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Big and bold

Jack Singer Concert Hall
09/05/2015 -  & September 07*, 2015
September 5, 2015: Solo Recital
Frédéric Chopin: Etudes Op. 25
Sergei Prokofiev: Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major Op. 84

September 7, 2015: Collaborative Recital
Franz Liszt: Die drei Zigeuner S. 320
Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky: Romance "Den' li tsarit?" Op. 47 No. 6
Johannes Brahms: Sonata for clarinet Op. 120 No. 1 – Geistliches Wiegenlied Op. 91
Dmitri Shostakovich/arr. Lena Auerbach: from 24 Preludes for piano Op. 34: Nos. 10, 14, 15, 16, 19 & 24
Jean Françaix: Trio for clarinet, viola and piano

Isabel Bayrakdarian (soprano), James Campbell (clarinet), Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), Sejoon Park (piano)

S. Park (© Chris Krieger)

An American born in South Korea, Sejoon Park, age 25, has degrees from Peabody and Juilliard.

The opening piece of his solo recital quickly revealed a distinct difference between his approach and that the other entrants, namely his large tone. The first of Chopin’s 12 Etudes of Opus 25 is nicknamed “The Aeolian Harp”, and in this case the harp seemed swept by a gale-force wind. This is not to imply that Mr. Park lacks tonal variety, as he expressed the distinct personality of each subsequent étude, while emphasizing (and arguably over-emphasizing) the forceful nature of some of them, such as the concluding piece nicknamed “Ocean”.

His second work, Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata, was rather an odd - even daring - choice as the work (the last of the three “war sonatas”) lacks a clear trajectory. It seems to wander gropingly for its first two movements. The second movement is singularly indicated as Andante sognando (“sognando” meaning “dreamily”) but it’s a stressful, frustrating dream. The final Vivace had all the propulsiveness one would want.

His encore was a frenzied performance of the vivace section of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A minor S. 244 as transcribed by Arcady Volodos.

His collaborative recital two days later was the competition’s sixth performance of this particular program, so by this time we all knew it very well. True to the assertive form he established in his solo recital, his introduction to the Liszt song was notably bold (which is totally apropos), while his introduction to the Tchaikovsky song was a bit hesitant in contrast to the subsequent expression of passion - but he gave it a grand finish.

The Brahms clarinet work had good flow with emphatic endings to each movement, although there were moments when the clarinet was overwhelmed. There was nice interplay with the violist in the Shostakovich work, along with welcome flashes of asperity. He gave the piano part of the Françaix trio an extra degree of urgency; all three players seemed particularly to enjoy the second (Allegrissimo) movement. The Brahms lullaby still held its charm.

Had he made it into the final round, Mr Park’s classical concerto would have been Beethoven’s Third, and his post-classical concerto the great and mighty Rachmaninov’s Third. He was the only competitor to make this choice and I think it would have been quite the sensation.


The Honens International Piano Competition, named for its founding donor, held its first competition in Calgary in 1992. It is open to pianists between the ages of 20 and 30 who have no professional representation, and offers the richest prize of any of the world's many such competitions: a $100,000 first prize which comes with a three-year artist development program worth $500,000. The 2015 competition was the eighth.

The main objective of the competition is to discover “the complete pianist”, and here is the procedure: Earlier this year, interested pianists applied online, submitting information on their training and experience in performances and competitions. The Applicant Screening Jury selected 50 to participate in the quarterfinals, which consisted of 40-minute recitals (with audience) filmed in Los Angeles, New York or Berlin. Each pianist also made a taped 10-minute interview. These fifty recordings and the interviews were examined by a jury of four (Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear, Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan, Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa, and Mary Sigmond, president of a piano recital series in Minnesota).

Ten of the 50 were selected to come to Calgary for the semifinals (running for five days beginning Sept 3), during which each one performed a 65-minute solo recital (entirely different from the earlier 40-minute recital), and a 65-minute collaborative recital accompanying soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, and clarinetist James Campbell. (Each pianist chose one of three programs for these collaborative recitals.) Each pianist had a two and one-half hour session with the collaborators, plus a dress rehearsal.

After the semifinal round, three pianists were chosen for the two final concerts with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra under Yan Pascal Tortelier. For the first concert they each chose a concerto from a list of classical era works, and for the second concert they played a work of their own choosing from the post-classical era. The jury for the semifinal and final rounds consisted of three pianists (Alessandra Ammara, Janina Fialkowska, and Pedja Muzijevic ) and four arts managers: Paul Hughes (General Manager of the BBC Symphony Orchestra), Jeremy Geffen (Director of Artistic Planning for Carnegie Hall), Charles Hamlen (a founder of IMG Artists), and Costa Pilavachi (Senior Vice President of Classical Artists and Repertoire for Universal Music Group).

The jury assigned scores to each segment of the process, with each of the solo and collaborative recitals worth 30% of the final score, and each of the two concerto performances worth 15%. Ten percent of the final score was based on a 15-minute interview (taped) with an arts journalist.

The next competition will be in 2018.

Complete information on Honens can be found on the website.

Michael Johnson



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