Young pianists from around the world will participate in the Honens International Piano Competition in Calgary

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In 1992, pianist Jon Kimura Parker served on the first jury of the Honens International Piano Competition.

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He was 33 at the time. It was a relatively young age to sit on a judging panel, especially since the oldest contestant that year was 30 years old.

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“I remember feeling pretty intimidated to be on this jury at such a young age,” Parker said, in an interview from his office at Rice University in Houston, where he has taught for 21 years. “So that was a big deal for me.”

Among the many memorable moments for Parker was meeting Esther Honens, the philanthropist and amateur pianist who was determined to bring an international music festival to Calgary. She had donated $5 million to endow the Esther Honens International Piano Competition Foundation and the first Honens Competition was held the following year. She was 89 years old.

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“She forced herself to stay alive to see the first contest over,” says Parker, who was named artistic director of Honens in 2017. “She died five days later. There was a special box set up at the Jack Singer Hall so she could enjoy the competition privately. It was very special.

Eight years earlier Parker had won the Leeds International Piano Competition. He hadn’t featured in many competitions in his twenties but believed in Leeds’ vision.

“I knew it was more about artistry and musicality than flash and technique,” ​​he says. “He already had that reputation. I understood very quickly from Esther Honens herself that she envisioned this competition as being in the same vein, that it would have this art and what we now call “the complete artist” as its first priority. The other thing that was really important that she said was that she felt Calgary was incredibly supportive of arts and culture and she wanted the world to know about the city of Calgary and she wanted the piano world to know the city of Calgary. She has succeeded incredibly well. Sometimes I find that people in Calgary are not necessarily aware of the international stature of the Honens contest. I don’t know if there are enough people in Calgary, I wish there were more. But internationally in the music world, Honens is highly, highly regarded and has been since the very beginning.

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Calgarians will have the chance to watch the competition starting October 20, when 10 pianists from around the world will take part in the semi-finals and final at the Bella Concert Hall. On October 27, the three finalists each perform a chamber music recital including a Mozart concerto. On October 28, the three finalists will each perform a concerto of their choice with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. The 2022 Honens Prize winner will also be announced that evening.

Due to the pandemic, the competition was delayed for a year. Thus, the 30th anniversary of the founding of Honens coincides with its 10th competition, which is usually held every three years. In March, more than 40 competitors took part in the quarter-finals in Frankfurt and New York. Each gave a 45-minute solo recital, which was captured by an audio and video crew. The videos were viewed by Honens’ first jury, who chose the 10 semi-finalists.

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While the competition is perhaps the main attraction for Honens, there will be master classes, panels and recitals dotted throughout the two weeks. This will include a farewell recital on October 25 at the Bella by Pianist of Georgian descent and raised in Hungary Nicolas Namoradze, who was named Honens Prize winner in 2018.

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Winners of the award receive $100,000 as well as a three-year artistic and professional development program that included new management in New York.

“We have set up debut recitals for (Namoradze) in Berlin, London, Tokyo and New York and they have all been incredibly successful,” says Parker. “During the pandemic, he did recording projects that were widely praised by Gramophone magazine, for example. He made the cover of Music in Europe magazine. A lot of what we do has been supporting the start of his career.

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The semi-finalists who will perform in Calgary are:

Ádám Balogh, 24, from Hungary
Rachel Breen, 26, from the United States
Łukasz Byrdy, 28, from Poland
Sae Yoon Chon, 27, South Korea
George Fu, 31, from the United States

Simon Karakulidi, 25, from Russia/USA
Aleksandra Kasman Laude, 27, from Russia/USA
Illia Ovcharenko, 21, Ukrainian
Philipp Scheucher, 29, Austria
Angie Zhang, 26, from the United States.

The Honens International Piano Competition runs from October 20-28. Visit or download the app for a full schedule.

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