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Midwest Piano Competition draws elite musicians to UNI

Posted on Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Elite piano players from around the world are in Cedar Falls to compete this week.

The University of Northern Iowa is hosting its first Midwest International Piano Competition. The event features 26 competitors from 10 countries. Performers will be playing at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center through Saturday.

People are invited to listen to the musicians play their compositions throughout the competition this week. The pianists would probably welcome an audience, said Sean Botkin, pianist and UNI music professor.

"It makes you feel like people are there to enjoy hearing you play rather than being judged on ever note you play," he said.

The competition is the first open-applicant piano competition UNI has hosted. The goal in planning it was to create an event that attracts world-class musicians, said John Vallentine, director of the UNI school of music.

"We really wanted to establish this as an outstanding international competition," he said.

If it's successful, the school will host the next one in two years.

"The preparation involved takes months and months of work," Vallentine added.

The prizes are $10,000 a recording contract and a performance with the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra for the first-place performer in the senior category and $2,500 for first-place in the junior category for musicians younger than 18. Second place seniors get a $5,000 prize and third place is awarded $2,500. For Juniors second pays off $1,500 and third gets $1,000.

But it isn't the prizes that gives a piano competition prestige.

"You need prestigious judges," Vallentine said. "When you have prestigious judges it's going to attract the finest piano players in the world."

Miroslav Brejcha of the Czech Republic, Arthur Greene and Alexander Toradze from the U.S. are judging the competition.

Another aspect the competition needed was a reputable music program and piano faculty which Vallentine said UNI definitely has. Botkin and his colleague and piano professor Dmitri Vorobiev selected the competitors. the two first met at piano competitions about 20 years ago. Toradze was Botkin's teacher and Greene was Vorobiev teacher.

"I think that's one of the wonderful things about music," Vallentine said. "You bring people together from around the world who have a love of music."

The final piece is the facility and pianos. Vallentine said the GBPAC is an appropriate venue for a world-class event. David Dunn will work to ensure the two pianos competitors will use stay in top shape and precisely tuned.

The competition is split into two age categories. The junior competitors are under the age of 18. The senior competitors are age 18 through 32. The competition performances are free until the finals Friday and Saturday. The first round of the junior finals begins Friday at 2:30 p.m. With the final round at 7 p.m. The senior finals begin at 5 p.m. Saturday. Tickets to the Friday performances are $10, tickets to Saturday's finals are $25. Tickets are available at the GBPAC or GBPAC.com.

All the competitors had impressive applications, Botkin said.

"We were really thoroughly impressed with these applicants," he said, adding the junior-level applicants were especially impressive. "They were playing repertoires beyond their years with so much maturity."

They also come with impressive backgrounds.

"Even the 14-year-olds have developed a resume and a biography," Vallentine said.

The pieces musicians will play range from Baroque compositions to 20th century pieces and anything in between. Competitors play a combination of assigned pieces and pieces of their choosing. Each performance will be about an hour. The players will have a rigorous schedule, Botkin said.

"It shows their endurance, their stamina, their ability to stay focused," Botkin said. "If they were to go on to be concert pianists, you need to have the endurance to play day in and day out."

Article courtesy of Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier