Dancing across the keys

Many great careers have been launched at prestigious competitions such as the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw... and of course the Busoni in Bolzano/Bozen.

  • June 2018

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Dancing across the keys

Many great careers have been launched at prestigious competitions such as the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw... and of course the Busoni in Bolzano/Bozen.

Talented and hard working, young pianists practice for hours every day, honing their skills for years until their fingers dance lightly and precisely over the keys. Again and again they play, obsessing over every note until perfect. Driven by an inner fire, each young talent strives for the very same goal: to make a breakthrough. Such breakthroughs are possible in South Tyrol, which is why every two years these virtuosos come to Bolzano where the elite of young pianists meet. 

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When chance changes fortune

Some encounters are etched indelibly into memory. For Pietro De Mariato, pianist and juror of the Busoni Competition, one such meeting took place after a concert he gave in Zagreb. "After the concert, a Croatian journalist interviewed me. Following the interview, she told me that her son Ivan also happens to play the piano - very well in fact," he recalls her saying. Ivan was very hard working the journalist explained and she was proud that her son had made it to the finals in the Busoni competition. As chance would have it: Of the two at the time, only De Maria knew that he would meet and hear Ivan Krpan play as juror of the Busoni Competition in Bolzano.

International Piano Competition

Alongside the Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Van Cliburn competitions, the Busoni Competition is one of the most prestigious for young pianists. Founded in 1949, it has been held every two years since 2002. Following a pre-selection in the first year in which a total of 100 pianists from over 300 registered candidates were invited to Bolzano in 2016, there are two solo exams in the following year, a chamber music exam and the grand finale with orchestra in which a winner may be chosen - if and only if one of the young pianists is deemed worthy. After all, the prize has only been awarded 29 times in 61 editions.

“The best” is hard to define

His mother told me that Ivan practices “a lot." That this was an understatement becomes immediately apparent when I visit him in a rehearsal room, a so-called auditorium of the Bolzano Conservatory. "You can’t really say for certain who is better in this competition, as with many others," explains Ivan with modesty, "because every participant is different.” When I ask around, I find out that although there are always discussions and differing assessments, the jurors are able to differentiate between musicians. Ivan’s own expectations are tempered because he is one of the youngest participants. The expectations others have for Ivan, however, are a bit more optimistic. "Everyone wants you to be the best. The teachers from the music school, friends from school and of course my mother,” he says.

“I want to give my best, not be the best. That’s a big difference.” Ivan Krpan, Pianist

A Guest Among Friends

“I participate in competitions because I want to learn how others approach the same music,” says Ivan. "After each competition you come back a bit more mature, not just musically." The Busoni Competition is also a place of exchange between young talent, experienced pianists and local people. During the competition, the participants even live with host families from Bolzano. From this exchange, numerous lasting friendships have already been formed. Juror Pietro De Maria appreciates this aspect: "We jurors too can profit from something new each time through the different ways of thinking of the jury colleagues and the participants and get to know the local culture." De Maria always looks forward to coming to Bolzano, a place of "Italian looseness paired with German precision." 

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The Finalissima

"I play and then the jury tells me if I can play again." He does, they do, and Ivan advances to the Finalissima (the final round). Sitting down at the piano, he stretches his fingers. His look is one of extreme concentration but also tension. The seats in the Neues Stadttheater in Bolzano are packed. As Ivan begins to play with the Haydn Orchestra, I watch his fingers move with grace. For minutes at a time I become entranced as he works his spell upon the audience. His fingers dance across the keys as if he has become one with his instrument.

At the edge of our seats, you can cut the tension with a piano string. Ivan's name will be the last to be announced at the award ceremony. The Busoni contest has a new winner, the piano world a new face. Shy, but with a beaming smile, he accepts the winner's certificate. 

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One thing I forgot to mention: At the close of proceedings, Ivan had a very special interview request... from his mother.

Text: Katja Schroffenegger
Transcreation: Covi, Wurzer & Partner - Die Sprachdienstleister
Photos: International Piano Competition „Ferruccio Busoni“
Video: Miramonte Film