In years when the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation does not hold the finals in Salt Lake City for its rotating schedule of competitions, June becomes the month for the piano festival, as Kary Billings, the foundation’s executive director, explains.
This year’s event (June 22-25) features six young pianists, ranging in age from 14 to 16, who have been taking lessons for anywhere between eight and 11 years. But, they already have amassed impressive competition and performance portfolios in and out of the U.S. They will participate in a series of master classes, led by guest artists as well as Douglas Humpherys, who won the first Bachauer international competition and is current artistic director for the foundation.
Along with the master classes, which will take place during the daytime and will be free and open to the public, there will be three programs featuring the guest artists on two evenings (June 23 and June 24) and the festival will conclude with a performance featuring all six young pianists on June 25. Master classes will take place at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on June 23 with Humpherys and then again on June 24 with guest artist Boris Slutsky. The June 23 evening concert will feature Slutsky, while the June 24 evening concert will feature Fantee Jones. The festival opens June 22 with a 7 p.m. reception where the artists and students will meet and greet guests. All events will be in the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts, with master classes and concerts in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre.
Billings says the students are “extraordinarily good,” by any measure. Humpherys adds that the master classes are great opportunities for audience members who often ask questions about the background of performing and practicing. Some of the most popular questions ask how the young performers master the art of memorizing such complex scores. The interactive dynamic is illuminating because all six students will participate in each master class. In the master class, students do respond “very quickly” to suggestions which fine tune their musicianship and technique, Humpherys says, adding that they show “real improvement” as they climb to the next mountain peak in their performing skills. He explains that the master class also is one good way of dismantling the proverbial fourth wall on stage, which encourages both musicians and the audience to be more comfortable in communicating with each other. Master classes do help young musicians cultivate their stage presence.
The guest artists are well known in the Bachauer family. With a professional performing career that started more than 40 years ago, Boris Slutsky emerged on the international music scene when he captured the First Prize along with every major prize, including the Audience Prize and Wilhelm Backhaus Award, at the 1981 William Kapell International (University of Maryland) Piano Competition. His other accomplishments include first prizes at the Kosciuszko Chopin Competition and San Antonio International Keyboard Competition, and major prizes at the International Bach Competition in Memory of Glenn Gould, Gina Bachauer, Busoni, Rina Sala Gallo, and Ettore Pozzoli International Piano Competitions. A native of Moscow, he is visiting professor of piano at The Yale School of Music.
Fantee Jones, a Taiwanese-American pianist and violinist who lives in Roseville, California, gave her first solo recital at the age of seven and made her concerto debut performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488 at age ten. She was a semi-finalist at the 2020 National Chopin Piano Competition, winner of the 2019 Eastman School Concerto Competition, finalist at the 2018 Serge and Olga Koussevitzky Young Artist Awards, prizewinner at the 2018 Los Angeles International Piano Competition, and a winner of the PianoTexas International Young Artists Concerto Competition, among others. Jones is a triple threat as a musician, with piano, violin and flute in her bailiwick. Most recently, she was the recipient of the Excellence in Accompanying Awards at the Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, New York, where she continued her studies with Alexander Kobrin, another well-known name in Bachauer circles. She recently completed the work for her doctor of musical arts degree in piano performance and literature and a minor in piano pedagogy.
The students selected for the festival include:
Grace Feng, 15, who studies with Ilana Vered and Carol Chuang, has taken prizes at numerous piano competitions, including first prize at the MTAC Northern California Piano Solo and Concerto Competition, CAPMT Honors Competition State Final, and the CAPMT Concerto Competition State Final. She was the Grand Prize winner of the 2020 Auburn Symphony Young Artists Competition, and the winner of the 2021-22 MTNA California Piano Competition. Internationally, she received second prize at the Harmonium OnlinePlus International Piano Competition, and a scholarship prize in the 2021 San Jose International Piano Competition. She has performed with the Folsom Lake College Youth Chamber Orchestra, the Florence Conservatory Orchestra at Music Fest Perugia in Italy, and the Auburn Symphony.
Matthew Liu, 14, has been studying piano for eight years and is a student of Professor Jack Winerock at the University of Kansas. Recently, he won first prizes at the Kansas City Symphony Young Artist Concerto Competition, the Chopin International Competition in Hartford Connecticut, the Paderewski International Piano Competition, and the IPPA Conero International Piano Competition. He was a Solo Rounds Competitor at the 2021 Gina Bachauer International Junior Piano Competition. He has performed at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, Ward Recital Hall at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., and the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City. He has performed concertos with the Midwestern Chamber Orchestra, the Topeka Symphony, and the Kansas City Symphony.
Yinghan Wang, 15, began piano studies at the age of five and is studying with Ching-Yun Hu, whom Bachauer audiences may remember from his spectacular all-Liszt program in March at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts. She has received prizes in many competitions, including first prizes at the 2015 Singapore International Junior Competition, the 2015 Hong Kong International Junior Piano Competition, and the 2013 Suzhou Jianwu Cup Junior Piano Competition. She also won second prize in American Chopin International Junior Competition in Hartford Connecticut and third prize in the 2020 Philadelphia International Piano Competition. Additional performances include a Mozart concerto with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Orchestra and a broadcast on WRTI Classical Radio in Philadelphia.
Elsie Lu, 16, began studying piano at the age of five with Rada Bukhman and is a pupil of Dr. Sasha Starcevich. Lu won first prize at the 2021 Canimex Canadian Music Competition, and the platinum prize at the 2022 Grand Metropolitan International Music Competition. She was the gold medalist at the U.S. Northwest Chopin Festival, the Seattle Pacific NW Piano Competition, and the Steinway Canada Young Artist Competition. She has performed concertos with various orchestras, including the Bruensis Virtuosi, the Orchestra of MusicFest Perugia, and the Bellevue Symphony. She also is a published poet, with works in Intuition, and her paintings were published in the music collection book The Magic Link.
Nathaniel Zhang, 15, who began piano studies at the age of five, currently studies with Dr. Sasha Starcevich. Zhang won first prizes at the 2018-2019 National MTNA Junior Competition and the 2019 Virginia Waring International Junior Competition. He was awarded second prize at the Arthur Fraser International Piano Competition, fifth prize at the International Piano-E Junior Competition, and second prize at the San Jose International Piano Competition. He has performed concertos with the Florence Conservatory Orchestra in Perugia, Italy and the Philharmonia Northwest. He will perform with the Seattle and Auburn Symphonies in the 2022-23 season. Nathaniel also enjoys playing chamber music and regularly performs at the “Rising Stars of Chamber Music” concerts.
Philina Zhang, 15, who began piano studies at the age of three, currently studies with Irina Morozova at the Special Music School in New York City. She has won numerous prizes in international piano competitions, including first prizes at the Thirteenth International Piano Competition in memory of Vladimir Horowitz, the International Lev Vlassenko Competition, and the Villahermosa International Competition.
She has also won prizes at the Chopin International Piano Competition in Hartford Connecticut, and the Kaufmann International Competition. In New York City she has performed at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, and Steinway Hall. Other venues include performances in Italy, France, China, and Czech Republic. She has been featured on broadcasts at WQXR in New York City and From the Top. A prolific composer, she has written works for piano solo, four-hands, strings, and chamber music. She also enjoys writing and performing original songs with her sister.
For more information and tickets, see the Bachauer website.