Organised by the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC) and SAMIT Event Group, the second edition of the Classic Piano International Competition launched in Dubai last Sunday 15th August, with 70 participants from all over the world entering to compete for a chance to win international recognition and prestige, along with a share of the record-breaking total prize fund of €300,000. Ranging over four rounds, the competition will run until the 4th of September, with each round being streamed live on the official website at, and the second phase due to begin on the 20th of August.

The highly anticipated 2021 Classic Piano International Competition is now well underway, with the 70 pianists who took part in the first stage already being culled down to 35. All these musicians, it should be remembered, are competition winners in their own right, having only become eligible for participation thanks to their excellent performances during the ‘14 Ways to Dubai’ project. This 2-year long endeavour saw the EUFSC host a series of piano competitions in 14 cities around the world, with the top participants then being invited to attend this Grand Finale in Dubai.

Nevertheless, such is the intensity of the competition that once in the UAE, many of the artists who triumphed in their own countries are now starting to fall. However, the impressive level of skill across the board has already started to make things challenging for the jury panel, with acclaimed pedagogue Pavel Gililov (Germany/Austria) noting the talent of all the initial entrants and remarking that they are each deserving of praise in their own right:

“This competition is the tip of a big iceberg, because 14 international competitions in different countries have already taken place before it, and only the best have come here, so one shouldn’t be surprised at the high level”, he said. “There was not a single performance that gave rise to the question – why is this person here? They are all very worthy pianists.”

His colleague on the jury board, Vladimir Ovchinnikov (Russia), agreed with these sentiments, with the multiple award-winning pianist observing that “I participated in all sorts of competitions many times and this one is unusual precisely because of the strict selection process – after all, all the participants first won in various cultural centres from around the world – and therefore, the level of the contestants is among the highest I’ve ever seen, even in spite of the different ages – from 13 to 36 years old”.

Ultimately it fell to Gililov, Ovchinnikov and the rest of the members of the jury to make the hard choice of which 35 candidates would have to be phased out. Fortunately, the board is well suited to such arduous decisions, with the competition boasting a panel that is teeming with talent and experience. Gililov himself needs to introduction of course, but his fellow members are no less distinguished, with names including:

  • Chairman of the Jury and first prize winner at the International Composition Competition at the Hollybush Festival in New Jersey, Alexander Tchaikovsky (Russia);
  • Manager of many leading artists including Stella Chen (violin), Pablo Sainz Villegas (guitar), Howard Shore (composer), Jean-Jacques Cesbron (USA);
  • Juror for various important international competitions, including Leeds, Chopin (Warsaw), Van Cliburn, Beethoven (Vienna) and Tchaikovsky, Dmitri Alexeev (UK);
  • Rector of Moscow Conservatory and President of the Moscow Conservatory Dissertation Board, Alexander Sokolov (Russia);
  • Yamaha Artist and internationally acclaimed pianist, Nikita Fitenko (Russia/USA);
  • President of the Piano Society in Korea and Piano Professor and Head of the Piano Department at Chugye University for the Arts in Seoul, Hae-Young Kim (South Korea);
  • Professor Emeritus at the Paris Conservatoire and Exclusive EMI artist for over 25 years, Michel Beroff (France);
  • Winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, Sergei Edelmann (Belgium);
  • First prize winner at the Steinway Competition in Hamburg, Jan Jiracek von Arnim (Germany);
  • Prize-winner of the 10th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Ewa Pobłocka (Poland);
  • Head of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv, Tomer Lev (Israel);
  • Recipient of the “Paul Harris Fellow” award for commitment in spreading music and its culture, Giuliano Mazzoccante (Italy);
  • First president of the Ancient Music Centre of Riga, Georgs Pelecis (Latvia);
  • Winner of the Chopin Competition in Israel and the Enescu Competition in Bucharest, Arie Vardi (Israel), and
  • Honoured Artist of the Russian Federation title and Honoured Arts Worker of the Russian Federation, Mikhail Khokhlov (Russia).

