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Jack Singer Concert Hall
09/03/2015 -  & September 6*, 2015
September 3, 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

September 6, 2015: Solo Recital
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080: No. 18 Fuga a 3 Soggetti (Contrapunctus XIV)
Arnold Schoenberg: Suite für Klavier Op. 25
Johannes Brahms: Theme and Variations in D minor Op. 18b
Frederic Chopin: Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op. 58

Isabel Bayrakdarian (soprano), James Campbell (clarinet), Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), Karim Said (piano)

K. Said (© Chris Krieger)

UK pianist Karim Said, age 26, was born in Jordan and in 2009 was the subject of a film (Karim’s Journey) by noted documentarian of classical music Christopher Nupen.

We first heard Mr. Said in his collaborative program, the one shared with just two other entrants, Luca Buratto and Artem Yasynskyy, both of whom went on the final round.

He gave appropriately discreet accompaniment to the two Viardot songs, and distinctly Spanish expressiveness in the Obradors songs. In the Lutoslawski Dance Preludes, there was a fine degree of rapport between him and clarinetist James Campbell, making the most of the work’s lively exchanges.

The Mozart trio had a mellow, natural flow, with a jaunty third movement Rondeaux. The Hindemith sonata was characterized with expressive outbursts in the last two movements’ variations. The BrahmsWiegenlied, as usual, went well.

His solo recital, three days later, began with the final unfinished fugue of Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. The beginning was very solemn, calling attention to the precise placement of every note à la Glenn Gould. It is extremely difficult to maintain the focus required to make an existential statement like Gould’s, and the piece lapsed into ordinariness before its abrupt end - and then without pause he commenced Arnold Schoenberg’s piano suite, a severely 12-tone work composed between 1921 and 1923. The second movement, labeled Gavotte, could well have accompanied an eccentric dancer of the era - was Schoenberg actually trying to have fun? Like the Bach work, it comes to an abrupt end. (A thought came unbidden: “We're trying to like you but you’re not making it easy.”)

His next piece was the infrequently performed Theme and Variations Op. 18b by Brahms, a work derived from the slow movement of his Opus 18 String Sextet, and composed as a gift for Clara Schumann. The theme is announced with a decorative flourish; Mr. Said developed it in metronomic fashion, bringing forth an archaic quality, as if hearkening back to the days of Bach and Handel. Overall he gave a convincing, thoroughly integrated performance of the piece.

In his final work, Chopin’s Third Sonata, the opening movement (Allegro maestoso) lacked full definition and the third movement (Largo) seemed careful and uncommital. However the Scherzo’s playful, scampering quality was well brought forth, and the finale was expansive without becoming overblown.

His encore was his own arrangement of the piece known as Handel’s Largo, the tune for the aria “Ombra mai fu” from the opera Serse. A very simple arrangement - perhaps too much so.

At the start of each solo recital we saw a brief excerpt from the performer’s audition interview. In Karim Said’s he stressed the importance of communicating as opposed to showing off. There is something about this pianist that reminds me of the young Murray Perahia.

If he had been chosen as one of the three finalists, his classical concerto would have been Mozart’s 21st, and his post-classical concerto Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.


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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