2024 Gina Bachauer International Artists Piano Competition: Daily Diary, June 17-30

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Utah Review will publish a daily diary about the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation’s 2024 International Artists Competition. Follow this link daily through June 30, as we update the proceedings, starting with the quarterfinals, continuing through the semi-finals and then to the final round when three pianists will compete for the prizes, in two evenings of performances with the Utah Symphony. For more details, see our centerpiece preview here.

JUNE 29, 2024




SECOND PRIZE (SILVER): Carter Johnson 

THIRD PRIZE (BRONZE): Wynona Yinuo Wang

Youl Sun is the second Korean in a row to win the Bachauer gold medal. Changyong Shin won in 2018.

First prize includes a $50,000 grant, commemorative gold medal, concert engagement for New York City, concerto engagement with the Utah Symphony and a recording contract, along with other items. 

Second prize includes $25,000, commemorative silver medal, concerto engagement with the Utah Symphony and other items. 

Third prize includes $15,000, commemorative bronze medal and concert engagements. Finalists also will have a Bachauer recording of their selected repertoire. 

Other prizes include a $1,500 cash prize to each of the nine remaining competitors who reached the semifinals (see previous entries in diary), a $1,500 cash prize for best performance of the commissioned work written by Frank (Carter Johnson); a cash award of $1,000 to a non-finalist, as determined by the jury, which is provided by Sascha Gorodnitzki Foundation (Hyojin Shin); an audience favorite prize of $1,000 cash (Youl Sun), as selected from the three finalists, and a student jury prize of $1,000 (Youl Sun), which will be awarded to a semi finalist, as determined by a student jury.   

Judging by the audience reaction to the first two finalists’ performances, the second round of the finals is an unrestrained thriller. Wynona Yinuo Wang’s reading of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, one of the most beloved and familiar for music lovers, was definitely satisfying. With each movement, she opened up her playing and sound, finding the right resonance with the orchestral accompaniment. The third movement was unquestionably her strongest.

Youl Sun electrified the audience with his performance of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. As with Beethoven, Sun’s confidence never wavered. His passages bristled with fire and he shaped contrasts in the second movement’s theme and variations with intelligent sensitivity. This performance of Prokofiev echoed his mature interpretation of one of the composer’s famous trio of ‘war sonatas’ (No. 8), which helped catapult him into the semifinals. For a 23-year-old artist, he has a well developed command of Prokofiev’s exceptionally demanding piano repertoire. As soon as his performance ended, he received a sustained standing ovation, longer than the one given Wang.

Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto came eight years earlier than the one Sun played. While the composer was just 22 when it premiered, this concerto is considered on par with technical difficulty with Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. Not to be undone by Sun’s magnificent performance, Carter Johnson made the grade with a superb performance, particularly in the work’s inner two movements: the Scherzo and Intermezzo. We have two truly riveting performances of Prokofiev’s work. Whatever the jury’s call is within the next few minutes, it will come down to brushstroke differences. Johnson received his standing ovation as well.


This is the culmination of a magnificent two weeks — Bachauer’s 18th International Artists Piano Competition and the first for this category since 2018. The jury will decide the prizes immediately following the concerto performances of the three finalists with the Utah Symphony and the results will be announced then.

For details about this evening’s performances, see below yesterday’s entry and recap of the first final round. 

JUNE 28, 2024


Comparing the two performances of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, the difference in approach was more striking than expected. Wynona Yinuo Wang’s performance was delicate and meticulous but dynamically more Mozartian which would have been conducive to a smaller orchestration than what Beethoven had composed. Meanwhile, Youl Sun’s approach matched up nicely to the broader orchestral scoring. The second movement was shaped elegantly, representing a familiar musical conversation between soloist and accompaniment. Likewise, Sun’s third movement clipped along at a slightly quicker pace. With just one rehearsal, it was quite the impressive performance.

Carter Johnson’s Mozart performance was like the perfect weather for the summer evening here in Salt Lake City. His cadenzas for the first and third movements were well crafted. His passage work was clean with lovely lilts and lifts throughout. 

Tomorrow, the competition moves the musical timeline ahead by some 120 years, with three different concertos by two Russian titans. No quick judgments about who goes 1, 2 and 3 can be made after round one of the finals. 


Before the final round of the competition begins this evening, Two pianists who played in the quarterfinals — Seonghyeon Leem and Lixin Zhang — will perform today in Key Changes, as part of a free, public monthly concert series Bachauer is offering this summer. it is a gorgeous, pleasantly warm day to enjoy this noon concert on the Abravanel Hall Plaza. 

This evening, the three finalists begin the final round, playing a concerto today and tomorrow with the Utah Symphony. As with every other stage of the competition, the pianists have chosen their own music and will perform in the same order that was determined by random drawing at the beginning of the competition. Both concerts will begin at 7 p.m., with Conner Gray Covington conducting. The prizes will be announced after the Saturday concert.

For more information about the special relationship between Bachauer and the Utah Symphony, see The Utah Review feature here. 

This evening, two of the finalists (Wynona Yinuo Wang and Youl Sun) will perform Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15, while Carter Johnson will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482. Premiered in Vienna, Beethoven’s concerto is significant for how it established the most important evolution of the concerto form and structure from the bread-and-butter catalog that defined the Mozart catalog of piano concertos. That evolution continued through the remaining four piano concertos he would compose. This will be an excellent opportunity to weigh and compare which pianist’s interpretation and approach resonate with the jury and audiences.

Mozart’s concerto came in 1785, in the midst of working on the score for The Marriage of Figaro. The piano concerto was easy money for the composer, who was notoriously inept in managing his finances. From the early moments with the work’s drumroll element, the first movement becomes a bounty of expressive passages, interesting transitions and a development that traverses plenty of minor keys before returning to material in the early portions of the opening movement. When it builds to a cadenza, it is essentially the pianist’s duty to improvise one. Mozart never wrote the cadenza he played for the concerto. Take note of what Johnson has in store.

Tomorrow (Saturday, June 29), all three finalists are going for a take-no-prisoners approach in their selection. Wang will perform Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18. Composed when Rachmaninoff was 27, this work is famous for reasons beyond its technical demands. The music was part of the soundtrack for Brief Encounter, a brilliant 1945 British film that was based on Noel Coward’s one-act play Still Life. The second movement’s melody inspired Eric Carmen’s classic pop ballad All By Myself. Oh, and the second movement has a cadenza that puts the soloist to the rigorous test and watch out for the ending of the third movement which is hurtling through, at a gripping, accelerating pace.   

The remaining two finalists appear to have met and raised the stakes in their selections. Johnson will perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.2 in G Minor, Op. 16, which the composer completed when he was 22. The original orchestra was lost in a fire during the 1917 Revolution and in the 1920s, Prokofiev made substantial revisions and restored the work to its full version. Listening to this work, it would rank as difficult as Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto.

Youl Sun stays with Prokofiev, playing his Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26. Eight years separate these two Prokofiev piano concertos. Prokofiev would play the 1921 premiere in Chicago, close to the time when his opera The Love for Three Oranges premiered. What was interesting about the premiere is that while audiences and critics in Chicago heaped praise on the work as well as fhe opera. in New York City performances, the response for the concerto and the opera was a total opposite. Damn such initial reactions because both works became among his most popular. There are many shifts in mood in the first movement and there are hints of the same classical elements that Prokofiev incorporated  several years earlier in his Classical Symphony. Indeed, this concerto is one of his more exuberant works.

