Leeds International Piano Competition 2018: eight thoughts from Final One

Leeds Town Hall acoustic is special

The spacious interior but surprisingly narrow interior creates a clear and atmosphere. The sound is crisp, and at times, incredible warm. It feels like a place that wants to hear music. When the audience applauds it sounds like you’ve just had the wax extracted from your ear – brittle, bright and invigorating.  

The Leeds competition has a passionate community at its heart

There’s been a really strong community feel at every event I’ve attended in the Leeds this year. I haven’t felt like an outsider (even though I am one). There was a buzz in the Town Hall before the Final the like of which I haven’t really experienced in London. That’s special. 

Move Me

All the performances are going to be and are good. But as a punter, I’m looking out for something that transports me – a live performance experience that roots my memory of the work, it’s performer and Leeds all in one. Mario Haring achieved this. 

Does the performer assume the character of the concerto?

I disappeared into a strange new world when I listened to Anna Geniushene play Prokofiev 3 with the Halle. She is a strong player. Assertive. Solid. Intent. But how much of that is Anna the performer? How much of it is the character of the concerto she is taking on herself? 

The Hallé are bloody brilliant

I only really ever hear the Hallé at the Proms. Or maybe on Radio 3 from time to time. But bloody hell, the Hallé are brilliant. The octave leaps in the principal horn during the second movement of the Prokofiev were stunning. 

The competitors must be exhausted

I was reminded of this again during the Mozart Piano Concerto K461 from Aljosa Jurinic. In addition to the repertoire the 24 pianists brought to the second round, each competitor had to prepare 1 hour 22 minutes for their potential inclusion in the semi-final round, and in case they got through, two concertos from which one would be chosen for the final. A lot of music. And a lot of shifting of mindsets too. What with the inevitable adrenaline rushes and crashes, they’re going to be exhausted (if they’re not already).

They also look a bit vulnerable up there on stage

Unlike concerts and recitals, in competition environments you’re likely to see the competitors in various locations outside of the competition. That means you see them as human beings rather than super-human types on a special stool on stage. When you next see them flanked by 100 or so musicians and countless other members of the audience, those same competitors suddenly take on a slightly vulnerable look. Before the Mozart began I experience a vague feeling of worry on behalf of the Aljosa. Odd. 

This has been massively rewarding

I always enjoy these kind of trips. I think people know that already. But this has been especially rewarding. It’s been a great way to understand more about the piano, technique and musicianship, making something like a concert packed full of concertos an even more enjoyable experience. I feel like I’ve discovered a new interest to explore: piano music. 

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