For the first round, which ran from the 15th to the 18th of August, the panel oversaw the participants as they each performed one Prelude & Fugue from Johann Sebastian Bach ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ (Book I or II); two virtuoso Etudes from a list of predetermined composers including Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alexander Scriabin, and Claude Debussy; and one composition by a Maltese composer.

This programme selection won the praise of the jurors, with Ovchinnikov commenting on the manner in which the chosen works helped to filter out the artists, as he noted that “the litmus test here was Chopin’s etudes, primarily in terms of style, taste, technique, musicality. Also, the works of Bach, which everyone had to perform, were a difficult and at the same time interesting and insightful experiment”.

Now, as the competition heads into its second round, the 35 contestants that were chosen to progress shall be asked to perform a complete piano sonata by either Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, or Franz Schubert; at least one composition by Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Cesar Franck, or Modest Mussorgsky; and a composition written after 1900.

At this point the competition has taken a very interesting turn, with the pianists that are still in Dubai representing the very best of what was already an extremely strong cohort. As jury member Nikita Fitenko remarked, “the level here is cosmic! Every day stars are flying by; it is genuinely jaw-dropping to witness”. As a result, no one is entirely sure what to expect, except the certainty that an array of brilliant performances and tough decisions for the jury await.

Once this phase is over, the remaining participants will then be required to perform alongside an orchestra starting from the third round, which commences on the 26th of August. The addition of an orchestra in the final two phases is an intriguing development which will test facets of the competitors’ skill sets that may not have been touched upon in the opening two rounds, and will be beneficial both to the judges, as well as to the competitors themselves in their ongoing artistic development. In fact, as Ovchinnikov stated, “the last two rounds, with the orchestra, will be important for them, as they will gain experience in communicating with the orchestra and the conductor, so this will be a completely new level of the competition, and we shall see different sides of them”.

The orchestra in question for this edition of Classic Piano shall be the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, which shall be led by its Founder, Artistic Director, and Principal Conductor Sergey Smbatyan, with the orchestra accompanying the pianists as they deliver their interpretation of Mozart’s ‘Piano concerto No. 20 in D minor’, as well as the piano concerto ‘Travel Notebook’ by Composer-in-Residence Alexey Shor. Finally, for the final round, which will start on September 2nd, the pianists shall each be performing a piano concerto selected from a predetermined list which includes seminal composers like Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Edward Grieg, Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Robert Schumann, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

The prizes awaiting those who manage to make it through all four gruelling stages are beyond compare, and a truly fitting recognition for the talent and determination shown by these amazing pianists. A record-breaking total prize fund of €300,000 shall be awarded in all, with all 8 top ranked contestants being awarded a share. The 8th placed contestant will receive €3000; the 7th, €4000; the 6th, €5000; the 5th, €6000; the 4th, €7000; the 3rd, €25,000; and the 2nd, €50,000.

Meanwhile, the ultimate winner of the competition will receive a €200,000 prize, €100,000 of which will be in cash, with the remainder taking the form of a 20-concert international tour with a total honorarium of €100,000 (€5,000 per concert). As many have pointed out, this tour may eventually prove to be much more valuable than any monetary prize since it will provide a variety of opportunities to the pianist in question, and may act as a springboard that serves to launch an international career. In Ovchinnikov’s words, “I am sure that our winners will grow to be interesting names to the public in the future, and the way in which the prize will be awarded – not only in monetary terms, but also in the provision of performances with an orchestra and concerts – shows that all of this has been seriously thought through by the organisers to ensure that a wide road will be opened for the winners. So the participants really have something to fight for and big battles await us!”

“What an amazing first round! The talent on display here in Dubai has been absolutely wonderful to witness and I am incredibly excited to see what the next phase will offer us. It has been sad to see so many amazing pianists leave but the level of the competition is so high that no one but the most skilled can make it through. I would like to extend a huge congratulations to all of our remaining contestants, and wish them all the very best of luck. I look forward to seeing what they have prepared for us” – Konstantin Ishkhanov, President of the EUFSC.

The second round of the Classic Piano International Competition begins on the 20th of August and will run until the 24th of the month. The competition itself shall run until the 4th of September, and will be streamed live on the official website

By Julian Francalanza (sponsored content)

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