JUNE 25, 2024

Bachauer has announced the three finalists. Each will perform twice with the Utah Symphony this weekend: on Friday, June 28 and Saturday, June 29. The prizes will be announced after the jury votes, following the Saturday evening concert. Both concerts will be conducted by Conner Gray Covington.

The finalists are:

Wynona Yinuo Wang

Beethoven Concerto No. 1, Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2

Carter Johnson 

Mozart Concerto No. 22, Prokofiev Concerto No. 2

Youl Sun

Beethoven Concerto No. 1, Prokofiev Concerto No. 3 

The competition offers $106,000 in cash prizes, along with other important amenities essential to a concert career. First prize includes a $50,000 grant, commemorative gold medal, concert engagement for New York City, concerto engagement with the Utah Symphony and a recording contract, along with other items. Second prize includes $25,000, commemorative silver medal, concerto engagement with the Utah Symphony and other items. Third prize includes $15,000, commemorative bronze medal and concert engagements. Finalists also will have a Bachauer recording of their selected repertoire. 

Other prizes include a $1,500 cash prize to each of the nine remaining competitors who reach the semifinals, a $1,500 cash prize for best performance of the commissioned work written by Frank; a cash award of $1,000 to a non-finalist, as determined by the jury, which is provided by Sascha Gorodnitzki Foundation; an audience favorite prize of $1,000 cash, as selected from the three finalists, and a student jury prize of $1,000, which will be awarded to a semi finalist, as determined by a student jury.   


Carter Johnson played Two Andean Portraits between Ravel’s Valses nobles er sentimentales and Schumann’s Davidsbundlertänze, Op. 6. Ravel’s collection of seven waltzes was published in 1911, a work that he later enlarged for orchestra. In his autobiographical essay, he wrote, “ “The title Valses nobles et sentimentales sufficiently indicates my intention of composing a series of waltzes in imitation of Schubert. Here we have a markedly clearer kind of writing, which crystallizes the harmony and sharpens the profile of the music.” The Schumann set of 18 short dances, written when he was in his late twenties, is pitched as a back and forth between the alter-ego characters that defined the composer’s emotional bearings throughout his life: the extroverted and adventurous Florestan and the soft-spoken,gentle introverted Eusebius. Johnson’s performance of Two Andean Portraits showed excellent handling of the effects. Likewise, Ravel in his hands elucidated the contrasts among the seven waltzes but he truly impressed with distilling the intellectual underpinnings of Schumann’s personality counterpoint in Davidsbundlertänze.

Wrapping up the semifinals, Youl Sun opened his program with Two Andean Portraits, and he extracted the effects Frank asked for in the score with sensitive interpretation. He followed with eight various Préludes by Debussy. From Book 1, he performed The Hills of Anacapri, The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, interrupted Serenade, Minstrels and What the West Wind Has Seen; from Book II, Dead Leaves, La puerta del Vino (one of the gates of the Alhambra in Granada) and Town in Eastern Europe). Sun’s performance here was superb and he made the connection nicely with his lead-in from Frank. It would be interesting to see how his performance of Two Andean Portraits. He closed out with an exuberant, bristling performance of Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 (a work that semifinalist Hyojin Shin performed in her second round quarterfinal program).


The remaining six semifinalists perform in today’s sessions and this evening, the Bachauer jury will decide the three finalists. Again, jurors and audiences will hear six performances of  Two Andean Portraits by Gabriela Lena Frank, one of America’s foremost composers who also is currently the composer-in-residence with The Philadelphia Orchestra. 

For an interview with Frank and more details about this commissioned piece for piano, here is The Utah Review link to the feature.

Wynona Yinuo Wang opened the session with a pair of Scarlatti sonatas, followed by Two Andean Portraits and Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 1, Op. 28. Wang’s performance was solid in Frank’s composition, with good control of the grace note clusters in the first portrait (Introducción: Zampoñas) and some very good expressions of mystery and fantasy in the Adagio del Altiplano. The use of pedal is of utmost significance in the second portrait. This is perhaps the most fascinating Rachmaninoff work to be performed during the competition. The composer completed the work in 1908 and took it to the U.S. for his tour the following year. It is a great work to highlight the soloist’s abilities to express characters through music as each movement represents a character in the Faustian legend: Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles. And, echoes of the Dies Irae appear in the third movement to set up the dramatic climax. Wang’s handling of the final movement really stood out in this performance. 

Rachel Breen opened her program with Two Andean Portraits, followed by Bach’s Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. Her performance of Frank’s work was especially good in the Adagio portrait and in general the first movement was good, too. The grace note clusters came through nicely but so far with eight performances of these two portraits, the trickiest challenge has been to shape a  story and emotional character in the Introducción: Zampoñas. It was a pleasant surprise to see semifinalist Misha Galant (who performed yesterday) as her page turner. This Bach selection is a daring choice, considering that he intended them to be played ln a double manual harpsichord so when translated to piano, the performer’s skill of hand-crossing at the keyboard is essential. The entire set comprises 30 variations which follow an aria at the opening and then a recap of the aria at the end. Every third variation is in the form of a canon, and in each instance, the interval between melodic lines is widened, going from unison to a ninth. Every variation with the exception of three is in G Major. Note that variations 15, 21 and 25 (which is known as the Black Pearl variation) is in G minor. The question is how can a Bachauer competition pianist fit a work that takes 80 minutes to perform, when she only has an hour-long program. Bach instructed that every passage is played twice. Playing them just once meant the work could fit into the time allowed. The scoring is so exposed that the task for the pianist is to be as pristine as possible. Among the finest moments of her performance came in the aria and its da capo, along with the Black Pearl variation. 

Yuki Yoshimi played Two Andean Portraits between Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109 and Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor (which is being played for the second time by a semifinalist, as Jonathan Mak performed it in his work yesterday). While he used too much pedal in the first portrait, the second one was just perfect, as he offered the one of the best performances of Adagio del Altiplano. This is the second of the final three piano sonatas that Beethoven composed which is being played in the semifinals. The most extraordinary thing about this sonata is that the first movement was originally written as a separate solo piece and only later did Beethoven decide to take it into a complete sonata. Yoshimi’s performances of both sonatas were filled with crisp attacks where appropriate.

The youngest semifinalist (20), Zhengyang Fan opened with Two Andean Portraits, followed by the devilishly difficult Scarbo movement from Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.  and Chopin’s Preludes, Op. 28. Fan’s performance of Frank’s commissioned work was outstanding: clear Grace note clusters, effective use of pedal, fine light touches as needed and well-sculpted rhythms and tempo. The entire program demonstrated this young musician’s already mature sense of control. The Preludes cover 12 pairs of major and minor keys. The work is ideal for an hour-long program, given that nearly half are less than a minute and the remainder are around two minutes, give or take, so the entire cycle can be performed within 50 minutes easily. While they are short, they give the pianist the opportunity to showcase their emotional character. Scholars of Chopin’s music have sorted them into groups by emotion and mood: idyllic, elegiac, etude, cantabile, scherzo-like, march or anthem, ballad and nocturnal. Fan made all of these evident. One additional note, as a public service announcement: there is a reason why everyone is requested to turn off or silence their mobile devices. As Fan was set to start the Preludes, someone’s phone blurted out their ring tone as loud as it could possibly be. That ring tone was the opening to Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.

