The Leeds International Piano Competition finals, Leeds Town Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
The Leeds International Piano Competition finals, Leeds Town Hall
'The greatest piano competition in the world!' according to its founder Dame Fanny Waterman
Fans of the Leeds International Piano Competition argue that this triennial event, now in its 49th year, has done more to raise the city’s profile than any other local institution. Supporters of Leeds United would doubtless disagree, but Dame Fanny Waterman’s long-running contest has grown into an influential, internationally renowned affair. Dame Janet Baker awards the prizes. Lang Lang is now the competition’s Global Ambassador along with Honorary Ambassador Aung San Suu Kyi. Waterman, now an improbably spritely 91, is still very much in control of proceedings.
Perusing the names of winners and finalists in previous years throws up an impressive list; Murray Perahia, Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida and Radu Lupu all made their names here in the Seventies. More recently, Lars Vogt, Artur Pizarro and Ashley Wass are among the more recognisable figures. Nowadays the entrants are drawn from a far wider catchment, and a flick through the programme book reveals the emerging dominance of musicians from China and the Far East; only two are British. Disappointingly, all of the finalists were male.
Whatever one’s gripes about the outcome, there’s no disputing that this is a hugely impressive, world-class event
It’s in the nature of competitions that many winners will disappear without trace, or that audiences will mutter that the wrong candidates were chosen. Last night’s prize-giving was accompanied by much underhand groaning as favoured players were ranked by Waterman’s illustrious jury in fifth and sixth place. Those of us who correctly placed the top three quietly punched our fists into the air and nodded with satisfaction as the results were announced. Whatever one’s gripes about the outcome, there’s no disputing that this is a hugely impressive, world-class event, where 68 entrants are whittled down over two weeks to a shortlist of six.
In a final spread over two nights, finalists each played a concerto accompanied by Sir Mark Elder’s Hallé. Excellent though they are, it seems a missed opportunity not to use Leeds’s own Orchestra of Opera North. Concerts in Leeds Town Hall can be bronchial, acoustically problematic events, especially in the depths of winter. There’s a rather different ambience to the LIPC finals – the audience is more ethnically, socially and chronologically diverse, and there’s barely any coughing. The sound feels less diffuse. Perhaps this is a welcome side effect of a well-heeled capacity crowd, their clothes soaking up any excess reverberation.
This year’s competition was deservedly won by the Italian Federico Colli (pictured right). His exuberant, sharp-witted traversal of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto on Saturday sounded all the more impressive when compared to a rather sedate, over-polite performance of the same piece on the previous evening by the sixth-placed Australian pianist Jayson Gillham. Gillham’s reading had underwhelmed, feeling muted and pastel-shaded, accompanied by an orchestra sounding a little disengaged. Colli, shock-haired, resplendent in scarlet cravat and cummerbund with matching hankie, was a blast, offering thrillingly incisive, beautifully coloured playing, the buzz audibly seeping through to the Hallé’s players. Whether Colli’s boldness and bravura will translate into an enduring international career remains to be seen, but I’m glad he won, not least for making the least interesting Beethoven concerto sound vibrant and exciting.
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