Pianists as Architects of Sound

14. 03. 2023

Reflections on the 1st Ljubljana Festival International Piano Competition

Of all musicians, it is the top pianists who are required to produce the most complex sound performance that involves elaborate piano technique, the most holistic approach in terms of physical and mental abilities, producing the melody and accompaniment or counterpoint, nuance in both hands, the rhythmic harmony of both hands and the whole body, and at the same time the harmony of two or even three pedals. In addition to all of this, there must be visualisation and synthesis of an already imagined interpretation with an individual note – a reflection of maturity, knowledge (immersion in the composer’s sound world and style), and the life philosophy of each individual pianist.

Of course, top pianism requires the guidance of a top musical personality, who passes on emotional and intellectual potential, and musical breadth to young pianists. This is really about the power of personality. “Imagination is more important than knowledge”, Albert Einstein once said, and he was not denying the importance of knowledge because to all of the above we must add knowledge of music theory, harmony, counterpoint, form, and music history. In addition, a young pianist must have an imaginative acoustic idea of the piece being performed, but more importantly, they must express their very self through the piece they play. I remember the words of our outstanding piano teacher and pianist Janez Lovše: “On the concert stage, every pianist literally lays themselves bare and shows who they really are.” There is no point talking about inhibition due to stage fright at this point, the commitment to the art of the piano is so complete that nothing limits it any more.

We are very grateful to all the organisers of the 1st Ljubljana Festival International Piano Competition, to the Festival’s director Darko Brlek and Mayor Zoran Jankovič, the pianist Dubravka Tomšič Srebotnjak, and the competition’s artistic director Epifanio Comis. A long-cherished dream has come true and Ljubljana hosted twenty-four excellent pianists, including two Slovenes, Jure Goručan and the excellent Urban Stanič, in the presence of a distinguished international jury chaired by Dubravka Tomšič Srebotnjak. This raises the worrying question of what is happening to women pianists, not only Slovene ones?

Both evenings of finalists in the 1st Ljubljana Festival International Piano Competition showed the true splendour of top pianism. With the excellent accompaniment of the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ricardo Castro (also a pianist and member of the jury), three of the six finalists chose Rachmaninoff’s beautiful romantic Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30, out of many proposed concertos by Mozart, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms and Bartok. The three pianists, who produced superb performances, were Uladzislau Khandohi from Belorussia, Yuanfan Yang from the UK, and Kai-Min Chang from Taiwan. The jury and the audience were most impressed by the highly emotional, profound and sincere interpretation by the twenty-one year old Taiwanese Kai-Min Chang. We did not expect such total musical commitment and exceptional fusion with the piano, although we could only speak in superlatives about the other five finalists. All six were distinguished by exceptional virtuosity and bravura, each one of them displaying an individual approach to the concertos they had chosen.  Impressive interpretations by all six finalists, two of whom chose Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16, and the excellent performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major by pianist Kostadin Tashko from Albania, convey a very important message, namely that the highest human values, the search and longing for beauty, and all that is noble, have not been entirely lost despite all the digitisation and uniformity, and that there are fresh musical talents amongst the young, who display surprising inner strength and exceptional maturity, and are able to express a sincere, one might say, postulate of love, and are like a beacon for all of us, who can only admire them with the utmost respect.

We are already looking forward to 2026, when the triennial of the Ljubljana Festival International Piano Competition will take place. It will be an incentive for even more lively cooperation of young top pianists and a larger, more international audience.

Nevenka Leban Orešič