JUNE 24, 2024

Today’s semifinal round begins, with six pianists performing programs of between 55 and 60 minutes. The remaining six semifinalists will perform tomorrow, before the jury votes who will be the three finalists.

For the first time in 42 years and only the second time in Bachauer’s 48-year history, every semifinalist will be required to perform a new work that Bachauer commissioned from Gabriela Lena Frank, one of America’s foremost composers who also is currently the composer-in-residence with The Philadelphia Orchestra. The work also will be performed by whomever wins the gold medal, as part of a Carnegie Hall recital that is in the first prize package.

Gabriela Lena Frank.

The Utah Review recently interviewed Frank about the commissioned work, Two Andean Portraits. The article is available at this link. As noted in the article:

The first portrait, Introducción: Zampoñas, is not virtuosic as what one might hear in a Chopin or Rachmaninoff composition but it is “technically tricky in a different way,” Frank explained. Simple in form,  the movement requires the piano to emulate the sounds of the Indigenous panpipe, an instrument quintessential to the music of the Peruvian Andes in South America. While the pianist controls the smooth, streamlined melody of parallel fifths in the right hand, the left hand tackles a progression of denser chords which are inflected with clusters of grace notes. The pianist roams back and forth across the keyboard, but in order to keep the movement’s texture as light and playful as possible, the performer must internalize a mature sense of control in technique.

In contrast, the second portrait, Adagio del Altiplano, visualizes musically the landscape of the Andean highlands, which evokes mysticism, cosmology and ancient spirituality. Frank said this is intended to magnify the pianist’s skills at conveying stories through music, notably in their pedal work and their mastery of fleet fingers in faster paced passages. To emulate the portrait’s fantastical and mysterious tone, Frank used less directed notation, a distinctive component in many contemporary compositions, to give the pianist some liberty in managing the natural ebb and flow of the music, to their own discretion of musical taste. Yet, they still should stay within the parameters she has set in the score. 

It is a unique world premiere, with 12 pianists who individually will put their own interpretative mark on Frank’s work, which will help determine who eventually will move into one of the three slots for finalists. For example, in today’s semifinals sessions, four of the six pianists have placed the work in the middle of the program, while the remaining two for today plan to open with the commissioned piece.

Another curious note is that five of today’s six pianists are playing works that also have performed by others during this competition. But, there also are notable works being played for the time at this year’s Bachauer competition, including those by Beethoven, Liszt, Porkofiev, Handel and a work by Mussorgsky that needs no introduction. 


Jonathan Mak opened his program with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 84 (which Anfisa Bobylova performed in her quarterfinal program), followed by Two Andean Portraits. The adrenaline rush of being in the semifinals has simultaneous pluses and minuses. Sometimes, the pianist leans more into the emotional stakes of the music while also risking not maintaining constant meticulous control over complex and rapidly moving passage work. This was evident at times in Mak’s performance of the Beethoven sonata. In Two Andean Portraits, he had good control but was definitely more confident in the second portrait, Adagio del Altiplano. He closed his program with Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor (which also was performed by Curtis Phill Hsu in his quarterfinal program), in which he sounded more assured of his playing.

Like three of his predecessors today, Misha Galant performed Two Andean Portraits between his other two works in his program. No question: Galant’s performance of the commissioned work was the best of the day. He was confident with the grace note clusters, which came through clearly in the Introducción: Zampoñas and his rendering of Adagio del Altiplano hit all of the expected atmospherics in Frank’s score. He opened with four Liszt transcriptions of Schubert lieder: two excerpts from Schwanengesang (Swan Song) (Der Doppelgänger and Aufenthalt (Resting Place), Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen (Litany for the Feast Day of All Souls), and Auf dem Wasser zu singen (To Sing on the Water). Schubert had died almost a decade before Liszt returned to Vienna for the first time since his days of youth and was so taken by Schubert’s output of lieder that he set out to write transcriptions for piano by the dozens. Galant’s performance of these gorgeous Liszt transcriptions was eloquent and poignant. In fact, Litany for the Feast Day of All Souls was so touching and spot-on that this critic was moved to tears. Galant spent just the right moment before segueing from Adagio del Altiplano into his closing work, one of the most popular and familiar works from the piano repertoire: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It is a huge audience pleaser but one should also be careful not to be too extravagant or otherwise it comes off as cliché or trite. Galant showed wonderful control, which made the performance refreshing. His body English throughout his entire program was worth observing.


The first of the 12 semifinalists to perform, Yangrui Cai opened with the Two Andean Portraits. While his performance of the new piece sounded a bit too deliberated and could have inlcluded a more spontaneous feel, his interpretation of the second portrait was very good. Following the Frank composition, Cai was definitely more comfortable in the remainder of his program. He continued with Ten Pieces from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Op. 75, and Ravel’s Gaspard de La Nuit (which is being played in its entirety for the second time during this competition). Cai’s program brimmed with opportunities to demonstrate music’s efficacy as a story-telling medium. Written in the 1930s, Prokofiev’s suite captured the Shakespearan play perfectly and connected it as relevant for contemporary audiences. Among the pieces that really test the pianist’s story-telling abilities for portraying contrasts are Dance of the Knights and Montagues and Capulets when pitted against Folk Dance and Young Juliet. Here, Cai succeeded with excellent results, matched by an equally impressive reading of the Ravel suite.

Hyojin Shin placed Two Andean Portraits in between the two other works in her program: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110 and Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op. 84 (which semifinalists Jonathan Mak and Youl Sun offered in their second round quarterfinal programs). Shin’s performance of Two Andean Portraits offered the wondrous possibilities in Frank’s score, especially in the second portrait, where she shaped the ideal contrasts in the mysterious and fantastical elements suggested in the musical imagery. The late-period Beethoven sonata (composed in 1821) is tightly written but it compels the pianist to resist the familiar classical sonata and explore a bridge between two major musical eras, the Baroque ancestral roots that led to the Classical Era and the shift at the time that presaged the emotional flexing of pianists such as Schumann and Liszt. In the sonata’s final movement, Shin’s performance gave us a clear image of the musical bridge Beethoven envisioned between Bach and Schumann. Her closing selection was gobsmacking good, with the best performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8 so far in this year’s competition.

Giuseppe Guarrera performed his program with Two Andean Portraits placed after Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 (which, incidentally, quarterfinalist Jiaxin Min played in her second round program). While the Schumann performance had some agitated and rattling moments, Guarrera offered a solid performance of Two Andean Portraits, especially in taking some of the improvisational liberties allowed in Adagio del Altiplano, the second portrait. Guarrera closed his program with Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 87. This year’s Bachauer competition has now featured the trio of Prokofiev’s “war sonatas,” one of the greatest sets in 20th century piano literature. The shortest of the great trip. No. 7 is the composer’s best-known piano sonata, with its famous first movement, marked as Allegro inquieto, followed by a cantabile middle movement and the machine stomping of the final movement. Guarrera’s performance highlighted these key elements effectively.

