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The World of Piano Competitions – New Issue

As a collaborating partner Piano Street is proud to present the second issue of The World of Piano Competitions, a new magazine initiated by PIANIST Magazine (Netherlands and Germany) and its Editor-in-Chief Eric Schoones. Here we get a rich insight into the world of international piano competitions through the eyes of its producers and participants.

Click cover to download:

Contributing Editors: Akemi Alink, Gustav Alink (Alink-Argerich Foundation), Stuart Isacoff, Ken Iisaka, Jeremy Nicholas, David Warn (Piano Street)

Free download!

Piano Street is happy to share the second issue of WOPC with our readers free of charge: The-World-of-Piano-Competitions-issue-2-2019.pdf


Gustav Alink reports
14 Tchaikovsky International Music Competition, Moscow
36 First China International Music Competition, Beijing
38 Top of the World Competition, Tromsø
41 Piano Talents Competition in Milano
43 The Nordic Piano Competition, Arvika

21 A directors view: Henryk Martenka
25 A teachers view: Julia Mustonen-Dahlkvist
35 One to watch: Aristo Sham

In Profile
7 The ARD International Music Competition
17 Queen Elisabeth Competition, Brussels
17 Rencontres Internationales de Jeunes Pianistes
31 International German Piano Award
45 International Telekom Beethoven Competition Bonn
45 The International Schubert Competition Dortmund

Behind the Scenes
10 WFIMC – The Ecosystem of Classical Music
22 Alink-Argerich Foundation Jubilee
26 Confessions of a Piano Juror
32 Sight vs. Sound
48 Room for improvement

The Instrument
13 C. Bechstein and competitions
19 Steinway @ Competitions
29 Fazioli Pianos on Stage
47 The Chris Maene Straight Strung Grand Piano


The piano enjoys a tremendous popularity worldwide and has the universal quality to be able to communicate through cultures, history and geographical borders. The value of piano competitions cannot be overestimated in terms of focus on the piano as an instrument and piano playing. The competition industry engages a multiplicity of concerns including hi-end piano manufacturing, media coverage and broadcast, repertoire spotlight and pedagogy, concert and lecture production and not least, career opportunity and exposure for laureates and non-laureates. All this contributes to a richer cultural life and can powerfully promote the aim we all share: to spread the joy and riches of the art of piano playing.

”Piano music, especially live, is incomparable and can be a great source of joy for players and listeners. We all should strive to allow as many people benefit from it as possible. For that, this edition of The World of Piano Competition is an excellent form of encouragement. I hope its message spreads widely! I wish everyone much joy reading it and, later on, attending a concert!”
— Guido Zimmermann, President Steinway & Sons Europe

is published twice a year by PIANIST, as a part of the regular edition, and also worldwide as a separate magazine.

PIANIST (regular edition) is published four times a year in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands and Belgium.


Piano Practice and the 10,000-hour Rule

A recent study seems to have dealt a blow to the often cited idea that 10,000 hours of practice will make an expert of anyone. “The idea has become really entrenched in our culture, but it’s an oversimplification,” says Brooke Macnamara, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

The origins of the 10,000-hour theory

The 10,000-hour theory was popularised in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (2008), in which he states that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”. A lot of people – not least piano teachers – have really seized upon this, to the point of ignoring Gladwell’s other ideas. The book proposes a formula for success that could be summed up like this:
Talent + Various cultural, social, financial, and circumstantial advantages + 10000 hours of practice = Unusual success.
This is demonstrated by a set of examples like The Beatles, Bill Gates etc. In other words, Gladwell is trying to explain how certain extraordinary circumstances create extremely successful people, rather than revealing the best way to achieve expertise.

What does science say?

Gladwell in his turn had picked up the 10,000-hour rule from a 1993 study, which found that violin students pointed out by their professor as having potential for careers as international soloists, had clocked up on average 10,000 hours of practice by the age of 20. What the study also found was that “individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice”.
The recent study by Brooke Macnamara and Megha Maitra could not replicate this latter finding. Using the same categories as in the previous study, they found that “good” violinists (these were students in a highly ranked music conservatory, but were not deemed potential future international soloists by their professors) had accumulated even more practice time than the “best” ones. (Both the “best” and the “good” had an average accumulated practice time of more than 10 000 hours). The “less accomplished” violinists – who were also music students, but in a department of music education – had practiced less, but certainly several thousand hours.

Amounts of weekly practice for students in the new Macnamara/Maitra study:

Should I keep aiming for the 10,000 mark?

Well, nothing in the new study debunks the claim that it takes a long time and a tremendous amount of work to become an accomplished musician. It still seems like aspiring professional musicians (and music teachers) practice a lot. Of course, the 10,000-hour rule was never intended as a guarantee of success. You may or may not become a professional musician, but you can reach a very high level of skill if you are dedicated enough to keep going for thousands of hours.
The concept can also be useful to counterbalance our tendency to focus on talent as something almost magical, an innate ability that some people just have. Musical talent could just mean a love of music that motivates you to play your instrument for hours every day, in order to solve the problems you need to solve to become accomplished.

