Preparations done, MSIPC organizers prepare for performances

Piano delivery in preparation for MSIPC. Competitors from around the globe compete for a Carnegie Hall debut.

Piano delivery in preparation for MSIPC. Competitors from around the globe compete for a Carnegie Hall debut.

Amye Buckley

Flags of forty-one nations hang in the entry hall of Taylor Performing Arts Center as the Missouri Southern International Piano Competition prepares to welcome participants from around the world.

Medals held by black and white ribbons will be soon grace the winners’ necks. For now they have been set aside, the ribbons ironed neatly and the medals waiting those wining names.

Preparations have been underway in the office of the Missouri Southern International Piano Competition for the past two years.

“People always ask me when you start – it never stops,” said Vivian León, director of the MSIPC.

León and her co-workers plan for the event and the Carnegie Hall concert. They work with supporters, raise funds and locate judges and speakers for the event. They advertise and send out letters of invitation to thousands of music schools in the United States and around the world to draw musicians to the contest. This year roughly 100 applicants tried for the 35 slots,15 in the junior and 20 in the senior divisions.

“The big thing of course is choosing the contestants and getting them here,” said Elizabeth Kemm, MSIPC committee member and member of the screening jury. “It goes beyond just being able to play the notes, it embodies how well are they are interpreting the piece, what the composer was trying to say.”

Screening jury members watched and re-watched the video submissions over several weeks.

“We sat there and watched every minute of each one, and each one of us made notes on each competitor and then we carefully discussed what we had heard,” said Dr. Cynthia Hukill, associate professor and director of piano studies.

Jury members say they try to evaluate the performer as a whole. The individual parts of the performance can include technique, style, emotion and phrasing.

Debra Snodgrass, assistant professor of music says pianists develop technique through hours of practicing scales and chords, but memory is important too.

“Piano is really the only instrument – other than the violin – that it’s totally accepted that you play from memory all the time,” Snodgrass said. “Some of the works that these pianists are playing are, maybe 50 pages long and if you consider that most of the time you have 10 notes at once, some of it going lightning fast, you have many, many, many notes to learn by memory.”

Phrasing, or stringing the notes together into musical sentences is also important and performers are expected to have a degree of intensity to their playing.

“Are they emotionally and intellectually involved in the music,” Kemm said. “That’s in addition to the musical technique.”

Judges and the screening jury are not given backgrounds, but pick the competitors based solely on their work.

But there are no guesses about the talent of those involved.

“There’s a reason that we pick these people,” Hukill said.