Chun Lam U was the first pianist today to open his program with Two Andean Portraits, followed by Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 (the fourth pianist to play this work during the competition, which also was performed by semifinalists Yangrui Cai and Yuki Yoshimi in their quarterfinal programs). Chun, the first pianist to play the Frank composition from memory, offered the most interesting performance of the piece. His tempo for Introducción: Zampoñas was spot on and he really dug into the contrasts of sonorities and effects in the Adagio del Altiplano, where he produced the most convincingly mysterious atmosphere, as suggested in the creative brief for the commissioned work. Nerves seem to be evident as well in the semifinal round, as his performance of the Symphonic Etudes was uneven in spots. Chun closed his program with Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 29. This is to date, the most youthful work from Prokofiev that a pianist in the competition has chosen to perform. He completed it in 1917, when he was 26. This was a particularly difficult time for the composer, who dedicated the sonata to the memory of a friend who had committed suicide a few years earlier, and, in fact, the composer premiered the work himself, in 1918. But, 1917 was also a time of great uncertainty in Russia, with the war and the German army threatening the country’s borders and the unrest that would lead to the Bolshevik Revolution. The first two movements certainly remind of these circumstances but the third movement suggests that it may be possible to overcome such dark and dire situations. Chun nicely elucidated the emotional character expectations of each movement in the sonata.   

JUNE 22, 2024



Bachauer has announced the 12 semifinalists who will continue in programs of 55-60 minutes each on Monday and Tuesday, June 24-25. They are:

Yangrui Cai

Hyojin Shin

Giuseppe Guarrera

Chun Lam U

Jonathan Mak

Misha Galant

Wynona Yinuo Wang 

Rachel Breen

Yuki Yoshimi

Zhengyang Fan

Carter Johnson 

Youl Sun

Background on the jury process is here

For the final two quarterfinal performances:

Fumiya Koido played Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp Major, WTC I, BWV 858 and Schumann’s Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11 (which Wynona Yinuo Wang performed in her second round program yesterday). The Bach piece comes from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier and is a fine workout to prep for the Schumann sonata, which Koido played with plenty of gusto and, in particular, a lovely performance of the slow movement.

Closing out the second round of the quarterfinals was Jiaxin Min, who played the eight pieces from Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 and Mily Balakirev’s Islamey, Op. 18 (which Virgile Roche performed on the first day of the quarterfinals). The eight pieces in this Schumann work cover impressively a musical universe of moods, emotions and senses. As a testament to their popularity, Liszt wrote a letter to the composer, which mentioned, “Your ‘Fantasy Pieces’ have captured my interest in an extraordinary way. I play them truly with delight, and Lord knows there are not many things of which I can say the same.” Providing the 62nd and final performance of the quarterfinal rounds, Min did not hold back and played both works with grand fervor that echoed Liszt’s generous appraisal.


The second round of the quarterfinals wraps up today, with the last seven of the 31 competitors performing. Shortly after the evening session has concluded, the 12 semifinalists will be announced for the next round, which begins Monday (June 24). One curious note about today’s slate is that each of the seven pianists has at least one piece on their program that has been played already, which allows for comparing the respective performances. But both of today’s sessions also have a good number of pieces that are being heard for the first time on the Bachauer competition stage.  

Yuki Yoshimi led the opener today, with two selections from Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words: E Major, Op. 19, no. 1 and F-sharp minor, Op. 19, no. 5. Yoshimi also becomes the third pianist this week to perform Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13, which really is an ideal work for competition because of its wide spectrum of musical characters, emotions and tones. Mendelssohn published eight books of Songs without Words and this first set was completed in 1824. These two pieces exemplify tight, compact structures. Yoshimi gave a shimmering performance of Mendelssohn and his reading of Symphonic Etudes was especially buoyant.

Ziyuan Qu played Scriabin’s two-movement Sonata No. 2 in G-sharp Minor, op. 19 and one of Prokofiev’s “war sonatas,” Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82 (which Martin Jacobs played yesterday evening). Composed in 1898, this Scriabin sonata is among the composer’s most popular pieces. It blends traditional Romanticism with some Impressionism. “The first section represents the quiet of a southern night on the seashore; the development is the dark agitation of the deep, deep sea,” the composer explained in his own notes. “The E major middle section shows caressing moonlight coming upafter the first darkness of night. The second movement represents the vast expanse of ocean in stormy agitation.” Ziyuan’s Scriabin was absolutely delightful while his Prokofiev performance was thrilling, with plenty of dynamite and agitation in a work, as previously mentioned in this diary, that captures the emotional currents of wartime in such a clear musical frame.

Zhengyang Fan performed Mozart’s Sonata No. 9 in D Major, K. 311, followed by Scriabin’s Deux Poemes, Op. 32 (which Fumiya Koido performed earlier this week) and Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 36 (which Yupeng Mei and Robert Brooks Carlson performed in their second round programs). Mozart wrote this sonata when he was 21 and it epitomizes the immaculately satisfying effect that many associate with the composer. Fan, one of the youngest quarterfinalists this year, was quintessentially elegant in Mozart and the two short Scriabin musical poems. He really brought boundless youthful exuberance to Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2. Today’s performances are especially critical because these are the final ones the jurors will have immediately in mind, as they contemplate who makes the cut to go to the semifinals.

Carter Johnson’s program featured a work that was just performed by Fan in the prior program, Deux Poemes, Op. 32, as well as three works that were heard for the first time in this year’s competition. They were Kate Whitley’s Five Piano Pieces (respectively representing moods of Declamatory, Spacious, Aggressive, Sad and Triumphant); Muzio Clementi’s Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 25, no. 5 and Paul Hindemith’s Sonata No. 3 in B-flat Major. Whitley, 35, is an English composer and these five pieces were completed in 2014. Tightly written, the pieces test the pianist’s capacity to deliver on the emotional contract of its title. Johnson displayed an impressive alternating facility of emotional contrasts in the Whitley and Scriabin  works. Meanwhile, he elucidated the inherent grace in the Clementi sonata, which turned out to an ideal companion for the Hindemith sonata, which the composer wrote in 1936. The Hindemith work demands an athletic composure and there is a vibe that suggests a friendly conversation between intellectuals and Johnson’s meticulous sensitivity produced a very good reading of this sonata. 

Youl Sun performed Haydn’s Fantasy in C Major, Hob. XVII:4 and another of Prokofiev’s “war sonatas” (Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op, 84, which Jonathan Mak played yesterday). The Haydn piece is a great conditioning exercise to prepare the fingers for the demands of the Prokofiev sonata and Sun fulfilled the creative brief with this work. Haydn composed this piece of whimsy in 1789, during the time he started scoring for the piano instead of the harpsichord and positioned it so that both highly trained and amateur musicians could approach it satisfactorily. Sun offered a well-conceived interpretation of the Prokofiev, especially in projecting the most interesting sound portraits in the first two movements and he found the rhythmic drive in the final Vivace movement while not losing control over the most subtle passages in it.

JUNE 21, 2024


Martin Jacobs opened his program with Mozart’s Adagio in B Minor, K. 540, followed by Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82. Earlier in the day, jurors and audience members heard Jonathan Mak perform the Eighth Sonata, the last of the trio of Prokofiev’s “war sonatas.” The Sixth Sonata has an overwhelming harshness of dissonance and aggressive, angular rhythms that we have not heard frequently in this competition. Against the mature  Mozart work, which Jacobs performed with elegance and precision, this sonata’s opening can be startling. Likewise, the ending is an unfettered frenzy of a coda. Of Prokofiev’s three war sonatas, the real horrors of war come through the clearest in Sonata No. 6. Jacobs delineated the triumphs and brutalities with finesse.

