Arts / Chopin winner promises to try harder

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Winner of the Australian International Chopin Piano Competition. Edwin Kim.
“ALL I can say is, I’ll always try to be a better pianist tomorrow”. Such was the acceptance speech of the winner of the 3rd Australian International Chopin Piano Competition, the Korean/American, Edwin (Sungpil) Kim, who takes home $25,000.

With the bust of Chopin looking on and seemingly assessing the players, Kim, along with fellow finalists, runner-up, Konstantin Khachikyan, from Russia, who also won the people’s choice award, and third prize winner, Singaporean Shaun Choo, each performed their own interpretation of Chopin’s “Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor, Op. 11”.

But it was a little unusual; instead of full symphony orchestra backing, the Acacia Quartet, augmented by Canberra bassist, Max McBride played a reduction of the score for string quintet.

Second prize went to Konstantin Khachikyan. Photo by Peter Hislop

Each artist had marked up the score for the quintet, to suit their respective interpretations and the ensemble was splendid in its support for each contestant, giving them the nuances they had asked for. The interpretations were quite different and it was very interesting to hear how one piece of music could sound so different under the hands of three artists.

It was easy to imagine the hint of a smile of approval on Chopin’s face.

For the awards ceremony, it was disappointing to see the beautiful Steinway concert grand piano, closed up and standing all alone and rather forlornly, in shadow, at the back corner of the stage. After working so hard for the past week, it should have been allowed to stand proudly at stage front, watching the contestants receive their prizes and to honour the fact that all of Chopin’s compositions were for, or included, the piano.

Third-prize winner Shaun Choo. Photo by Peter Hislop

Nonetheless, the sizable audience, both in situ and worldwide via live streaming, gave enthusiastic applause as the prizes were announced. Tetiana Shafran, from Kiev, won three awards – for best mazurka, étude, and nocturne. For best polonaise the prize went to the overall winner, Edwin Kim. Overall third prizewinner, Shaun Choo, took home the prizes for best ballade and best scherzo.

Australian pianist, Alexander Yau, won the special jury prize for a sonata.

Chair of the judging panel, Emeritus Prof Larry Sitsky, told the audience juries do not go away for hours of deliberation and heartache. He said they simply grade the players and then compile the grades to come up with the winners.

“This is an objective thing and it always will be”, said Prof Sitsky.

“I for one do not look forward to the day when piano playing becomes an Olympic sport”.

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