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Cleveland International Piano Competion (CIPC)

About two weeks ago we met Mr. Pierre van der Westhuizen, Executive Director of the Cleveland International IMG_3169Piano Competion (CIPC), at a City Club program. Mr. van der Westhuizen and his wife, Sophie, both of whom immigrated to the United States from South Africa, are old friends of Ms. Margaret W. Wong who has been a strong supporter of the CIPC over of the years.Even though he had a lot to do since the opening of the CIPC was quickly approaching, Mr. van der Westhuizen generously took the time to email us a complete program of the festival which kicked off on July 24th and will conclude on August 7th making use of such venues as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland institute of Music, the Maltz Performing Arts Center, and Severance Hall. All told, 32 young pianists from 15 different countries would be competing.

Unfortunately, we could not make it to the opening ceremonies on Sunday which featured a performance by 2013's Mixon First Prize winner Mr. Stanislav Khristenko and a lovely reception but we thought it would be interesting to attend a workshop in which several promising young pianists would be coached by a veteranartist. It would take place in the morning of July 26th in Kulas Hall at the Cleveland Institute of Music.IMG_3154

When we arrived we were greeted by Ms. Sophie van der Westhuizen who serves as the Director of CIPC ArtsConnect which, according to the program notes, creates "innovative educational programs for young people and presents concerts that have broad-based appeal for all generations." Its successful endeavors include PianoKids, Carnival of the Animals, senior concerts, and a summer concert series.

We were shown to our seats by Ms. Andris Koh, a CIPC volunteer, who told us she had once had a good conversation about immigration with Ms. Wong. Regarding the workshop, Ms. Koh said, "It will be great to hear such great music in the AM!"

The three pianists who would be performing were:

****Ms. Stephanie Yen playing Chopin's "Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38". Ms. Yen is 13 years old and studies at the IMG_3148Cleveland Institute of Music.

****Mr. Charles Fernandes playing Beethoven's "Sonata No. 26, Op. 81a ('Les Adieux')". Mr. Fernandes is 21 years old and studies piano performance at CSU. We spoke to him for a moment and learned that he likes to play all kinds of music. He was initially from India although most of his family lives in Kuwait now.

****Mr. Lewis Zou playing Chopin's "Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58". Mr. Zou is 16 years old and studies at Oberlin Conservatory. He told us that he was "classically oriented" in terms of the selections he plays. Mr. Zou immigrated to the United States IMG_3151from Canada.

When Ms. van der Westhuizen introduced the workshop we learned that the artist who had been scheduled to coach it couldn't be there due to travel entanglements. Instead that role would be fulfilled by Ms. Ursula Oppens who, as Ms. van der Westhuizen read from her biography, "enjoys an active performance career. She has performed in recital worldwide. As a guest soloist she has performed with virtually all of the world's major orchestras...She is also an avid chamber musician. Her extensive recordings have been recognized by four Grammy nominations...Ms. Oppens is a Distinguished Professor of Music at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York in New York City, a position she has held since 2008."

IMG_3160The format consisted by each student playing her/his selection. Then Ms. Oppens would offer suggestions to the student as to how his/her rendition could be improved upon.

In the course of the tutorials, she talked about what Chopin/Beethoven were trying to accomplish when they wrote this music. Regarding one segment of the Beethoven piece, she said, "Beethoven is playing a game with the audience. He's having fun."

Sometimes Ms. Oppens asked the students to re-play certain passages and sometimes she demonstrated what she was after by playing them herself on an adjoining piano.

What we liked about Ms. Oppens was that her manner was very encouraging, very positive, and very constructivel She didn't say what was wrong with the rendition at all; instead she said how it could be better.

Some examples of her coaching were:

"Your right hand is beautiful but the left hand could be a little more expressive."

"If you feel the harmony, your hands will do it automatically."

"I want you to do it over because these chords are forte and you don't have to rush."

We remember taking piano lessons for a year when we were younger. All we can say is that if Ms. Oppens had been our instructor we might have been motivated to continue on with it.

If what we saw and heard on this day was any indication as to how good the CIPC can be, we hope we have time to attend more events.


Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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