To open his program, Nabeel Hayek played Egon Petri’s arrangement of a Bach classic: Sheep May Safely Graze, BWV 200. He turned to Hungarian composers for his other two works: Bartók’s Dance Suite, Sz. 77, and Liszt’s Réminiscences de Norma S 394 (which Lixin Zhang performed earlier this week in his program). The Bartók work is a piano version of the composer’s popular orchestral work, which brings in dance melodies with Magyar, Romanian and rural folk melodies that have a definitive Arabic character. Hayes’s best performance in his program was in the dance suite, in which he brought out the cultural and ethnic roots of each movement.

Rachel Breen closed the evening session, with Medtner’s Sonata in G Minor, Op. 22 and Beethoven’s Bagatelles, Op. 126. This Medtner sonata is among the best known of the composer’s output, which Prokofiev and Horowitz had performed publicly, respectively. Medtner’s use of different rhythms in both pianist’s hands as well as the alternating ascension of minor and major thirds leads to a clear organic evolution throughout the single-movement work. Compared to her first round program, Breen’s selections here gave a much stronger case for her musicianship, as these Beethoven and Medtner works sparkled in her hands. 


The third day of the second round quarterfinals continues today, with eight pianists. Today, jurors and audiences will hear, among other things, three pianists performing four works by Nikolai Medtner, a Russian contemporary of Rachmaninoff whose music has enjoyed a significant resurgence in recent years. Various works by other pianists will include two of the Prokofiev “war sonatas,” three works by Schumann as well as several pieces that other competitors featured earlier this week in their programs. 

Jonathan Mak opened the session with Scriabin’s Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp Major, Op. 30 and Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op, 84. This Scriabin sonata, composed during the late Romantic Era, represents a turning point in the composer’s style. The shortest of his ten piano sonatas, written in 1903, Scriabin foreshadows one of his greatest shifts, as represented in The Poem of Ecstasy, a symphonic work which he completed five years later. The Prokofiev sonata is the final of the composer’s three “war sonatas,” which he completed in 1944, just as he was finishing his Fifth Symphony. The first two movements refer to melodic material from The Queen of Spades, which originally was intended to be a soundtrack for a film that never materialized, and the stage drama Eugene Onegin. Mak nicely handled all of the inner complexities in the extraordinarily rich musical material in this work.

Misha Galant played Rameau’s Gavotte et Six Doubles, RCF 5/7, and Nikolai Medtner’s Sonata in E minor, Op. 25, no. 2. Known as the Night Wind Sonata, this Medtner work for solo piano is the longest in his oeuvre (running more than 30 minutes) and most technically demanding he produced for the instrument. It is inspired by a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev, which includes the verse,  Night wind, night wind, why do you howl? This work has been compared in its manifestations of style, technique and emotional evocations to Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor, which Bachauer competitor Curtis Phill Hsu offered in his second round quarterfinal program. Galant’s take on this Medtner work materialized the evocative images embedded in Tyutchev’s poetry. 

Wynona Yinuo Wang opened her program with Ba Ban by Chen Yi, followed by Schumann’s Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp minor, Op. 11. Chen Yi is well known for her fusion of musical materials from Chinese folk music and Western compositional styles. Ba Ban (1999) is based on a very popular piece played of traditional Chinese instruments. The Schumann sonata is most notable for its slow movement, which was based on an unpublished song (To Anna) the composer wrote in his teens. Liszt reviewed the sonata for the Parisian publication Gazette musicale and described the slow movement as “a song of great passion, expressed with fullness and calm’.” Wang’s performance delivered handsomely on that description, as well.

Yunkeon Ji played Haydn’s Sonata in D Major, Hob. XVI: 42, followed by Schumann’s Drei Fantasiestücke, Op. 111, Schumann composed this work in 1851, during a period of extraordinary stress. Clara Schumann noted in her diary regarding the Three Fantasy Pieces, he “has composed three piano pieces of a very serious, passionate character, which greatly please me.” Ji performed two Nikolai Medtner works: Sonata Reminisicenza from Forgotten Melodies, Op.38, no. 1 (which Nicolas Giacomelli performed earlier this week in his first round quarterfinal program). As previously noted, this work was completed in 1922, just five years after the Russian revolution and while it is a single long movement, the work introduces eight melodies strongly related to each other through the opening theme and internal motifs. Ji closed his program with Medtner’s Two Fairy Tales, Op. 20, which the composer completed in 1909. Overall, Ji’s program hit on all cylinders, as the pianist evidently was fully invested at the keyboard. This competition has produced some fine interpretations of Medtner’s works, which has been encouraging to see from this up-and-coming generation of piano artists. 

Nicolas Giacomelli played the third in Shostakovich’s 24-piece set, Prelude and Fugue in G Major, Op. 87. The third piece casts the prelude with a distinct connection to the chants and bells in an Orthodox Mass, with intertwining melodic themes of serious, sober and lighthearted, joyful natures (an effect which Giacomelli achieved marvelously). The fugue is the only one in the set, marked by 6/8 time. Giacomelli also performed all eight movements of Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Op. 16. Composed in 1838, the work sets the virtuosic stakes from the fiendish get-go and never looked back through all eight movements. It sets up contrasts of crystal clear whirlwind force with the elegant musical latticework that pops up in various spots throughout the work. Key is the rhythmic control, especially in the third movement, which is marked by a triple rhythmic pattern that challenges the pianist not to let it be obscured in interpretation. Giacomelli gave his most sensitive attention to Kreisleriana, in many moments.

JUNE 20, 2024


Curtis Phill Hsu performed the Busoni transcription of Bach’s Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, (Come now, Saviour of the heathen) BWV 659, one of the Baroque master’s great 18 chorale preludes. Hsu’s exceptional control over the walking bass line and the sustained and extended melody against the always moving inner parts was a sign of what was to come in his main work of the program, Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. While this particular sonata is considered the acme of the piano repertoire for the Romantic Era, it was originally appraised with great negativity and skepticism. Clara Schumann is reported to have described it as “frightful.” Note the end of this half-hour work, when Liszt took a surprising turn away from the anticipated dazzling virtuosic ending. Hsu’s performance of the sonata was riveting. At 19, he is at the youngest age of the spectrum for eligibility in this competition (19-32), with a good number of quarterfinalists in their mid- and late-20s and several at or near the maximum eligible age. But, his musicality is impressively mature for his age.   

Xiaoxuan Li offered Mozart’s Allegro in D Major, K. 626b, Handel’s Sarabande from Suite No. 7 in B-flat Major and Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24 (a work that Hyojin Shin performed yesterday in her second round quarterfinal program). This charming Mozart work made news several years ago because it was a previously unknown work by he composer. In 2018, the family of a European engineer who had purchased the manuscript in the 1920s sold it to the Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg and experts later confirmed that, indeed, Mozart had composed it, likely when he was still in his teens. It is a very short piece, just barely two pages of score. Li’s program made a marvelous delightful listening experience and his rendition of the Brahms work was as satisfying as Shin’s yesterday. 

