, Dr. Leslie Howard, AM, took to the stage. Having been interviewed before the finals started, he was asked what he looks for when judging a piano competition: "It's a very simple thing, it's, "would I buy a ticket to hear this person?" and it's as simple as that. There are people who play very nicely and neatly, but I am not interested in them. To be boring I think is absolutely the worst crime of all, because people sometimes forget, in their zeal to get everything correct and stylistically ok, the most important thing which is they are supposed to be entertaining the public."

And the long awaited results for the audience and the finalists, which will come as no suprise at all to those who have followed the competitors from the beginning last week, to the finale tonight, are:

 

3rd Prize: Dominic Smith, 37, from the UK

2nd Prize and winner of best performance of a Classical work: Viviana Lasaracina, 24, from Italy

1st Prize and winner of both best performance of a Romantic work and a Modern work: Valentin Bogolubov, 64, born Latvia, resides Canada.