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New Piano Competition Opens in New York - 2002-07-05

A new piano competition for gifted young pianists has been inaugurated in New York. The event, which aims not only to showcase, but also to encourage and guide the musicians as they pursue their careers.

The sound of pianists playing classical masterpieces, such as Rachmaninoff's Concerto Number One in F Sharp Minor, resonates throughout the auditorium at Manhattan School of Music.

These musicians are not professionals, at least not yet. They are young people, between the ages of 14 and 18, performing in the first New York Piano Competition. Unlike similar competitions, the biennial New York Piano Competition is designed to nurture young talent.

Twenty-two young people were chosen from more than 100 applicants from throughout the United States. But the process of elimination ends after that initial cut. Top prizes are awarded, but everyone wins something. All 22 contestants perform in each of the three rounds.

Seventeen-year-old Igor Lovchinksky, who was born in Russia but lives in Ohio performs Grieg's Concerto in A Minor.

A unique scene followed his performance. Competition founders, performers and educators Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz explain.

Stecher:"Lovchinsky came off the stage, seven of the contestants ran over to him, congratulating him, seven of them, who are competing. I just wish one thing that we're able to have everyone the winner, because they're all terrific. Everyone is a winner."
Horowitz: "That is how we conceive this competition. So that no one goes home dejected, feeling that they had not won something."

First, second and third prize winners are given $4,000, $2,500 and $2,000 scholarships respectively. All the others receive $1,000 scholarships for musical education.

Most of the contestants study in preparatory programs at some of the nation's elite musical institutions. Many say they welcome not only the chance to perform but also the break from cut-throat competitions. The youngest contestant, 14-year old Daniel Schlosberg, is already planning his musical future. He appreciates seminars the competition provides to discuss alternative careers, such as teaching. "Being a professional pianist is very competitive and it's very hard to get your name recognized. There are very few really recognized names, and that's very hard to do," he said. "And there are many other options in music, many, many, countless options in music, besides professionally playing piano."

But at this stage, all that Daniel Schlosberg cares about is playing. In the final round, he performs Schumann's Concerto in A Minor, a piece he describes as not flashy but passionate.

Organizers say passion and love of music are the keys to this competition.

Eighteen-year old Di Zhu, the winner of the competition who was born in China but moved to New York as a young child, began playing the piano at the late age of seven. She said she was restless and rowdy and her parents wanted her to find a hobby to calm her down. It worked. Now, she said music is her life.

"I love listening to music, all kinds of music. Performing, communicating with the audience, just passing on the tradition," she said. "I think it is one of the most beautiful ways of communicating with people without words. It is phenomenal to me; it's a wonder."

Di Zhu is headed to Eastman College of Music in Rochester, New York, in September. In addition to a heavy schedule of practicing, she said the most difficult part of being a musician is competing with the person next to you.

In this competition, Di Zhu and the rest of the contestants listen to each other. Di Zhu said she accepts that competition is part of the business.