TianYi Li performed the nine pieces comprising Rachmaninoff’s Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39. Many Bachauer quarterfinalists are emphasizing their skills for emotional storytelling as much as they are in demonstrating their facility with virtuosic piano techniques. This particular Rachmaninoff collection is a prime example of music as a way of communicating short stories, in the eyes of the artist performing them. These are less etudes than they are freestyle paintings rendered not on canvas but on manuscript scores. From the first note of each tableau, the pianist sets a dramatic emotional mood that is not particularly pinned down by a reductive image or single narrative. Some have said that this Rachmaninoff work, which was completed in 1917 (just as the Bolshevik Revolution was underway), has always been in the exclusive domain of Russians. But Li’s performance, bolstered by his undeniable command of the score’s technical demands, made a compelling case that his version of the roiling, visceral landscapes evoked in these nine pieces is just as valid and legitimate as those of artists who came from Rachmaninoff’s homeland.  


The second day of the second round quarterfinals continues today, with eight pianists. Four of the five afternoon session performers offered different sonatas from among the 32 Beethoven wrote for piano. Audience members who have attended every juried session to date will recognize four works in both of today’s sessions that other Bachauer competitors have already performed this week. Rachmaninoff, Ravel and Liszt are quite prominent as well in both of today’s sessions. 

Yupeng Mei opened the session with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101 and Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36. The Beethoven work, definitively intimate and highlighted by its use of contrapuntal forms, is one of the composer’s sonatas from his late period, and this work was completed in 1816. It was the only Beethoven piano sonata had seen played publicly during his lifetime and the pianist was a bank official who was a fan of classical music. Also, this is the second time in the quarterfinals that this particular Rachmaninoff work has been performed. Robert Brooks Carlson performed this work during his first round quarterfinals program on Monday (June 17). Perhaps the most discernible difference between the two performances was in the slow movement of the Rachmaninoff sonata.

Anfisa Bobylova played Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 31, no. 3, and three selections from Ravel’s Miroirs (Oiseaux tristes, Une barque sur l’océan and Alborada del gracioso). Composed in 1802, this Beethoven piano sonata is considered the most lighthearted, sunny of the lot. Bobylova delivered precisely the intended effect, keeping it light, airy and clear — an ideal welcome to today’s summer solstice. 

Bobylova offered three of the five musical portraits Ravel wrote, each of which he had dedicated to friends who also were members of The Apaches, a Parisian club of artists. Birds at Sea was dedicated to pianist Ricardo Viñes, A Ship at Sea to painter Paul Sordes and Morning Song of the Court Jester to critic Michel Dimitri Calvocoressi. The work tests the pianist’s skill to achieve sonorous textures and atmospheres that evoke the imagery captured in Ravel’s score. Bobylova rose nicely to the task, notably in the two musical portraits associated with the sea.

Giuseppe Guarrera played Beethoven’s Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2, no. 1, Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60 and Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1. The variety of Beethoven piano sonatas was evident in this session, as this particular work was composed during Beethoven’s first years in Vienna. This work has been named Little Appassionata, especially for how the character of the last movement matches up with the later and much more famous work which bore the Appassionata name. As with his two immediate predecessors, Guerrera was impassioned and elegant with his Beethoven selection. The Liszt work, which was originally composed for orchestra and then arranged by the composer for piano, is, by far, the most popular of the three Mephisto waltzes he wrote. Guarrera made it a devilish confection to top off a fine program.

Zijian Wei opened with a Poulenc presto, which quickly established his skills for fleet fingering. He also performed Couperin’s Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou Les Maillotins, Liu Yuhui’s The Rhythm of Lv Opera II (the composer came from the Central Conservatory of Music in China) and Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 (a work that Yangrui Cai played yesterday during his second round quarterfinal program). Wei’s performance of the Schumann highlighted thrilling contrasts among the movements, just as dynamic in transparent melodic sparser lines as it was in the much denser orchestral sections. The closing Yuhui selection, the first 21st century piece to be heard in the quarterfinals, was well suited to Wei’s musicianship and proved to be a marvelous program closer.

Chun Lam U featured Beethoven’s Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 2, no. 2, Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, no. 1 and Ravel’s La Valse (which Mei played in his first round quarterfinal program on Monday). This Beethoven sonata is part of the same group in which Guarrera’s selection belonged. The features of this work are the pizzicato-like effects of the slow movement and the sensations of arabesques in the final movement. Chun’s Beethoven performance capped an outstanding quartet of the composer’s piano sonatas this afternoon. Chun’s reading of La Valse was volcanic in the best sense of the word, highlighting Ravel’s portrayal of the upending of the old European order.

JUNE 19, 2024


Lixin Zhang’s program was filled with musical fireworks. Debussy’s Feux d’artifice (Fireworks) is the last of the 24 Préludes, and is in Book II and it is the most technically difficult of the entire lot, with its opening swoops and runs, characterized by two major thirds set a semitone apart. The middle offering was Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3 in F-sharp minor, Op. 23. And, then the closer: Liszt’s Réminiscences de Norma  S 394, a remarkably effective compacting of Bellini’s Norma. Liszt deftly condenses the 1831 opera about a Druid high priestess in Roman-occupied Gaul who must choose between her love for the Roman governor and her duty to the gods and to her nation. Liszt relies on the music from the opera’s first two acts, which signify Norma’s campaign to oppose the Roman occupation and then later when she renounces her love and life in order to serve the interests of her nation and the gods. Dramatic chords, military drum rhythms and shimmering arpeggios propel the score and the work is considered a classic example of the 19th century ‘three-hand effect,’ in which the melodic line still pierces clearly through the surrounding keyboard pyrotechnics. It is an ideal work for a competition pianist to prove their mettle among immensely talented peers.

Virgile Roche performed two works that others have already offered in their first round quarterfinal programs. One was Brahms Seven Fantasies Op. 116, a work the composer wrote in the year before his death, and Roche’s interpretation juxtaposed the counterpoint of emotions represented in the entire set. The emotional character within each of the seven pieces swings back and forth, frequently and dramatically, but also the structure in each movement links each piece together, constantly reminding us that the first piece’s theme is never far away. It is an ideal competition piece to demonstrate the pianist’s capacity for expressing emotion through the score.

He concluded his program with Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole, which reflected in his travels to Spain and Portugal in the 1840s. The work encompasses Liszt’s love of pyrotechnics with the jota and folia dance forms that are popular in the region.

Hyojin Shin continued the Spanish influence, with Granados’s Los requiebros from Goyescas, another piece that is based on the jota. Her performance was the second time the work has appeared so far in the quarterfinals. Her major work was the superb Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24. Brahms completed the work in the early 1860s, using a theme from Handel’s 

Suite in B-flat Major, HWV 434. Shin took up the musical adventure handily, offering the theme along with all 25 variations. It is an ambitious work and Shin’s performance emphasized the ambitious stakes behind its creation. It was the second consecutive evening in the quarterfinals where a fugue wrapped up the day’s events.  


The second round of the quarterfinals began today, with each of the competitors presenting programs twice as long as the initial round, which are now up to a maximum of 40 minutes. This round will continue daily through Saturday evening, when the jury will decide which 12 pianists will move into the semifinals. Today’s performances by eight quarterfinalists demonstrate that whatever first round nerves or hesitations in their appearances have pretty much dissipated. There was a generous display of flair in personality and emotion that came through in their musicality.  