Further reading:


The Riga Jurmala Festival – First Edition

The first edition of the Riga Jurmala Festival featured four weekends throughout July, August and September with an impressive lineup of world-famous pianists, including Rudolf Buchbinder, Yuja Wang, Seong-Jin Cho, Lukas Geniušas, Jan Lisiecki, Denis Kozhukhin, The Osokins and Lucas Debargue. Verbier Festival wizard Martin T:son Engstroem was headhunted to create the new prestigious Latvian music festival.

The festival took place at the Latvian National Opera, the Great Guild, and in the Dzintari Concert Hall in Jurmala, beautifully located close to the sea 20 minutes from Riga. The beach town functioned as a retreat for many renowned artists during the Soviet times. Legends such as Richter, Gilels, Oistrach and Kogan spent recreational time there with their families in the past.

Four international top orchestras added to the global presence: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Mariss Jansons, the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, and the Russian National Orchestra and Mikhail Pletnev. Yuja Wang performed Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto together with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta.

Martin Engstroem’s Winning Philosophy

Knowing that top musicians are open to artistic challenges during the summer, Engstroem wants to create situations based on the possibility to allow a variety of programs with different and unexpected combinations of performers sharing the stage. For Engstroem it’s always important to seek something new and out of the ordinary –  he has noted that bringing these people together may very well result in them working together again elsewhere.

– And I remember András Schiff who, at the beginning, was very sceptical of this kind of showcase. And he played some four-hand repertoire with Yuja Wang and, on one piano, together with Mikhail Pletnev, said Mr. Engstroem in an interview with Gramophone.

Constantly looking for talent and exciting programming certainly mirrors Engstroem’s career in music which has embraced arts management, as A&R with Deutsche Grammophon and service on juries for numerous music competitions including the important International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Born in the Swedish capital Stockholm, Engstroem feels a natural geographical and historical attachment to Baltic Latvia which also includes a personal experience having spent a honeymoon in Jurmala.

More videos:

Trailer weekend 3

About Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto

More about the festival: www.riga-jurmala.com


David Klavins Exploring the Limits of Piano Construction

Many a pianist have heard about David Klavins, the German-Latvian piano maker. Back in 1987, he introduced the world’s largest upright piano; Model 370, which is two floors high. German musician Nils Frahm recorded an album on it, and the proceeds helped finance Klavins’ next project which was building an even bigger piano. The collaboration with Nils Frahm has since then continued and recently a completely different piano, the UNA CORDA model was created in an interaction between Frahm’s musical and sonic ideas and Klavins’ vast experiences as an instrument builder.

World’s largest piano unveiled this week!

The mighty Klavins Vertical Concert Grand brings out new sound possibilities by means of the piano in a magnified context and introduces a new dimension of dynamics and timbre to the world of pianos. It is therefor not impossible to call it an instrument entirely without compromise.

In May 2019 the latest Klavins Vertical Concert Grand, the M470i, was installed at its destination, the brand-new concert hall in the city of Ventspils, Latvia. The 470i Vertical Concert Grand piano, has strings that are 4.7 meters long. On display to the public for the first time on Friday August 2, the instrument has already created a buzz among piano enthusiasts.

On the other hand, he UNA CORDA faithfully captures the special sound signature of a custom-made contemporary piano, but with just one string per key. The instrument allows you to craft melodies for film or simply introducing fresh elements into electronic, pop, or jazz, promising a tone unlike anything audiences have ever heard before, bringing on a celestial all-over sound character.

Moreover, the UNA CORDA has an open body design, double-lowered and rib-less soundboard, a tone modulator and a stainless steel frame. It is also built without any chemicals or materials that endanger the environment.

Interview with David Klavins

Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell was very happy to have the chance to talk with David Klavins about his latest innovations.

Piano Street: You are an instrument builder and there are many brands on the market. Which philosophy have you nurtured during your years a caftsman?

David Klavins: My philosophy in piano building has been formed by the understanding that today’s pianos are essentially built by principles that were established more than 100 years ago and remain unchanged even today. The general idea of pianos are constrained by the possibilities and best understanding of those times. My approach from the onset was to rethink the piano design, to find out whether totally different solutions may be at hand that were not existing in the 19th century. Quite early in my professional career I came to the understanding that the shape of the grand piano, namely of its soundboard (which is a consequence of the grand pianos’ design) has acoustic disadvantages, as well as I reached the conclusion that the concert grand piano is too small in general, to live up to the typical sizes of concert halls of today. So I decided that I want to build pianos of my own design, strictly driven by the principle of “form follows function”.

PS: You started a collaboration with Nils Frahm already back when you built the world’s largest upright piano and it continued when you planned the creation of a Una Corda piano. Can you tell us from what base you formed your ideas together and how they developed during the process?

