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An obvious choice for the final round

Jack Singer Concert Hall
09/04/2015 -  & September 6*, 2015

September 4, 2015: Solo Recital
Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 5 in G major BWV 829
Gérard Pesson: La lumière n’a pas de bras pour nous porter
Josef Hofmann: Mazurka in A minor Op. 16 No. 1
Johannes Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Paganini Op. 35 (Books I and II)

September 6, 2015: Collaborative Recital
Pauline Viardot/Frédéric Chopin: Aime-moi (arr. of Mazurka No. 23 in D major Op. 33 No. 2)
Pauline Viardot: Madrid
Fernando Obradors: La mi sola, Laureola – El vito
Witold Lutoslawski: Dance Preludes
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Trio for clarinet, viola and piano in E-flat major K. 498 "Kegelstatt"
Paul Hindemith: Sonata for viola and piano in F major, Op. 11 No. 4
Johannes Brahms: Geistliches Wiegenlied, Op. 91 No. 2

Isabel Bayrakdarian (soprano), Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), James Campbell (clarinet), Artem Yasynskyy (piano)

A. Yasynskyy (© Chris Krieger)

The 27-year-old Ukrainian pianist Artem Yasynskyy has received training in both Ukraine and Germany, and has participated with some degree of success in at least six other piano competitions.

His solo recital opened with J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 5 BWV 829, a suite with a prelude followed by six dance movements. He showed a light, playful touch throughout. The final Gigue seemed to be running away with him, but it all came together at the end.

Gérard Pesson’s La lumière n’a pas de bras pour nous porter (“Light has no arms to carry us”) is a piece (composed 1994-95) for amplified piano during which the pianist simply runs his fingers up and down the keyboard while only occasionally sounding a note. The result is a skeletal ghost of a piece - I can’t imagine how the jury scored this.

In complete contrast, the next piece was a mazurka by the noted (perhaps even legendary) Polish pianist Josef Hofmann. It has a Chopinesque sound filtered through what I assume to be influences of the time of its composition, the interwar period, giving it a somewhat “palm court” sound. It is charmingly tuneful. It turns out that Mr. Yasynskyy has already made a CD of music by Hofmann on the Grand Piano label, part of the Naxos empire. He also received the Hofmann Prize at the German Piano Competition of Polish Music held in Hamburg in 2013.

His meatiest work was Brahms’ Variations on the Theme by Paganini Op. 35 Books I and II in which he displayed notable dexterity and depth, and for which he received considerable bravos.

His encore was the Bizet/Horowitz Carmen Variations, basically Carmen’s gypsy dance on a runaway train. A shameless showcase - and it worked.

For his collaborative recital he selected a program played also by two other entrants. The two songs by Pauline Viardot were performed with fine élan, and the Obradors pair with Spanish snap and dash. Lutoslawski’s five-movement Dance Preludes (composed 1954) begins with a circus-like Allegro molto and the fun continues from there. In this instance the third movement (marked Allegro giocoso) elicited much laughter (just as a giocoso piece ought to do).

The Mozart trio had the right mellowness, and the Hindemith sonata (composed 1919) was well received. The Brahms lullaby went just fine as it always did.

Artem Yasynskyy was selected as one of the three finalists. The concerto performances are reviewed here and here.


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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