The order established at the beginning of the competition continues in this second round. As on the first day, Yoonji Yeo started the proceedings with a Chopin-themed program that included the composer’s Mazurka in A minor, Op.67, no. 4 and Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op.35, followed by Ferruccio Busoni’s 10 Variations on a Prelude of Chopin, BV 213a. Busoni wrote an initially larger set of variations in this work during his teens in the 1880s and in the 1920s trimmed the work down substantially to nine variations and added an introductory fugato. Yeo’s performance paid solid respect to this homage.

Seonghyeon Leem’s program was effervescent and vigorous, matching drama and stormy moments with plenty of uplifting dance spirit. The mark was set with the  Rachmaninoff transcription of Bach’s Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006, including the famous Prelude as well as Gavotte and Gigue. Likewise, there was a lot of bubbling brilliance in Beethoven’s Sonata No. 13 in E-flat major, Op. 27, no. 1. While the composer’s Moonlight Sonata is in the same opus set and gets all of the usual fame, it is this sonata that broke away from conventional sonata form and a structure to become more of a freestyle fantasia and Leem fulfilled the creative brief in this work.

Leem capped off a bristling program with Guido Agosti arrangement of three dances of the culminating scenes from Stravinsky’s Firebird (Danse infernale, Berceuse and Finale). Leem nailed the eye-popping seven-octave chord that opens the Danse infernale and rose to the difficult challenge of translating the epic orchestral luminescence of the work for the piano. 

With an effective calming contrast, Angie Zhang set a refreshing mood inher performance of Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, K. 511 and made light work of Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58. But, it was her closing selection which distinguished the afternoon proceedings with a lovely performance of Margaret Bonds’ Troubled Water. It was a perfect selection for Juneteenth: The spiritual, which is associated with the songs of the nineteenth century including work songs by slaves and others about the Underground Railroad, is among more than 50 that Bonds arranged for various instruments, during the 20th century. With its sharp syncopated rhythms in the left hand and jazz elements, the work challenges classical pianists because the transitions happen frequently and quickly in this five-minute composition. The key challenge is sustaining a cohesive narrative as articulated in Bonds’ scoring. This was a highlight of Zhang’s performance.

On the first day of quarterfinals, Robert Brooks Carlson offered John Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy (1976) and he stayed mostly in the 20th century for the second round, with a riveting performance of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op.36, and György Kurtág’s Szálkák (which translates to Splinters), which allows the piano to emulate the effects of the cimbalom, a central instrument in Magyar folk music. Carlson included Liszt’s Les Cloches de Geneve (Nocturne) as a delightful contrast. 

Keeping and expanding the energy of the afternoon session, Yangrui Cai opened with Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13, a strategic choice for showcasing his facility in capturing the range of introverted and extroverted musical episodes in tone and textures, all of which build to a triumphant finale. But, it was Stravinsky’s piano transcriptions of three movements from his Petrushka ballet score (Russian Dance, Petrushka’s Room and The Shrovetide Fair) that electrified the audience before closing out the first afternoon session of the second round of quarterfinals. Stravinsky did not just transcribe the original ballet score, he packed in a lot more meat for the piano version. Cai zoned into the score with intensity as well as inflecting just enough theatricality to exude the narrative spirit and characters of the ballet story.

JUNE 18, 2024


The remaining 15 quarterfinalists are performing their first round 20-minute programs today and there were quite a few pleasant surprises in the repertoire some selected. Today, two giants of piano literature, Schumann and Rachmaninoff made their first appearance in the quarterfinals, while like yesterday, Haydn, Scriabin and Scarlatti were performed but it was refreshing to hear some Mozart, Messiaen, Alban Berg, a substantial Bartók piece, a Liszt transcription of a famous Wagner piece and Nikolai Medtner, a Russian contemporary of Rachmaninoff whose music after decades of near obscurity has been returning to the major piano repertoire.   

Jonathan Mak opened the session, with a crisp, clean reading of a Scarlatti sonata, followed by Schumann’s Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, one of the most frequently recorded and performed sonatas in the literature and ideal for competitions because of the various musical character dynamics spread across the four movements.

As with Lixin Zhang yesterday, Misha Galant opened his program with a sparkling reading of Haydn’s Sonata in B minor, Hob.XVI:32. He followed with a vivacious performance of Scriabin’s Fantasy in B minor, Op. 28

Wynona Yinuo Wang opened her short program with a classic Rachmaninoff jewel, Daisies, Op. 38, no. 3, followed by a sharp imagistic evocation embedded in Liszt’s Après une lecture de Dante (Fantasia quasi Sonata), based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Yunkeon Ji’s program effectively demonstrated contrasts, in the utterly elegant Fantasy in D minor, K.397 by Mozart and Bartók’s Out of Doors, Sz. 81, which the Hungarian composer completed in 1926. It is a set of five atmospheric pieces for solo piano but the final one (The Chase) is devilishly difficult, as the pianist simultaneously plays three notes in the right hand and five in the left, while juggling jagged rhythms with machine precision leading to one of the most daring conclusions to the quarterfinal short programs so far. 

Nicolas Giacomelli brought Medtner’s exquisite Sonata Reminisicenza from Forgotten Melodies, Op.38, no. 1. The work was completed in 1922, just five years after the Russian revolution and while it is a single long movement, the work introduces eight melodies strongly related to each other through the opening theme and internal motifs. He followed with a familiar Scriabin work, the Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 (which pianists probably should not include in a 20-minute program, for fear of running over the time limit).

Martin Jacobs brought out Alban Berg’s Sonata, Op. 1, a ten-minute work in a single movement that the composer completed in 1909. It was a gutsy program move, given how the work’s melodic elements come from descending third sequences and the wide use of whole-tone chords and sophisticated harmonic progressions. jacobs followed up with a pure audience pleaser: the Liszt transcription of the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

Likewise, Nabeel Hayek had an intriguing pairing: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp Major, Op. 78 and tenth section (Regard de l’Esprit de joie) from Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus. Hayek filled the composer’s intentions well, capturing the effect of the ecstatic, intoxicating and extravagant character of the dance in this movement.

Breaking ranks with many other quarterfinalists, Rachel Breen offered a delightful tasting menu of piano techniques and styles, with eight miniatures, which included Prokofiev’s March from The Love of Three Oranges and his Cinderella Intermezzo, along with two Chopin Impromptus, and bits of Kurtag, Berio, Boulez and Scriabin.  

Yuki Yoshimi offered a Chopin impromptu as an amuse-bouche, followed by a filling and meaty reading of the first book of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35.

Prior to performing Scriabin’s Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp Major, Op. 30, Ziyuan Qu opened with César Franck’s Prélude, Fugue et Variation, Op. 18, which the composer dedicated to Camille Camille Saint-Saëns and the work sounds like something that Saint-Saëns would have written. The polyphony is clear as can be in the work but as with much of Franck’s music, the challenge is elucidating all of these pristine textures.


