In the hands of masters

Kenny Mathieson

Organisers of an annual piano competition are also giving prominence to the accompanying masterclasses, reports Kenny Mathieson.

At the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, 46 pianists from 29 countries are vying for prizes in the sixth Scottish International Piano Competition.

While some would argue that this kind of competitive environment is inimical to the spirit of music-making, the competitions provide a considerable career boost for the successful participants and encourage a high level of preparation and performance.

The event will be as ruthlessly fought out as ever, but the organisers also want to encourage children who may never enter that rarefied arena. In addition to the recitals and competition final, this year's programme includes masterclasses by four of the best known classical pianists in the world. The organisers view them as important enough to fly two of the students in from Moscow and New York to take part.

Robin Barr, the secretary of the competition and a lecturer at the RSAMD, says: "We feel that we are probably unique among the major piano competitions in presenting masterclasses as a central part of the event. They used to happen after the competition, but we felt they were more important than that, both from the point of view of piano playing and from an educational perspective, and decided to incorporate them as an integral part of the programme this time.

"We approached many of the leading conservatories around the world for their nominations and made our choice of students from that.

"In audience terms, the masterclass sessions are aimed at the general public, but we are particularly keen to encourage school pupils who are perhaps taking their Highers this coming year, because we feel they will benefit hugely."

The first masterclass was held yesterday. John Lill worked on Beethoven with Abigail Richards (Royal Northern College of Music) and Prokofiev with Aengus Kerrin (Royal Irish Academy of Music).

Dmitri Alexeev will examine Chopin with Hua Yi Huang (Chetham's School of Music) and Liszt with Philip Fisher (Royal Academy of Music, now Juilliard School of Music in New York) on September 10. The next day, Cecile Ousset will coach Miranda Yin Yin Ong (RSAMD) in Mendelssohn and Dimitry Glebov (Moscow Conservatoire) in Debussy.

Finally, on September 14, Hamish Milne will study John Ireland with Andrew Johnston (Edinburgh University) and Beethoven with Mariela Cingo (London College of Music and Media).

The sessions coincide with a new listening and review element in the Higher course work. "We will be issuing an attendance certificate to any pupils who attend from their school,"says Mr Barr.

Funding from the event's sponsor, Yamaha, enabled the masterclass administrator, Norman Wright, a former head of music who is now an adviser in Strathclyde, to approach 250 schools. Many are sending parties. "We would like to spread the word even further," says Mr Barr.

Students are also invited to attend a lecture on September 11 by Derek Watson on Liszt and the Glasgow Connection.

The competition final takes place at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on September 16, and will feature the four successful finalists playing a concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

The masterclasses, competition recitals and lecture are free for children to attend. Tickets to the competition final are available for accompanied children at the reduced price of pound;3. RSAMD box office, tel 0141 332 5057

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Kenny Mathieson

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