Konstantin Ishkhanov: ‘Amid COVID-19 obstacles we successfully held ‘Berliner Festwoche’ Competition’

Konstantin Ishkhanov: ‘Amid COVID-19 obstacles we successfully held ‘Berliner Festwoche’ Competition’

This October the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC), directed by its President, Konstantin Ishkhanov, held its fourth annual ‘Berliner Festwoche’ International Music Festival and Competition.

  • Berliner Festwoche (3)© Berliner Festwoche
  • Berliner Festwoche (1)© Berliner Festwoche
  • Berliner Festwoche (2)© Berliner Festwoche
  • Berliner Festwoche (4)© Berliner Festwoche
The three-day competition took place in Berlin from 27 – 29 October, and featured virtuosic young pianists from around the world competing for a first prize of €17,000. The distinguished jury consisted of renowned professors: Cordelia Höfer — professor for piano and chamber music at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg (Austria); Gesa Lücker — professor of piano at University of Music and Dance Cologne (Germany), Jura Margulis — professor of piano and member of the Insitute of Science and Research at the Music and Art University in Vienna (Austria); Lev Natochenny — holder of a Lifetime Distinguished Professor Chair at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Frankfurt am Main (Germany) and Ralf Nattkemper — professor of piano at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg (Germany).
The event was held across two rounds, and featured works by both classical and contemporary composers including Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and the competition’s Composer-In-Residence, Alexey Shor.

Held in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines the event was a resounding success, the competitors demonstrating high levels of skill, musicianship, tenacity and professionalism.

