By the card of the 21 participants of the Santander Paloma O’Shea International Piano Competition this year, not only the future of the instrument can be traced, but also a geography of it. They belong to 17 countries and the balance between Europe, Asia and America offers very similar percentages, although in the final the Asian weight is noted among the six who passed the big test, which is is held Wednesday and Thursday in the Cantabrian capital and the result of which is known this Friday.
They are the Japanese Yu Nitahara and Marcel Tadokoro, also of French nationality; Chinese Xiaolu Zang, Canadian Jaeden Izik-Dzurko, Hungarian Domonkos Csabay and Czech Matyáš Novák. They have been competing since July 24, when the heterodox grandmaster opened the contest with a recital Joseph Columbus, winner of the first edition 50 years ago now. Then, Paloma O’Shea embarked on a risky and pioneering commitment to the future when in 1972, Spain was still a great musical wasteland.
In five decades, the event has acquired its own very attractive characteristics. All those who made it to the end agree on the prestige of the competition, with a jury presiding this year Joaquin Achucarro, between professionals and budding pianists. “First,” says Domonkos Csabay, the oldest of the six with the Japanese Nitahara, both 31, “because you can show a great variety in different repertoires, not just in a composer, as is the case with others. Then because the prize gives you the opportunity to perform in public on different stages”.
That’s right, and also the tour fits the top three. The winner will win 30,000 euros and a ride for Spain and various countries. But the second and third prizes also offer the possibility of performing in several places.
Everyone now sees the piano as a mission. They give meaning to his artistic adventure beyond the personal satisfaction after the sacrifice involved in betting on this instrument since childhood. Each of the finalists started their studies very early. Between three and eight years old. They had before them a future of confinement, of concentration, of resignations, of personal challenges. Continuous tests, self-demand and frustrations. But despite everything, they decided to continue. All for the music. To be faithful to a tradition, a story and to seek your own voice day after day.
So says Jaeden Izik-Dzurko, 22. His role model is fellow countryman Glenn Gould. He was a good example when it came to showing how the figure of the pianist had to adapt to the 20th century. It’s up to them to bring the instrument into the 21st century. “In this, Gould shows us, whether you like it or not, because it was very controversial, the determination and the courage to find your own voice,” says Izik-Dzurko.
For the finale, this musician chose the Concerto number 3 for piano and orchestra by Rachmaninoff. The pieces have not been rehearsed much in the last two days, where all were accompanied by the RTVE Symphony Orchestra and director Pablo González in two sessions broadcast by La 2 de TVE. Only him First of Brahms, by Nitahara and Novák. The others chose Third of Prokofiev, the Marcel Tadokoro affair, the First of Tchaikovsky, the case of Zang and the Third of Bartok, by Csabay.
After knowing the winner this Friday, everyone will go their own way but with a common goal: to find a place for themselves in a world as demanding as it is magical. Each of them brings a reason, a statement of principles for wanting to be a pianist in these times. Nitahara believes that the piano should be transformed in this century. “We are influential in society”, says the Japanese, “but we have to adapt to new technologies by being faithful to the classical world without giving up its authenticity and trying to find new paths at the same time”.
His compatriot Tadokoro, 28, faces it from a more personal challenge: “To be a pianist, for me, is to paint images with sounds.” It’s a parallelism similar to that provided by the 23-year-old Czech Novak, in his case, within literature: “For me, every time I come across a piece, it tries to tell a different story. In the case of the Brahms concerto, this one is dramatic, but full of hope and it reminds me of my grandmother, because I learned it at her house”.
Csabay believes that the strength of the role pianists must play today lies in live music. In matters of apostolate. “A lot of friends of mine aren’t interested in classical music at all to begin with. But when I encourage them to come to a concert and some start to get interested, they discover something that helps built beyond just entertainment. It gives them a deeper, deeper, more spiritual experience. And they enjoy it. In a way, I see it as a mission.
This is how Izak-Dzurko also understands it. “I started playing as a child in a town in British Columbia, Canada, where I was born. Everyone came to see us. Even then, I realized that music united the community around something beautiful and useful. That’s why ours makes sense. For this and to keep alive a centuries-old artistic heritage and link it to the present”.
Xiaolu Zang, as young as the Canadian, at 22, also thinks about it: “It’s something I ask myself every day: what does it mean to be a pianist today, that do we bring. The fact of considering it I consider it as an obligation. I think it’s love. Passion. I don’t know if I’m going to dedicate myself to it all my life. But as long as I’m in it, what I know for sure is that I’ll put my soul into it every day and I won’t give up.”
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