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Jack Singer Concert Hall
09/03/2015 -  & September 5*, 2015

September 3, 2015: Solo Recital
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Sonata in G minor Wq. 65/17
Robert Schumann: Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp minor Op. 11
Piotr I. Tchaikovsky/Mikhail Pletnev: Concert Suite from The Nutcracker Op. 71

September 5, 2015: Collaborative recital
Franz Liszt: Die drei Zigeuner S. 320
Piotr I. Tchaikovsky: Romance No. 6 Den' li tsarit? Op. 47
Johannes Brahms: Sonata for clarinet Op. 120 No. 1 – Geistliches Wiegenlied for contralto, viola a piano Op. 91
Dmitri Shostakovitch/Lena Auerbach: 24 Preludes for piano Op. 34: Nos. 10, 14, 15, 16, 19 & 24)
Jean Françaix: Trio for clarinet, viola and piano

Isabel Bayrakdarian (soprano), Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), James Campbell (clarinet), Samson Tsoy (piano)

S. Tsoy (© Chris Krieger)

Samson Tsoy, a 26-year-old Russian pianist, gave the opening solo recital of the 2015 Honens International Piano Competition.

His opening piece, the C.P.E. Bach sonata, turned out to be a showcase for demonstrating nimbleness, with its tumbling notes and abrupt changes in direction. The work was also an insightful choice as it comes across as somewhat of a sylistic hybrid, with distinct echoes of the era of J.S. Bach and forward hints of early Beethoven. Its ppp passages proved a good demonstration of Jack Singer Concert Hall's fine acoustics.

The Schumann Sonata No. 1 proved a vivid contrast to the Bach as it plunged us into the moody heart of romanticism right from its opening phrases. The work contains contrasting moods, typical of the composer who was so aware of his own divided self, with the stormy Florestan and the dreamy Eusebius. Tsoy’s well-knit account earned a lot of applause.

His third piece was Mikhail Pletnev's version of the concert suite from The Nutcracker and here again was a fine display of contrasting keyboard demands, ranging from delicate filigree to outright grandeur. Extremely impressive.

His encore was a feather-light performance of Scriabin's Feuillet d'album Op. 58.

Samson Tsoy's collaborative recital came two days later with the program also chosen by five of the other competitors. His slow, evocative introduction to the Liszt song Die drei Zigeuner brought out maximum colour and oomph, while his accompaniment to the Tchaikovsky song was notable for its warmth. He helped instill notable passion into the opening movement of the Brahms Sonata for clarinet, while the fourth movement became an enjoyable romp.

In the second of the Shostakovitch preludes (No. 14) he injected some forceful drama, and in the fourth (No. 16) subversive insinuations in the march - and this in a work in which the piano is background to the viola. He brought a lot of playfulness and eccentricity to the Françaix work (dating from 1990), a piece that I found to have a greater degree of consequence the more I heard it. The beautiful Brahms lullaby, with the viola joining the piano in accompanying the singer, went well (and it always did - it was the only work to be performed by all ten competitors.

Samson Tsoy was not chosen as one of the three finalists, a decision that caused some degree of surprise. Had he been chosen, his classical concerto would have been Mozart's twentieth and his post-classical work Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1.


The Honens International Piano Competition, named for its founding donor, held its first competition in Calgary in 1992. It is open to pianists between the ages of 20 and 30 who have no professional representation, and offers the richest prize of any of the world's many such competitions: a $100,000 first prize which comes with a three-year artist development program worth $500,000. The 2015 competition was the eighth.

Here is the procedure: Earlier this year, interested pianists applied online, submitting information on their training and experience in performance and competition. The Applicant Screening Jury selected 50 to participate in the quarterfinals, which consisted of 40-minute recitals (with audience) filmed in Los Angeles, New York or Berlin. Each pianist also taped a 10-minute interview. These fifty recordings and the interviews were examined by a jury of four (Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear, Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan , Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa, and Mary Sigmond, president of a piano recital series in Minnesota).

Ten of the 50 were selected to come to Calgary for the semifinals (running for five days beginning Sept 3), during which each one performed a 65-minute solo recital (entirely different from the earlier 40-minute recital), and a 65-minute collaborative recital accompanying soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, and clarinetist James Campbell. (Each pianist chose one of three programs for the collaborative recitals.) Each pianist had a two and one-half hour session with the collaborators, plus a dress rehearsal.

After the semifinal round, three pianists were chosen for the two final concerts with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra under Yan Pascal Tortelier. For the first concert they each chose a concerto from a list of classical era works, and for the second concert they played a work of their own choosing from the post-classical era. The jury for the semifinal and final rounds consisted of three pianists (Alessandra Ammara, Janina Fialkowska, and Pedja Muzijevic)and four arts managers: Paul Hughes (General Manager of the BBC Symphony Orchestra), Jeremy Geffen (Director of Artistic Planning for Carnegie Hall), Charles Hamlen (a founder of IMG Artists), and Costa Pilavachi (Senior Vice President of Classical Artists and Repertoire for Universal Music Group).

The jury assigned scores to each segment of the process, with each of the solo and collaborative recitals worth 30% of the final score, and each of the two concerto performances worth 15%. Ten percent of the final score was based on a 15-minute interview (taped) with an arts journalist.

Complete information on Honens can be found on the website.

Michael Johnson



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