In the words of Gesa Lücker: “I think generally the level was very high, especially given the fact that there is no preselection for this competition and that the Coronavirus restrictions also make it more difficult to prepare for performances.”
Berlin is home to many important milestones in both culture and history, its streets having seen radical cultural transformations and innovations throughout history, as well as the city playing host to composers such as C.P.E. Bach, Strauss, Mendelssohn and Schoenberg. Indeed, as Ms Lücker continues, “The place where a competition or festival takes place has an enormous impact on the attractiveness of such an event. This time because of restrictions the possibilities were less but nevertheless Berlin is a city which attracts artists like no other city in Germany.” The competition finalists noted their positive experiences in Berlin, with second place finalist, Youngho Park, saying: “I have lived in Berlin for about 4 months and I am always happy to come to this beautiful city.”
The event formed part of the ‘14 Ways to Malta’ International Piano Competition, a series of competitions around the world also serving as preliminary rounds for the final stage in Malta taking place in 2021. These preliminary stages were held in Germany, Austria, USA, China, Israel, Armenia, Russia, Belgium, UK, Switzerland, South Korea, Italy and Japan, with the final stage due to take place at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Malta’s historic capital, Valletta, 17 April – 11 May 2021.
This year has of course been marked by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and restrictive measures thereof. Many cultural and artistic events throughout 2020 have been unable to take place, and as such the successful completion of the event was of particular significance. Speaking about the year in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ralf Nattkemper notes that, “I think everybody was very happy to perform and to hear live music. I think the vast majority of the participants had likely not played in public for over half a year. So, everybody was certainly happy to play. My congratulations that you were able to realise this competition at such a complicated time!”. Gesa Lücker echoes this sentiment: “As a holder of a lifetime professorship of course I’m very fortunate because of the independence towards the freelance concert business. Nevertheless, it is psychologically a very hard time for me as a musician, teacher and coach for young talents as there is very little inspiration and creative stimulation available. Also, the motivation to develop and practise is affected very much when there are less performance possibilities, or indeed none. Online lessons and concerts cannot substitute the live experience and so it was an incredibly joyful week for me. The courage and energy which was invested to make the Berlin Festwochen happen cannot be praised enough. It was a paradise for me to hear music in a concert hall and to be together with great colleagues!”
Nonetheless, Coronavirus-related issues aside, there are of course always other challenges presented to performers, especially when performing in a competitive environment. As second place finalist, Youngho Park, states: “Participating in a competition is always tense. Beyond simply performing better than others on the stage, it is my goal to convey my ideas on the stage without being shaken and it becomes a competition with myself.” In the words of Ralf Nattkemper: “The psychological control is always the most difficult challenge in a competition, and a competition is arguably much more difficult to play than a concert. Also, the concentration must be especially high. The technical challenges are not the problem, because everybody can choose pieces which he or she can play. The originality of the interpretation is generally very rare however nowadays.”
Indeed, the question of repertoire is of prime importance in a competitive environment: Candidates must ensure they play to their strengths, presenting pieces that are within their technical capabilities and that allow them to display most effectively their creative spirit. However, this should not allow for complacency and should be balanced with the need for originality and creative spontaneity. When asked about his choice of repertoire, competition winner Hyeonjun Jo says, “I chose pieces which I really like. I could have chosen other ‘safer’ pieces, but I decided to play for example the Sonata in G minor by Medtner.”
The competition invited Alexey Shor as its Composer-In-Residence, his Childhood Memories Suite included in the second and final round of the competition with competitors selecting three movements to perform. “Alexey is an absolutely charming and wonderful person and very immersed in music. He clearly wholeheartedly loves music, and in fact the expressive nature of his works can in some ways present additional challenges”, says Lev Natochenny. “His use of polyphony for example — at times two parts only — is a good example of this. Compared to some very complicated works composed by Liszt and Rachmaninoff for example, at first glance parts of the music may seem more straightforward. To lift the works from the pages however, to really present a defining and very personable interpretation...this requires a lot of thought and is a true test for the musician seated at the piano. In the words of Maxim Gorky, ‘It is not the material that always plays the decisive role in work, but always the master’”.
Speaking of the EUFSC’s organising of the competition, especially given the difficult circumstances facing cultural events this year, Cordelia Höfer said: “Konstantin Ishkhanov is a hero to me and I thank him very much for his ongoing initiatives!” Competition winner, Hyeonjun Jo, echoed this sentiment and thanked the event organisers for their “...great support and help during the competition.” The Foundation works to promote and support classical music in Europe and around the world, regularly holding concerts, festivals, competitions and masterclasses. Its next major event is the InClassica International Music Festival, taking place 17 April – 11 May 2021 in Malta’s historic capital, Valletta.
First prize was awarded to Hyeonjun Jo (South Korea/Austria), second prize to Youngho Park (South Korea) and third prize to Zhora Sargsyan (Armenia). In addition, Kisuk Kwon (South Korea), Maria Narodytska (Ukraine) and Marek Kozák (Czech Republic) were all selected to compete in the final stage of the ‘Classic Piano’ competition in Malta 2021.

“I was very surprised but also happy to receive the first prize, and I am very excited and looking forward to participating in the Malta competition.” — Hyeonjun Jo, winner of the ‘Berliner Festwoche’ International Music Festival 2020.

“My sincere congratulations to all of the competition finalists and my thanks to everyone involved: the competition jury, participants and my colleagues at the EUFSC. The competition was a remarkable success, especially when considering the very challenging circumstances this year, and I look forward to welcoming the selected finalists to Malta in 2021.” – Konstantin Ishkhanov, President of the European Foundation for Support of Culture.

For more information about the Berlin Piano Competition, please visit www.berliner-festwoche.de and for details regarding the final stage of the competition in Malta, visit https://classicpiano.eu/.
Congratulations to the winners of "Berliner Festwoche" International Piano Competition 2020!

1st Prize – Hyeonjun Jo (South Korea/Austria)
2nd Prize – Youngho Park (South Korea)
3rd Prize – Zhora Sargsyan (Armenia)
And here are the next 6 finalists who automatically signed up for "Classic Piano" Malta International Piano Competition 2021:
Hyeonjun Jo (South Korea)
Youngho Park (South Korea)
Zhora Sargsyan (Armenia)
Kisuk Kwon (South Korea)
Maria Narodytska (Ukraine)
Marek Kozák (Czech Republic)
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Aktualisierung: 8. Januar 2021