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A gala conclusion

Jack Singer Concert Hall
09/07/2018 -  
Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concertos No. 2 in G minor Op. 16 & No. 3 in C Major Op. 26
Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83

Han Chen (piano), Nicolas Namoradze (piano), Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner (piano)
The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Karina Canellakis (conductor)

N. Namoradze (Courtesy of the Honens Piano Competition and Festival)

The 2018 Honens International Piano Competition concluded with the performance of a post-classical piano concerto by each of the three finalists.

Taiwanese pianist Han Chen opened the program with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in which he displayed an impressive degree of power and control, two attributes the work absolutely requires. This came evident in the opening movement with its dramatic build-up toward the stormy cadenza. The ensuing Scherzo displayed a breathtaking level of partnership between orchestra and pianist. Chen worked his way convincingly through the varied episodes of the Intermezzo followed by a quick attack into the Finale featuring a moody cadenza followed by the tempestuous conclusion. As is usual with this work, the audience response was extremely enthusiastic.

A Fazioli piano was the choice for the two Prokofiev concertos but for the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 Nicolas Namoradze chose a warmer-voiced Steinway. This factor surely helped bring forth the grandeur and sweep of the opening Allegro non troppo, accompanied by equal expansiveness from the orchestra. He seized the essence of the second movement (Allegro appassionato) from its first seconds, and ably expressed the many subtleties of the slow movement. The tight and sensitive partnership between pianist and conductor were once again evident in the concluding movement. And once again the audience gave vociferous approval.

Everything fell into place for Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. A sensuous dynamic range is called for in the opening movement’s Andante, and he accomplished the flurry of notes in its Allegro section. The second movement, Tema con variazione, calls for contrasting effects, from the sensitive to rather lumpen – all done with élan. The third movement opens quietly playful, then rises to sustained excitement at the end – his playing was truly superlative.

As in the concert two evenings prior to this (featuring two pianists, Luca Buratto, Honens laureate from 2015, and Szymon Nehring, winner of the 2017 Arthur Rubinstein Competition), Karina Canellakis proved to be a razor-sharp partner in each piece.

The verdicts: Mr. Sanchez-Werner was greeted with an extra degree of enthusiasm as soon as he walked on stage and it was no surprise he received the Audience Award ($5000), a new feature of the competition. Audience members (and those watching via Livestream) could cast a vote, and all ten semi-finalists were eligible. He was the youngest semi-finalist (age 21) and already has an impressive CV.

The overall winner (called “Prize Laureate”) was Nicolas Namoradze. Like all the finalists (and semi-finalists), he displayed pyrotechnical wizardry where required, but also an extra level of warmth and subtlety as in the slow movement of the Brahms concerto, his choice from the competition’s list of post-classical concertos. Unfortunately I missed his solo semi-final program, when he played Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E minor BWV 830, Schumann’s Humoreske, and three études of his own, a rather rare and daring choice in a competition, but one that obviously did him no harm. He receives the $100,000 prize plus a three-year career development program involving recordings and an impressive number of engagements, valued at $500,000. Definitely a talent to watch and listen for.


The Honens International Piano Competition, now with “and Festival” added to its name, started in 1992. Now on the three-year cycle, the 2018 edition is the ninth.

Entrants must pass through three juries.

Screening Jury: Eric Friesen, Canadian broadcaster and former Honens chair; Michael Kim, director of the School of Music, University of Minnesota; Noriko Ogawa, winner of the 1987 Leeds International Piano Competition; and Gilles Vonsattel, a laureate of the 2009 Honens Competition. They whittled more than 100 entrants down to 50 quarter finalists who this year came from 22 countries. Five subsequently withdrew from the competition.

The 45 were filmed in live 40-minute performances that took place in Berlin and New York in March, and all were interviewed by Mr Friesen. The First Jury met in Banff and scrutinized the performances and the accompanying interviews before reducing the numbers to ten semi-finalists. These jurists were: Winston Choi, Chicago-based laureate of the 2003 Honens Competition; Isolde Lagacé, manager of the music program at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Brazilian pianist Edwardo Monteiro; and Pedja Muzijevic of New York, a Second Jury member in 2015.

The Second Jury who judged the semi-finals and final rounds in Calgary were: Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter; Italian pianist Alessio Bax, winner of the Leeds Competition in 2000; Taiwanese, US-based Wu Han; Annette Josef, Managing Director of the Munich Symphony Orchestra; Canadian pianist André Laplante; Asadour Santourian, director of the Aspen School, Colorado; and Minsoo Sohn, Korean pianist and laureate of the 2006 Honens Competition.

For the semi-final round each pianist performed a self-chosen 65-minute solo program, plus a 65-minute collaborative program (chosen from a list of four set programs) wherein they accompanied baritone Phillip Addis in a group of songs and violinist Jonathan Crow in a number of works.

Three pianists advance to the final round, consisting of two concerts, one with the Azahar Ensemble from Spain, and finally an evening of concertos with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Karina Canellakis.

Here is full information about the competition.

Michael Johnson



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