It’s a bit part of it, after a competition: the jury’s sentence that this was really an exceptional edition, because the level of the candidates was so high, often followed by ‘perhaps higher than ever’. At the final of Liszt Utrecht, Thursday evening in TivoliVredenburg, this was again the tenor of the story prior to the award ceremony. But for a change, the statement could also be true.
Liszt Utrecht? That is the new name of what will probably remain the Liszt Competition for the public, the normally three-yearly piano competition (the previous edition was in 2017) around music by Franz Liszt, one of the few Dutch competitions with international allure. The competition wanted to profile itself more as a festival, the word would have acquired a negative connotation. This year, in line with the zeitgeist, no distinction was made between second and third prizes: there were two ‘runner-ups’.
The three pianists in the final were Derek Wang (United States), Yukine Kuroki (Japan) and Yeon-Min Park (South Korea). With the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Christian Reif they were all allowed to Wander fantasy to interpret; actually a Schubert piece, but adapted by Liszt for piano and orchestra. Each finalist was also allowed to choose their own encore.
Three times in one night the Wander fantasy: that seemed a bit much beforehand, because the piece isn’t that interesting. All the more handsome that it never got boring after all. Wang characterized himself in a pre-screened film as a pianist who wants to balance the physical, emotional and intellectual in Liszt, yet the drive in his playing got the upper hand. The Encore, Liszt’s arrangement of the final movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphonywas especially spectacular.
What a contrast was the entrance of the much more modest Yukine Kuroki. She knew how to give the tones the right weight in every chord and naturally build up tension. Much more than the other candidates, she succeeded in the Wander fantasy in the sounds of the grand piano and the orchestra. Her playing was inescapable in her solos.
If Kuroki was already a 10+ when it comes to technical control, Park surpassed that. The orchestra, grown in the competition, played in its round without reservations. Especially during Park’s encore, the Paganini adaptation La campanella, did you sometimes have to pinch yourself: is this really happening, here, in front of my eyes? Whoever can play such a finger crusher with such playful ease that the stardust rises from the strings, cannot go home without a prize.
She received the audience award. And yet the deserved winner of the competition-that-no-competition-may-be was Yukine Kuroki, because that elegance is just that little bit rarer. The pianists will be supported by the organization for three years and will be heard a lot in the Netherlands. Something to very much look forward to. Wonderful piano careers lie ahead.
Final Liszt Utrecht
★★★★★ (Kuroki and Park)
By Derek Wang, Yukine Kuroki and Yeon-Min Park (piano)
29/9, TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht. Tour.