2014 Senior Intercollegiate Piano Competition

Sunday 23 November 2014
Austrian Cultural Forum, London

Jury: Noretta Conci, Piers Lane and Christopher Axworthy

1st prize: Mihai Ritivoiu, Guildhall School of Music and Drama
2nd prize: Minyoung Bae, Trinity Laban Conservatoire
3rd prize: Yehuda Inbar, Royal Academy of Music

Mihai Ritivoiu (Guildhall School of Music and Drama) was the first prize winner at the 22nd Beethoven Senior Intercollegiate Piano Competition 2014, held on Sunday 23 November 2014 at the Austrian Cultural Forum, near London’s Hyde Park. The competition attracted an enthusiastic audience to hear the eight talented competitors, each from a UK conservatoire, performing a Beethoven sonata of their choice and a compulsory Bagatelle, Op 33 No 2 in C major, before a distinguished jury comprising Noretta Conci, Piers Lane and Christopher Axworthy. Alberto Portugheis, BPSE Vice-Chairman, introduced the proceedings and thanked the Austrian Cultural Forum for their generous hospitality and use of the Bösendorfer piano.

First to perform was Aleksandar Djermanovic (Royal College of Music), whose rendition of the early sonata Op 2 No 3 in C flowed with rhythmic drive and much dynamic contrast. His Bagatelle was light and witty and overall there were some very good musical ideas in evidence. Next to perform was Birute Stundziaite (Royal Northern College of Music) with an impressive Sonata Op 28 in D, Pastoral, the first of two offered in the competition. The reading was reliable yet in some ways undifferentiated, the second movement needing more atmosphere and dynamic contrast, whilst one might have warmed to a bit more wit in the third and delicacy in the finale.

It was the turn of Mihai Ritivoiu (Guildhall School of Music and Drama), whose interpretation of Sonata Op 57 in F minor, Appassionata, was the most mature so far, with a vision of the whole articulated through a varied tonal palette in the large scale first movement displaying refreshing coherence of phrasing. The second movement was beguiling, with colour in the variations, and a clear sense of structure. The finale’s polyphony was expertly projected, beads of sweat attesting to the effort of his dexterity.

From the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Robertas Lozinskis’ performance of the Moonlight, Op 27 No 2 in C sharp minor, lacked a degree of dynamic gradation and contrast which restricted the expressive range. Yehuda Inbar (Royal Academy of Music) gave an impressive interpretation of the Sonata Op 109 in E, the only ‘late’ work in the programme, and there was much structural control and evenness of tone. Minyoung Bae (Trinity Laban Conservatoire) displayed a natural facility in her flowing account of the Sonata Op 101 in A. The programme concluded with the second appearances of the ‘Pastoral’ and ‘Appassionata’ sonatas: Ashok Gupta (Birmingham Conservatoire) gave an intensely personal and individually conceived reading of Op.28, with skillful left hand articulation, whilst Marianna Raitikaanen (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama), after a somewhat faltering start to Op.57, evolved an interpretation of warmth and passion.

The newly elected BPSE UK Chairman, Julian Jacobson, delivered a short speech about the society during the jury’s deliberations, following which the retiring UK Chairman, Malcolm Troup, introduced the jury and their spokesman Piers Lane, to deliver the decision. In his prefatory remarks, Piers Lane underlined his delight at the occasion and noted some of the points the jury was concerned with in its choices. Noting the generosity of the ACF in hosting the occasion, the particular instrument and the room’s acoustic brought their own challenges in addition to those of the interpretation of the sonatas. Thus one of the considerations was to evaluate the way competitors coped with the room and piano, in order to present their ideas successfully.

The Jury was looking for interesting ideas on style, ways of communicating a sense of the shaping of the structure of the whole, of an organism in which one thing grew out of another, all adding up and making sense. Piers Lane observed from a more personal angle: ‘I am always interested in pianists who reflect in the left hand what the right hand is doing, and who convey a sense of harmonic line, because the harmony has to make sense. Some parts have to resolve, others to be left in the air, and pauses and rests count as well in that regard: those musical details all matter.’ He concluded that whilst no single performance had everything the jury would have loved, such as superb colour and tone, great structure and perfect accuracy, everyone had various elements and great ideas.

The choice of first prize winner was Mihai Ritivoiu (Guildhall School of Music and Drama), with second prize awarded to Minyoung Bae (Trinity Laban Conservatoire), who also received the Audience Prize, whilst third prize was presented to Yehuda Inbar (Royal Academy of Music). A ‘Special Commendation’ was given to Birute Stundziaite (Royal Northern College of Music). Prizes were presented to the winners by BPSE Patrons W C L Brown CBE and Nachiko Brown, whilst the Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians was presented by the new Master, Kathleen Duncan OBE. Once engraved, a further ceremony will take place at the Winner’s Recital during the 2015 BPSE recital season.

Written by Maclolm Miller © 2014

Photos © 2014 David Cohen