MSIPC director’s retirement marks end of 20-year program

Vivian León speaks to friends and supporters of the MSIPC at the competitions final trip to New York.

Special to The Chart

Vivian León speaks to friends and supporters of the MSIPC at the competition’s final trip to New York.

Brennan Stebbins

Her office is adorned with stacks of music and CD cases, and it is from here that she talks about the end of an era.

After serving 20 years as the director of Missouri Southern’s International Piano Competition, Vivian León’s career is coming to a close, and with it, the competition itself.

“We would have loved to have somebody step up to the plate and assume this piano competition and continue with it,” León said. “We were hoping for that and exploring opportunities for that but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

“We are looking at the end of the competition,” she said.

An Oct. 17 letter being sent to members of the community makes it official: León will retire Nov. 30, and the 12th competition held last April will be the last.

The MSIPC began in 1987 and was originally a project from the music department. León took over in 1989, and said the purpose of the competition went beyond the Southern campus.

“It is to promote Missouri Southern,” she said. “It is to have a special cultural activity here at Missouri Southern to attract people from all over, to make Missouri Southern and Joplin a cultural center of the region. That was the purpose in the beginning, and we fit into the international mission just perfectly. When we started having interest from international competitors, that was just hand and glove, a very good fit.”

Dr. Bruce Speck, Missouri Southern president, said there would be a loss to the community in terms of the quality of music attracted to the area.

“I think what it does is certainly end an era of musical performance that was very high quality,” Speck said. “It was international and I think we can be in some ways a bit sad about that because it certainly added a dimension to Joplin culture that is going to be hard to replace.

Speck said he expressed support for the competition when he arrived at Missouri Southern last year.

“Charlie Edwards is chair of the (MSIPC) board and so when I first came on I contacted him and said we wanted to continue doing whatever the contract said,” Speck said. “We thought it was a very good thing for our community. Immediately what I tried to do is establish a very positive relationship with the board to let them know we were positive in terms of the competition and we would do whatever necessary on our end to promote it.”

León and around 35 others traveled to New York City last week to see this year’s competition winner, Avan Yu, perform at Carnegie Hall.

“It was fantastic,” León said. “First of all, you walk on 57th Ave. and outside Carnegie Hall there are marquees on what’s coming up. Just imagine, the poster is on the display case outside of Carnegie Hall and it says Missouri Southern. I mean, it’s just kind of surreal almost because you look at it and you say ‘how did we get here, how did Missouri Southern get its name up here.'”

The competition’s lasting legacy may be one of fairness. León said she worked hard to ensure the MSIPC competitors were judged on their musical ability, and nothing else.

“I think part of the reason this competition has gained a very good reputation is that we have done everything we could to make it a very fair, a very honest competition,” she said.

Speck had heard the same thing.

“I had someone tell me this competition was known as being one that was not rigged,” he said. “It was a genuine competition.

In the end, León said it was just time.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for me and such a privilege,” she said. “It’s been great working with the community and the people here at Missouri Southern, and we’ve come a long way in 20 years.”