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American Pianists Association awards in final week

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The five APA classical finalists - JOHN BEHRINGER
  • John Behringer
  • The five APA classical finalists

A contest with winners and losers is, by any other name, a competition. On the other hand, the American Pianists Association calls their contest with winners and losers a Fellowship Awards. Unlike the usual competition, the APA's contest is stretched over many months; it is a contest for five finalists, culled from a jury selection of audition CDs submitted by top-flight young pianists from all over the U.S. Since fall, we've heard these five demonstrate their abilities in solo playing and with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra -- one concert per finalist.

We are in the APA's finals week at this writing (April 15-21). Vying for the winning award, with the title APA Fellow, are Eric Zuber, 27, of Baltimore; Sara Daneshpour, 25, of New York; Sean Chen, 24, of New Haven CT; Claire Huangci, 22, of Hannover, Germany; and Andrew Staupe, 28, of Houston. All five APA participants were -- and are required to be -- American born.

This gala "Discovery" week for classical piano lovers is chock full of activities: From Monday through Friday each finalist will appear at 12 noon at Christ Church Cathedral with the Linden String Quartet in a free chamber-music concert. On Thursday, April 18, the Indiana History Center will host a song recital featuring soprano Jessica Rivera with each of our finalists in turn accompanying her. Last -- and certainly the most -- are the Friday-Saturday Gala Finals with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Three of the five finalists will join the orchestra on Friday and the other two on Saturday for a Romantic or Modern piano concerto. Shortly following the Saturday concert, the "winner", i.e. the APA Fellow, will be announced.

In attending all five concerts during the fall and winter in what is called the Premiere Series, I formulated some views about our five. First and foremost, they are all piano virtuosos to the nth degree. There is not a note they can't play (and if there weren't a note, they could play it anyway). What differs between them are subtleties of nuance, use of the pedals, dynamic shaping, legato level -- how the notes flow together, a sense of the style the composer presumably desires. Many of these can become sufficiently subjective that no two artists will have or give the same interpretive view of the same piece. Having the "right" legato counts a lot for me, and our five players differed in that category.

As I stated in my review of Eric Zuber, who completed the five-concert Premiere Series this February, those three finalists who came the closest to "my" sense of perfection in touch and taste were Zuber, Sean Chen and Sara Daneshpour. Among them I could not pick an "APA Fellow." We'll know soon enough whom the jurors choose to pick.

Founded in New York City in 1979 as the Beethoven Foundation, the APA moved its national headquarters to Indianapolis in 1982 because of its central geography, reasonable cost structure and personal ties by two of its founders, Tony Habig and Victor Borge.

The APA has held its Awards event for classical pianists since 1979, and began competitions for jazz pianists in 1992. Its purpose has evolved to one of developing significant professional careers through its Fellowships by providing concerts, recordings, and other professional services. The New York Times has described its work as "profound early career assistance."

The organization awards one Jazz Fellowship and one Classical Fellowship in alternating two-year cycles. Recipients receive a cash prize, representation on a CD, promotional materials, and play concerts and recitals both nationally and internationally through the APA's PianoFest program. Fellows also participate in education and community outreach programs called Concerto Curriculum. In 2010 The APA raised the cash prize for both competitions to $50,000, making the jazz award the largest prize in the world for a young American jazz pianist. The value of a two-year Fellowship is well over $100,000. From 2003 through 2008, the APA produced Indy Jazz Fest, presented by Kroger.

The APA is a national, not-for-profit organization which has flourished because of its artistic reputation for selecting uniquely talented Fellows and producing high-caliber performances across the globe. It receives funding from city, federal, and state entities, corporations, foundations, and individuals.

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