DK: Meeting Nils Frahm marked a significant turning point in my work. Because of his deep interest in original, new sounds, especially that of pianos, we found common ground quickly. While discussing the aspects of acoustic pianos that might be improved upon, one of these being its horrendous weight, I recalled an idea of mine that I had developed 20 years ago, to design an Una Corda piano. Nils instantly understood, as his own ideas resonated with this concept, and after we had thoroughly discussed the basic elements of the Una Corda, he commissioned me to build one. During the design- and building process we discussed step by step all kind of factors, including the visual design, and mainly thanks to his input it turned out being a piano that represents a minimalist ideal. Based on the success of the Una Corda piano, our cooperation intensified, and we took on a bigger project – building the M450 Vertical Concert Grand, which is now hosted at his studio at the Funkhaus Berlin.

PS: Can you explain how the interspersed tone modulator works in action?

DK: The tone modulator is designed the way that different type of materials can be attached to an aluminum rail by Velcro, which allows to easily switch from one material to another, or even equip the rail with a multitude of different materials for different tones / registers. In effect, these materials are placed between the piano hammers and the strings, which generates different colors of sound, depending on the characteristics of the modulation materials attached.

PS: In times of eco orientation and sustainability, the UNA CORDA is built with this in mind. Which manufacturing processes do you have to engage in in order to stay eco friendly?

DK: We had in mind to stay free of lacquer, chemical glues, and chemical paints, which was one major factor leading to the use of a stainless steel frame as the sole element to pick up the string tension and serve as the instrument’s body. Abandoning the idea of a piano case (furniture) in part also serves the eco-friendliness of the Una Corda piano, although the main reason for the “naked” design is not to suffocate the sound by putting it inside a wooden box. The soundboard of traditional pianos is typically coated by lacquer, which we substitute by natural beeswax, for protecting the soundboard wood against excessive humidity. In effect all materials used at the Una Corda piano, and during the building process, are purely organic.

PS: Some people have said that the joy and curse of the piano is the fact that we always want it to sound as other instruments. Modern instrument critics also think that the modern instrument is too homogenized and doesn’t reflect the ideas of classical and romantic composers. What will happen to instrument making in the future?

DK: My hope is to inspire other piano builders to follow suit and think of new variations of the acoustic piano, in particular regarding sound design. The fact that the Una Corda piano is received so well and highly appreciated especially by composers, is a strong indicator that users are increasingly asking for new sound characteristics of the piano. While most of the large piano manufacturing companies are, and most likely will remain, stuck to their traditional ways of piano building, I see a good chance that new, smaller companies arise, in light of the vast options that the modern technologies and materials of today are offering.

PS: We know that Mr. Frahm and his work is constantly looking for innovations. Do you have further project ideas coming up in the future?

DK: Yes, we indeed are working on developing further ideas of altering the piano sound, by design, by the materials used, and also by adding digital and electronic components to the analog acoustic concept of the piano, to offer a wider range of sound effects, for creative pianists and composers who appreciate innovation.

Read more:


Alexandre Kantorow Wins Tchaikovsky Competition

The 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition concluded at night on June 27, naming the winners across its six categories. In the piano category the Gold Medal went to the French pianist Alexandre Kantorow.

Notably, Kantorow was the only finalist playing Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto and not the ever popular First. Hear his performance of this work and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in the Final Round at medici.tv

Alexandre Kantorow in the middle section of FaurĂ©’s Nocturne no. 6, opus 63 from the second round of the competition:

The young French pianist recently released a much-praised album of Saint-Saëns piano concertos for the BIS label. BIS started to record with him already five years ago and surely must be very proud over this collaboration.

”Kantorow is the real deal – a fire-breathing virtuoso with a poetic charm…”
— Gramophone, June 2019

An Unexpected Special Prize Awarded

The jury led by Denis Matsuev awarded two Silver Medals and three Bronze medals (see full list of prize winners) but this year’s competition will also be remembered by a significant administrational blunder.
The Chinese pianist Tianxu An was awarded fourth place and a “Special Prize for courage and restraint” for his ability to handle the orchestra’s mix-up of Tchaikovsky First Concerto and the Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody. See his confusion in this short video clip.

The official explanation of the incident:
“Due to a gross error committed by an employee of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra “Evgeny Svetlanov” on June 25, 2019, before the Competition performance of An Tianxu, the musical scores by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff for the orchestra and the conductor were arranged in a reverse order which differed from the pattern requested by the participant. In this connection, the performance began with a failure, because the participant was unable to immediately understand what had happened, and switched to another musical piece already during the performance. By a unanimous decision of the Jury, Denis Matsuev, the Jury Chair in the Piano category, officially invited An Tianxu to re-play his program. The participant officially refused.”

The Tchaikovsky Piano Competition is held every four years in Moscow, and is considered one of the more prestigious competitions in the world, alongside other events like the Van Cliburn Competition (Texas) the Leeds Competition, The Chopin Competition (Warsaw), The Queen Elisabeth Competition (Brussels) and the Arthur Rubinstein Competition (Tel-Aviv).

Recent winners of the Tchaikovsky competition included Daniil Trifonov (2011) and Dmitry Masleev (2015).

All performances of the 2019 competition are available at:


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