by Mike Telin

Jiayan-StanislavWhile waiting to meet with conductor Stefan Sanderling on Thursday to discuss their Saturday evening concertos with The Cleveland Orchestra, finalists Jiayan Sun (23, China) and Stanislav Khristenko (29, Russia) spoke with ClevelandClassical about their experiences with the Cleveland International Piano Competition until now and about the pieces they chose for their final round performances.

Stanislav earned his artist diploma from the Cleveland Institute of Music, while Jiayan did his professional training at the Juilliard School. Like the two finalists we interviewed earlier, Jiayan and Stanislav conversed with each other like friends who hadn’t spoken in a long time. They have some things in common — both live in New York, and both happened to choose the Schumann C Major Fantasie for their semi-final round program (just as our two earlier finalists both chose Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.) They also agree that CIPC’s policy of allowing every contestant to play two rounds is one of the greatest virtues of this competition, but that waiting to hear from the jury can be nerve-wracking.

Jian had an entire day to wait for the jury’s decision. Stanislav had maybe an hour. “I did practice my concerto, but of course I didn’t know whether I would get to play it or not,” said Jiayan. “Actually I am very happy I didn’t have to wait too long and I would have been practicing too,” said Stanislav, “but I didn’t even realize what was going on because I was still thinking about the performance.”

That semi-final round gives everyone has the chance to put their best foot forward during an hour-long recital. They both agree that choosing the repertoire is not an easy task. In addition to the Schumann Fantasie, both players also included works of Liszt and Bartok.

Asked about his choices, Stanislav said, “I felt like I should play as many musical styles as possible. And I like the combination of the Schumann and the Liszt Rhapsodie, but I also wanted to have something different something that would show all that I can do” — hence his choice of Bartók’s Sonata.

Jiayan added, “I think it’s important as young musicians, not only in competition but in real concert life as well, to offer well thought-out and diverse programs. We’ve all been to concerts where the programming has been, well, not so good. We don’t want to serve the audience seven steaks in two hours. But we also don’t want to just give them small desserts.”

The baroque music requirement in the earlier rounds posed problems for some contestants, but not for these two. “It would be a different story if they said that everybody had to play a set of pieces by Couperin [collective laughter] but they didn’t,” said Stanislav. “So the only problem was choosing repertoire to fit the time requirements. But in terms of choices, I didn’t have any problems.” Jiayan noted that since he’s interested in historical performance practice, he’s been playing that repertoire more on the harpsichord and the fortepiano. “Any more I don’t really play a lot of music before Beethoven on the piano.”

They went on to talk about their concerto choices. Stanislav will play the Brahms first concerto, a work he played with the CIM Orchestra in Severance Hall as a concerto competition winner in April, 2010. “It’s a wonderful piece, I just love it and I am really looking forward to performing with The Cleveland Orchestra and hearing them play the opening tutti. Brahms’s first idea for the piece was for it to be a symphony and the first movement really is a symphony, an orchestra piece with piano.”

Jiayan will play Tchaikovsky’s first concerto. “I love the piece very much,” he said. I learned it when I was young, but everybody does. But it is a concerto that deserves to be heard as often as it is. And it shouldn’t be treated as a warhorse for pianists to just show off, because Tchaikovsky is a composer who communicates his emotions in such a direct and profound way.

Though rehearsal time is limited — each will have an hour and five minutes with the orchestra and the Brahms concerto takes 50 minutes to play — both performers are confident that they won’t have to worry at all since they’ll be working with The Cleveland Orchestra. The pre-rehearsal séance with Stefan Sanderling will sort a lot of things out. As Jiayan puts it, “It is important to have real communication in the collaboration between the soloist and the conductor.” Stanislav couldn’t agree more. “It’s very good for the conductor to know your ideas and if the conductor has some ideas he or she can explain them to you.”

When did our finalists decide to make music their life’s work? “Being a musician is one thing, but when you complete your studies and are 25 or 26 you realize how difficult it is to be a concert pianist in terms of the amount of work and financially,” Stanislav says. “I don’t come from a musical family so it was not planned for me, but it was [a gradual process] through music school and conservatory. Now I cannot imagine doing anything else.”

My family is not musical either,” said Jiayan, “but in China it is popular to play the piano so I started to play and when I was twelve I got into the Central Conservatory in Beijing, so I moved from my hometown to study at the conservatory.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to be a musician until he turned fourteen. “Before that I wondered why I should practice eight hours a day, but I realized that my love and commitment to music was becoming deeper and deeper.”

And what do they do when not playing the piano? Stanislav answers drolly, “I’m thinking about how to play the piano [more collective laughter].” He quickly adds, “but honestly I am interested in aviation and I’m really not only playing piano all day every day, but it does take a lot of your life. You are always thinking about repertoire and other things, it does take you over completely. I wake up and go to bed thinking about it, and it is a problem in a way, but it is true.”

I share his feelings,” said Jiayan, “and I think sometimes that the audience does not realize that music is kind of a social subject. It is about knowledge. People see us play in public and of course we do enjoy it a lot, but we do enjoy studying the subject of music just as much. And sometimes people don’t realize how much a part of our lives that is — the same as if you are a mathematician or physician.”

Published on August 9, 2013

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