Maestro Tovey on the podium for Cleveland's piano competition

2016-06-25-1466875931-6067023-BramwellToveyatthepiano.jpg (photo courtesy of BTovey)

There is an alternative event in Ohio next month that showcases healthy competition and camaraderie to look forward to instead of....well, just instead of. The 2016 Cleveland International Piano Competition (CIPC) and Festival will convene July 24-August 7, with thirty five pianists from 15 countries will competing for a top prize of $50,000, a career launch recital in Carnegie Hall and a recording on the Steinway and Sons label. For the first time, CIPC will be live-streamed on internet platforms around the world because of growing importance of this competition. .

The 35 finalists made the cut from a pool of 320 applicants. Yuanfan Yang, who won the 2015 CIPC Young Artists Competition, is the youngest contestant at age 19. Thirty-year-old Shen Lu and Ronaldo Rolim are the oldest. There are five women and 30 men, representing a total of 15 countries, including Brazil, China, Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Renowned Vancouver Symphony Orchestra musical-director Bramwell Tovey will be on the podium with the Cleveland Orchestra conducting. In a recent phone interview from his home in Vancouver, the always busy Tovey spoke about the what it's like to tackle the technical demands of performing piano concertos in an international competition.

"The ideal setting is for a conductor is to have worked with the soloist and build that artistic connection, but of course I'm meeting these young pianists for the first time for a competition, so I see my job as empowering their vision of the piece...because it is their interpretation which is going to be assessed by the judges."

Maestro Tovey has conducted other classical competitions, notably for many years at the London Symphony "and there was always a concerto element in the final round. And the various instrumentalists would play orchestra excerpts. The first one I did was one by Evelyn Glenny, now Dame Evelyn Glenny, a percussionist who is deaf. And she was absolutely spectacular that night, almost fully mature as a professional musician, but some in competition sometimes have a way to go. Even if they are accomplished enough to be in competition. My job is to get everyone to stay fully focus....and relaxed."

"We will have a bit of time before the rehearsals and performances, but not much," Tovey assured, "and my approach is that of (conductor) Sir Adrian Bolt's view that a conductor has to remember that for every hour they have spent on the concerto the soloist has spent a thousand hours, so my job is to support the soloist's interpretation.

On top of his artistic prowess as a conductor and pianist, Tovey is known for his warmth and wit on the podium which has garnered him legions of fans all over the world. He is regular guest conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra and many other orchestras including New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Montreal, Melbourne and Sydney Symphonies.

"I think sometimes in classical music, people get so wound up in their own importance. The music might be about life and death, but it's not life and death itself. And some audiences are inhibited when they come to concerts."

"All of this rubbish you see sometimes in headlines about classical music disappearing. There is no crisis in classical music, there may be economic pressures, but there is in everything right now. It is fabrication. I heard someone say recently about opera disappearing and I just thought, our audiences in Vancouver, as an example are very healthy; we play to thousands of schoolchildren every year. We have hefty audiences all year in a 2,800 seat hall and I know it's the same elsewhere. In my 40 year career I have never seen it as healthy as it is right now."

Tovey says that he won't be telling jokes or stories, as he is wont to do in his concert appearances. "I won't be saying anything from the stage in the competition of course, but I will give my best to bring that at-ease atmosphere to the soloists competing," he admits though that the players will undoubtedly " going to be in the zone, feeling unbelievable pressure too, with the live broadcast will crank that intensity up."

For complete information about the festival and live stream links to competition go to https://www.clevelandpiano.org/