Friday, 22 August 2008

Singapore National Piano Competition 2007: Quarter & Semi Finals / Part Three

Piano Senior Category

It has been a wry observation that many of the top talents spotted from previous editions of the competition do not go on to progress in subsequent competitions. Many simply disappear from sight. What were the reasons of this attrition? Was it burnout, a lost of interest, a lack of consistent continuing musical education, enlistment into National Slavery (for the guys), or beckoning careers in medicine and law (for those who actually obey their parents), who knows? As it is, the plateau in playing standard as one transcended from the Intermediate to Senior categories was a dramatic one this year. Where were the shining starlets from 2005?

At any rate, there was a feeling that the young pianists are slowly but surely beginning to find themselves, choosing their own programmes (no matter how misguided), and parting company from their teachers. Here were some highlights from the semi-finals:

Shawn Neo Pin Han (No.11)

It was a brave choice to play the first and last movements of Schubert’s final Sonata in B flat major (D.960), which displayed a sound development of its lyrical line but had missed notes and some misguided accents. All these suggest a musical soul who will further develop.

Thomas Ang Yong He (No.15)

His view of Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses got better and better as the notes piled up, seeming to thrive when the music was most outwardly virtuosic. Generated a big sound, which was impressive in large part, but it was telling that his Scarlatti Sonata in B flat major (K.545) sounded aggressive and lacked charm.

Royce Lee Guan Hui (No.18)

A most unusual artist who coordinated his outfit to suit the music. Batik-motifs on his shirt seemed appropriate for Godowsky’s Bromo Volcano and the Sand Sea at Daybreak (Java Suite), which opened with a theatrical wave of the hand and an ocean of sound. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.13 also suited him to a tee, with a spirited friss that revelled in repeated notes. The opening movement of Schubert’s Sonata in C minor (D.958) was a letdown, being slapdash and mostly unsubtle.

Jin Yujia (No.20)
No stranger to the competition, having shone in the Intermediate category in 2005. Still only thirteen (a baby in an under-18 age-group), she wisely selected shorter works that suited her best. Voices were clearly defined in a Bach Prelude & Fugue, while Mendelsssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso found a fluidity that moved it along swimmingly. Even more impressive were her Debussy – a very well-shaded Jardins sous la pluie – and an impeccably turned-out Chopin Etude in C sharp minor (Op.10 No.4). This child is going to be a pro.

The relative dearth of talent was borne out by the jury’s final decision. No First Prize was awarded in the Piano Senior category. The quirky Royce Lee was placed Second and Jin Yujia Third. Shawn Neo received an Honourable Mention.

Some thoughts

This year’s competition could have done with fewer poor performances if there had been a pre-screening round. Obvious technically deficient performers should have been eliminated before facing the international panel of judges. The opportunity of impressing the jury with the quality of the participants was lost; in its place the drudgery of viewing a succession of many poor performers.

The only hitches: Who forms the pre-screening panel of judges? Do we rely on local judges or foreign judges? Is technical ability or interpretive prowess being judged? Does a technically perfect but totally soulless performance pass muster? The regulations in place require the recommendation of a teacher, but since when have all teachers been objective about their student’s abilities?

Another quibble about the venue of the piano competition. The AGF Auditorium of Alliance Francaise is saddled with a less than adequate Yamaha grand piano. Its sound is hard and percussive, with the upper registers not always in tune. Coupled with an unsympathetic and dry acoustic, performances were heavy going and often an outright pain. By contrast, the violin competition was held at the spanking and acoustically superior Esplanade Recital Studio, and the ultimate irony was this: the accompanists for the violinists had the luxury of playing on a new Steinway grand!

Nobody said that life as a pianist was fair!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

jin yujia was he first prize winner in national piano and violin competition 2003 too! (: