The Winners of the Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, February 4, 2004

The Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition is one of the world's cultural treasures. Held each year in the early Summer in the glorious southeastern corner of Sicily , in the beautiful and charming Baroque city of Ragusa-Ibla , this competition has proven to be a consistently open, innovative and fertile breeding ground for musical talent of the highest order.

The competition's founder, Dr. Salvatore Moltisanti, has created an atmosphere at this competition that encourages openness to any and all forms of music, a spirit of innovation that allows presentation of all musical styles as well as instruments (this has included performances by several types of jazz ensembles, electronic music composers, domra virtuosos, accordian players, Armenian folk singers, piano improvisers, whistlers and many others from outside the classical mainstream, as well as, of course, classical instrumental and vocal virtuosos), and a place where the ideas of wonderfully talented people can be exchanged and nurtured in a spirit of international brotherhood.

Consequently, the annual Ibla Grand Prize concert in New York City is always greatly anticipated and a cause for real celebration of music in all its forms. This year's concert on February 4 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall was no exception and presented music making of the highest order.

The concert opened with a marvelous performance of improvisational jazz by Sicilian duo guitarists Paolo Battaglia and Maurizio Morello, who were joined by alto saxophonist Bruno Morello. Their progressive, attractive music brought to mind the work of Pat Metheny with its beautiful textures and great care for the sound and balances of the ensemble. The nicely interweaving and complementing guitars were wonderfully abetted by Mr. Morello's saxophone work.

Next was Japanese pianist Mami Shikimori. She performed a selection of Debussy Preludes beautifully, as though through a lovely mist. Technically wonderful, although her Feux d'artifice was perhaps a shade too aggressive for my taste.

She was followed by Russian soprano Rezeda Galimova presenting a Puccini aria. She also returned later in the evening with a song by Rachmaninoff. I like the delicate, yet substantial quality of Ms. Galimova's voice, which when combined with her lovely and charming stage presence and the sense that she knows what material will work for her, makes for a beautiful presentation.

Ms. Galimova's accompanist was Polish pianist Anna Rutkowska-Schock. Ms. Rutkowska-Schock is one of finest accompanists that I have had the privilege to hear. She is wonderfully sensitive, has a remarkable ability to keep the piano prominent yet never intrusive, can rise to virtuoso level when needed (see Bruno Monteiro's performance later on in this review) and never fails to complement and enhance whoever she is working with.

Next came one of the true highlights of the evening, and strong evidence for my very first statement in this review. Turkish pianist Mertol Demirelli is all of 7 years old, yet played a Bach Invention with great gravitas and stage presence. His youthful charm and developing virtuosity is considerable. He looked like he was having fun performing and the audience responded in kind. He also returned later in the evening and was again warmly received. Dr. Moltisanti even took it upon himself at the end of the concert to praise this young man as being a great example of making music for the sheer love of it, without the jadedness and cynicism that characterizes too much of the adult music world.

Korean pianist Jooyoung Kim gave a forceful, poetic, sensitive and at times even playful reading of Liszt. Technically wonderful playing of a very high level.

This was followed by Portugese mezzo Paula Doria Oliveira, accompanied by Anna Rutkowska-Schock. I'm sorry to have to say that Ms. Doria Oliveira's performance was not up to what I believe to be her best capabilities. Her musical instincts in the De Falla songs were nicely characteristic, however, her voice quality was off from that which I had heard before. As always, marvelous accompaniment by Ms. Rutkowska-Schock.

Next came strong support for my second paragraph above, Russian domra virtuoso Irina Litvinova accompanied by Korean pianist Chung Hyeon Kim. This was more fun than a herd of Leningrad cowboys, as they presented a sort of Hungarian dance type of piece with such wonderful interplay, flashy virtuosity and infectious fun that it was impossible not to smile and even consider yelling “yeeeha”.

Korean pianist Jae-Won Cheung was next with a powerful reading of a Chopin Etude. Once again, music making of an extremely high international standard by a tremendously gifted young artist – exactly the type of virtuoso player that sets the Ibla standard. This was enhanced even more by her riveting performance in the second half of a selection from Ravel's famously difficult Gaspard de la nuit. Jae-Won is a superb pianist with a fascinating stage presence. Wonderful performance from her.

The first half concluded with Japanese pianist Chie Tsuyuki's good, strong, decisive reading of an excerpt from the Liszt Sonata in b minor. I especially liked Ms. Tsuyuki's interesting and personal ideas about the music, which took it out of the realm of the standard Liszt readings that if not imaginatively performed, can be deadly, and elevated it to great art.

The second half began with Korean pianist Ji Min Kim, who presented a well played, strong and emotional Scriabin Sonata No. 4. This music is easy to push into hysterics, but Ji Min is a performer with great control, and achieved a very appealing emotional balance of all elements.

After this came Japanese marimba virtuoso Mayumi Sekizawa, a performer seemingly organically connected to her instrument. She presented Dances of Fire and Earth by South African composer Peter Katzow. This is a very contemporary piece that calls for great virtuosity and control, which Ms. Sekizawa displayed in abundance. Wonderful music making.

Uruguayan tenor Gaston Rivero was next with another highlight of the evening, a Cilea aria, accompanied by Anna Rutkowska-Schock. This was very well done – a good, sensitive performance with nice voice support and articulation. The audience seemed to love this presentation.

Following this came Portugese violinist Bruno Monteiro performing two movements of the Franck Violin Sonata. Once again, this performance was not up to the violinist's best capabilities. However, this was the finest performance of the evening from Ms. Rutkowska-Schock. Her powerful virtuosity shone through in this beautiful music. Having heard these two performers work very well together in the past, I'm sorry to have to say that Mr. Monteiro was off his game and that this became the accompanist's showcase.

Another highlight of the evening was next on the bill – American virtuoso whistler Michael Barimo. His is an astonishing and wonderful talent that cannot help but elicit amazement and delight. How can you not thoroughly enjoy arias by Leoncavallo or Mozart whistled with jaw dropping accuracy and intonation and accompanied by the always splendid Anna Rutkowska-Schock? It is a gift from God and one of reasons that the music business is still capable of eliciting surprise and pleasure.

The finale of the concert was duo-pianists Salvatore Moltisanti and former Ibla Grand Prize Winner Chie Sato Roden performing George Crumb. They are internationally renowned for their performances of this music and never fail to be anything less than spectacular. Their understanding of this intense, complex and deeply moving music comes through in an almost supernatural way. They are thoroughly connected, to each other and to this music.

The Ibla Grand Prize organization can take great pride in its accomplishments, as evidenced by this wonderful concert event. It was a showcase for this wonderful competition where the ideas of wonderfully talented people can be exchanged and nurtured in a spirit of international brotherhood, and abundant proof that it is indeed one of the world's cultural treasures.

-Jeffrey James
February 25, 2004

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