Odyssey in Poland & Fryderyk Chopin

In October, 2010, I was lucky to be back in Warsaw, Poland for the International Chopin Piano Competition which is held once every five years at Filharmonia Narodowa. Also, 2010 marked the bicentennial of the birth Fryderyk Chopin!

Unlike the 15th competition in 2005, none of the contestants from Asia had made it into the finals, which Iwas a bit surprised. And there were other surprises as well...

Finals were held from October 18 to October 20 from 6:00PM and I got to Filharmonia Narodowa at 5:45PM on all these three days. This big poster welcomed me as I entered the place. But from the displays they had set up at the lobby I got the impression that it was not as flamboyant as the 15th competition five years ago.

Compared to the previous Chopin Competition in 2005, my seat was in the very front row. So close enough to feel Warsaw Philharmonic members' and pianists' breathing.

The following are some quick notes I took during each performance.

Monday, Oct. 18:

Miroslav Kultyshev, Russia, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
Beautiful, but a little simple and flat

Daniil Trifonov, Russia, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
Exquisite and poetic! I thought his performance was the best of four finalists on this day.

Paweł Wakarecy, Poland, Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
He was the only finalist from Poland and played Concerto No. 2. It was a very touching performance.

Evgeni Bozhanov, Bulgaria, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
It was a dynamic performance.

Tuesday, Oct. 19:

It was an eventful day, and definitely became the most memorable day in my Chopin Competition days.

Nicolay Khozyainov, Russia, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
Despite that he looked youngest of all the finalists, his performance was magnificent overall. During his performance, the stage lights went on and off several times which was obviously distracting to all the performers and the audiences. I'm not quite sure what happened to the lights.

Yulianna Avdeeva, Russia, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
I wouldn't say her performance was dull, but was just fine. To be honest, it didn't leave a strong impression on me. And the stage lights failed three or four times in the middle of her performance for the second time.

And in the intermission, I was speaking with a Polish lady (since her husband was a Brit, her English was just like a native speaker) whom I just bumped into in the lobby. We talked about the lights failure incident which happened to the two Russian pianists... Well, we don't know...

Then back to the last finalist for this day,
Ingolf Wunder, Austria, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
Wunder's performance was the greatest of all the contestants in a three-day final!

Toward the end of the third movement, I was enthusiastically getting ready for a standing ovation for his superb performance. So was everyone. And there was massive explosive applause and a standing ovation which lasted several minutes. It was the last final stage for this day, but it made me feel like it were the very last final stage of all final stages.

Wednesday, Oct. 20:

Lukas Geniušas, Russia/Lithuania, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
2nd movement was beautiful, but 1st and 2nd movements sounded a bit too aggressive.

Hélène Tysman, France, Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
She was one of the two finalists who played No. 2. Overall her expression was humble, and there were a few moments that worried me throughout her performance.

François Dumont, France, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
It was beautiful performed but I was not overwhelmed.

So all the performances were over and we all clapped to the Chopin Competition and to its jurors upstairs. No sooner had it ended than people started to crowd around Martha Argerich asking for an autograph. I hurried upstairs...
It was not the first time for me to see her, but on this day I could see her real close!

The rest of the jurors were all gone. All the Argerich fans kept her here for an autograph and photos. Martha Argerich is always phenomenal!
There were posters of first prize winners of the Chopin Competitions in the lobby hall. Adam Harasiewicz is one of my favorite pianists of all time, and he was one of the members of the jury at this competition. And Martha Argerich.

I sat on the very seat on which Adam Harasiewicz had been sitting just to see how he had been viewing the competition up here.

And I also sat on the very seat that Martha Argerich had been sitting, and immersed myself for a last lingering moment of the competition.

Since there was enough time to have a dinner before the announcement of the competition results, I went out and came back at about 10:00PM.

I waited and waited, and I waited for 90 minutes for Andrzej Jasiński, Chair of the Jury, to come downstairs and make an announcement of the results. Well, we all know nothing starts on time, but it was a very long wait and was almost midnight, I had already been tired by then.
And finally, Andrzej Jasiński and jurors showed up and Jasiński started announcing the results.
The annoucement was not clear and we were not very sure who exactly won which prize. And soon the results were put up on the projector screen in front. I approached the screen and as I took a closer look, I thought to myself, "What?! How could these results ever be true?" And I could just easily sense people near me were all (or almost all) feeling the same way, looking perplexed and astonished.

The following are the results of the 16th International Chopin Piano Competition:

1st Yulianna Avdeeva Russia
2nd Ingolf Wunder Austria
2nd Lukas Geniušas Russia/Lithuania
3rd Daniil Trifonov Russia
4th Evgeni Bozhanov Bulgaria
5th François Dumont France
The first prize winner did not go to Wunder. It shocked me. Really. OK - Wunder additionally received special prizes for the best performer of the Concerto and Polonaise-Fantaisie, and yet, that didn’t subdue me.

I saw lots of pros and cons (tons of cons!) from commentators and critics about the results of the competition in various magazines and newspapers on the ensuing days.

So, that was it. Compared with the 15th Chopin Competition back in 2005, some unexpected happened. But that was the 16th Chopin Competition held in the bicentennial year of Chopin's birth.
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