Liszt and Shostakovich were on the evening Bachauer menu but the five quarterfinalists who closed out the first round of performances definitely were eclectic in their selections. Zhengyan Fan’s opener of Ricercar a 3 came from Bach’s The Musical Offering, BWV 1079, followed by the first offering by a Spanish composer, Enrique Granados. From Goyescas, Fan performed Los requiebros, which is like a jota, a song and dance form originating in the northern Spanish region of Aragón. This particular movement could actually require four hands to play all the intricate fingering.  

Carter Johnson’s technically demanding program of eight selections from Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes, Op. 34 was beautifully capped by Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 11 (Harmonies du soir). Johnson closed the set with the most dramatic of the entire set, the Adagio in No. 14, which is in E-flat minor. The score is definitely symphonic in nature, which inspired Leopold Stokowski to orchestrate it for the Philadelphia Orchestra after it was published in the 1930s.

Youl Sun’s eclectic, original offering was notable, opening with two short Jean-Philippe Rameau pieces (Les tendres plaintes and Les niais de Sologne). His main work was Charles-Valentin Alkan’s Le festin d’Esope (Aesop’s Feast). Alkan was a 19th century piano virtuoso who was a contemporary of Liszt and was friends with Chopin. After two decades of virtual obscurity, Alkan returned to recognition, as his most developed works were presented. Sun’s performance paid worthy homage to a composer whose music belongs in a more visible place in the piano repertoire. 

Like several other quarterfinalists, Fumiya Koido offered a Haydn sonata (this time, C Minor, Hob. XVI:20) and Scriabin selections (this time, Two Poems, Op. 32). He capped it off finely, with a reading of Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique, Op. 4, no. 4. Koido’s program bookended contrasts very effectively, with an elegantl, graceful touch in the Haydn and the fiery devilish momentum of the Prokofiev to close out the program.  

Closing out the first round of the quarterfinals in a big way was Jiaxin Min, playing Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No, 5 in B-flat Major (Feux Follets) and Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor, Op. 87, no. 24. This is the mother of all contrapuntal writing, as the composer pays homage to the final fugue in Bach’s The Art of Fugue. Min’s double fugue closing was an apt commentary to a first quarterfinal round that featured many exceptional moments among the 31 pianists who participated. 

JUNE 17, 2024


One thing immediately was apparent, as the first session of the quarterfinal first rounds proceeded with the pianists. They wasted no time in rolling out strategically ambitious repertoire for their performances, each of which ranged from 15 to 20 minutes. While there were the usual composer names in the music the quarterfinalists can choose on their own, such as Chopin, Liszt, Prokofiev, Ravel and Scriabin, there also were pieces by Bach, Haydn, Scarlatti, Stravinsky, among others, and 20th century composer John Corigliano, in one instance.

Sixteen quarterfinalists are performing their first round today, in the afternoon and evening sessions and the remainder will take the stage tomorrow in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts in downtown Salt Lake City. Acknowledging that the quarterfinalists represent roughly the top 10% of the 333 applicants for this year’s competition, one could conclude that any differences in technical skills among the pianists are practically indiscernible. What becomes significant already at this stage of the competition is the musician’s capacity to put their own imprint of stylistic expression upon the composer’s score.

This was evident in the individual competitor’s program selections. As a result of the random drawing for the order in the quarterfinals, Yoonji Yeo was the first up and she quickly set the bar for the afternoon with two movements from a Scriabin sonata, Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 2 in A minor, and a Stravinsky etude.

She was the first of three women to open the session, followed by Seonghyeon Leem, who performed Brahms’ Seven Fantasies Op. 116 — perfect for the time limit, given that there are contrasting characters through every movement, which requires immaculate switches in playing approach constantly.

Angie Zhang covered all of the technical ground one would expect to see in these competitions with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor, BWV 875 and Mendelssohn’s Fantasia in F Sharp minor, Op. 28. Like her peers, Zhang did not shy away from the score’s indicated tempo markings.

Robert Brooks Carlson made one of the boldest choices for the first session, with Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy (1976), with five sections that actually are played as one long work. The opening section is scored for the left hand only, which provides the melodic material for the remaining four sections of the work.

Yangrui Cai went for two warhorses in the literature: Ferruccio Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s universally famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 and the Horowitz arrangement of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody in D minor. He did not disappoint in the bravura department.

Lixin Zhang put his own mark on the Liszt catalog, with his performance of the composer’s Rhapsodie Espagnole. But, he chose a remarkable contrast, with the finely elucidated score of Haydn’s Sonata in B minor, Hob XVI:32.

To cover the pianistic landscape as comprehensively as possible, Virgile Roche decided on four short pieces — the most eclectic sampling of the afternoon. He performed Prokofiev’s Vision Fugitive, Op. 22, no. 17; Ondine from Ravel’s Gaspard de La Nuit; a Bartók etude, and Mily Balakirev’s Islamey, Op. 18.

Yupeng Mei was the first quarterfinalist to bring Chopin to the Bachauer stage, with Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, no. 1 and Etude in G Sharp minor, Op. 25, no. 6. But, his more significant selection was Ravel’s La Valse, which tests the soloist’s capacity for being fluid enough to blend in the surrealistic imagery evoked by the music along with the periodic and frequent bursts of virtuoso technique. 

Rounding out the afternoon session was Anfisa Bobylova, who offered a graceful pair of Scarlatti sonatas from the 18th century, followed by a wondrously playful rendering of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54. 


For the second time on the first day of quarterfinals, another pianist, Giuseppe Guarrera, offered a pair of Scarlatti sonatas, but two different ones from the previous session. Scarlatti was such a prolific composers of these short sonatas that one could go quite a long time before hearing the same one again. We also heard for the second time today a thrilling Busoni arrangement of a Bach masterpiece for solo violin: this one being Chaconne in D Minor from Partita No. 2, BWV 1004. Guarrera’s performance lived up to the expectations of the Busoni transcription. 

As with a colleague in the afternoon session, Chun Lam U’s program relied on multiple movements from one popular work to represent a spectrum of musical characters, colors, tones and textures: Debussy’s first book of Preludes. One highlight was the interpretation of Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow) which quintessentially captures the imagery of a cold, lonely, bleak snowy landscape.

Curtis Phill Hsu performed Ravel’s entire Gaspard de la Nuit, which is based on poetry by Aloysius Bertrand. The final movement (Scarbo) is considered among the most difficult of any piece for solo piano and Hsu, among the youngest competitors this year, handled the demands effectively. His rendering of Le Gibet (The Gallows) in the second movement was a marvelous display of control.

As with Zijian Mei, Xiaoxuan Lin changed his program for the first round. Lin performed Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, which includes the famous Funeral March in the third movement. Both pianists performed with muscular force in their programs.

With scintillating style, TianYi Li also put demanding repertoire early in these proceedings, with two of Liszt’s Petrarch sonnets, which come from the composer’s Italian book of his Years of Pilgrimage, and Debussy’s L’isle Joyeuse, which was inspired by Watteau’s painting of Aphrodite’s birthplace.

2 thoughts on “2024 Gina Bachauer International Artists Piano Competition: Daily Diary, June 17-30”

  1. Hello, Les. I finally had the chance to look at your daily Bachauer diary. A truly remarkable job of not only chronicling the action, but offering insights into the nature of the performances themselves. It was great to see you at the Competition, and I certainly look forward to reading your reviews of the two Finals rounds! Thank you! –Rick Nobis (announcer – Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition, June 2024)


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