Piano is their forte

Skilled contestants and enthusiastic audiences are keying up for the 13th annual Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition.

artistic director Idit Zvi 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
artistic director Idit Zvi 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As prestigious musical events go, the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition is up there with the best the world has to offer. This year, the 13th annual contest attracted applications from no less than 173 pianists from around the globe, aged 18-32, with 37 making it to the knock-out stages in Israel.
Here, the competition will take place over a period of two and a half weeks (May 10-26) and comprises an initial round in which contestants play a solo recital of works of their own choice, lasting 40-50 minutes.
Sixteen artists will then make it to the second round, where they will play for 50-60 minutes. The secondround repertoire will be chosen by the competitors as well, although the works must include a piece from the Classical period, a Romantic work and one Israeli composition.
There are a number of new elements this year, including the lineup for the Grand Final. “Normally we have six contestants in the semifinal, three of whom make it to the final. But this year we decided we would allow the last six in the competition a better opportunity to display their talents, so all of them will take part in the final,” explains the competition’s artistic director Idit Zvi.
Over the years, the competition has not only offered us a taste of some of the best young classical piano talent in the world, but it has also endeavored to support the work of emerging local composers by including new Israeli compositions in the event’s program, which it commissions especially for the event.
To date, this has spawned 19 new Israeli works. This year, however, instead of premiere performances, the competition will salute two of our greatest composers, Paul Ben-Haim, who died in 1984, and Josef Tal, who died in 2008. The works featured have never been performed in previous Rubinstein competitions.
While Zvi says she is happy to keep in step with technological changes, she is not too keen on modifying the kernel of the competition. “It’s a great competition; why do we need to change? We can vary things, but I don’t think we need to do anything radical. People can now register for tickets for the competition via the Internet, and we will have recordings of the concerts on the Internet and some real-time streaming. I think it will be nice for people who come to concerts to go home and see them again on the Internet. They can relive what they experienced in the auditorium.”
This year’s contestants come from very different cultures from all over the planet. The 37 pianists, including nine women, come from such diverse cultures as Russia, New Zealand, Morocco, Greece, China, the Ukraine and Korea, with Michael Buchman, Boris Gittelberg and Barnika Glicksman representing Israel.
Geographical diversity notwithstanding, Zvi doesn’t think there will be any clear cultural differences in the competitors’ performances. “Most of them work in the West, and anyway they are too young to be able to express the uniqueness of their cultural background,” she says.
As in each competition, the contestants will perform a wide variety of works at the various stages of the event, such as Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Five Pieces for Piano by Ben-Haim, Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8 and Mozart’s Concerto No. 27 in Bflat major. One pianist, Puhan Wang from China, will also play four selfpenned pieces.
“Each pianist has his or her own approach,” explains Zvi. “Some go for works they think will appeal to the judges, others opt for what they feel most comfortable with, and some choose works they feel will enable them to best display their skills. That all leads to a lot of variety in the competition.”
On the non-performance side of the agenda, there will be a number of intriguing events in between the playing. Festivalgoers looking to get some insight into the man behind the competition should enjoy the May 16 (6:30 p.m.) Arthur Rubinstein’s Legacy session at the Tel Aviv Museum, which will feature a number of people who knew the maestro personally. The panel guests include former WIZO president Raya Jaglom, veteran musicologist Michal Zmora-Cohen, celebrated biochemist Prof. Michael Sela and his wife Sara, and Lady Annabelle Weidenfeld, who was Rubinstein’s partner from the late 1970s until his death in 1982.
Some of the cultural aspects of the art form will be addressed at a precompetition session on May 7 (Tel Aviv Museum, 8:30 p.m.) at the The Piano – The Magic and the Riddle session presented by Prof. Hanoch Ron. The program includes a solo piano recital, a talk by composer Benjamin Yusupov on the role of the piano in Asian countries, and a somewhat marketing-oriented presentation by pianist Prof. Tomer Lev entitled “How to Create an Outstanding Professional Pianist.” The session will close with veteran pop music composer-pianist-vocalist Yoni Rechter offerings his thoughts on the piano’s place in Israeli music.
For tickets, call (03) 604-5000 or *8965 or go to www.TKTS.co.il. For more information about the Arthur