by Daniel Hathaway

Contestants 2009On Tuesday, July 26, twenty-seven young pianists will draw for positions in the 2011 Cleveland International Piano Competition, and begin a ten-day journey which — for the last four pianists left standing — will end with two days of final concerto rounds at Severance Hall with The Cleveland Orchestra followed by the crowning of winners.

The stakes are high: the top award, the Mixon First Prize, comes with $50,000 in cash, a New York debut recital at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, and two years of management services. Second, third and fourth prizes of $25,000, $15,000 and $10,000 will also be awarded at the end of the second Severance Hall round on Saturday, August 6, and there are a slew of boutique awards for excellence in the performance of Baroque, contemporary, American and Russian music, and the compositions of Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart. The audience gets to vote as well: an audience prize will be given to the popular favorite in the final round, and the junior jury chooses its own prize winner.

For those who don’t make it to the stage of Severance Hall, there are nice consolation prizes: $2,000 to each semi-finalist and $1,000 to each contestant who survives the first two rounds without advancing.

This year’s edition of the biennial competition will be judged by a distinguished jury of pianists and teachers, headed by Peter Frankl and including Korea’s Hyoung-Joon Chang, Russia’s Alexander Ghindin (first prize winner in 2007), France’s Thierry Huillet (winner of the 1987 Casadesus Competition — which later became CIPC—, Russian-American Faina Lushtak, American John Owings (who won the very first Casadesus contest), Korean-American HaeSun Palk, and China’s Xu Zhong.

A newcomer to the Competition this time around is conductor Christopher Wilkins, music director of the Akron Symphony, Orlando Philharmonic and now also of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, who will lead the Cleveland Orchestra in the final concerto rounds. And Karen Knowlton, the Competition’s longtime executive director, has announced her plans to retire at the end of 2011 after 23 years in that position.

Cleveland piano addicts have a lot of listening ahead of them. The first round features all contestants in solo recitals in six sessions in the Bolton Theatre of the Cleveland Play House: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, July 27, 28 and 29 at 1 pm and 7 pm each day. The second round of solo recitals also includes all contestants and takes place on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, July 30 & 31 and August 1 also at 1 pm and 7 pm. At the end of the Monday session, eight contestants will advance to the semi-final round, and play longer solo recitals on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 2 at 1 pm and 7 pm. The four finalists announced at the end of the August 2nd evening session will play their chosen concerto — two contestants each evening — on August 5 & 6 at 8 pm at Severance Hall.

Those twenty-seven contestants — 16 men and 12 women — represent ten different countries: China (5), Germany (1), Italy (2), Japan (2), Korea (5), Latvia (1), Russia (3) Ukraine (3), the U.K. (1) and the USA (4).

Next week, we’ll meet the contestants in greater detail and discover who they study with and where, and what they plan to play over the course of the competition. In the meanwhile, tickets to all the sessions are now on sale. Visit the CIPC Web site for details. Once again, all sessions will be broadcast live by WCLV, 104.9 FM and streamed live on the Web beginning on July 27 at 1 pm, so fans and followers can stay in touch with the proceedings from any computer in the world.

As we did in 2009, will be blogging from the Competition twice a day during the early rounds and after each final round session. Stay in touch with what’s happening and contribute your own comments. More details on July 26!


Photo: The 2009 contestants in Mixon Hall at CIM (Sam Hubish)