Second time’s the charm as Sun takes Piano Competition

The six 2012 School of Music Piano Competition finalists after their final-round performances: Rie Tanaka, Lishan Xue, Jie Ren, Yi Qing Tang, Michael Delfin and first prize winner Jiao Sun. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Yemi Falodun | Staff Writer

“It’s mine, now,” said pianist Jiao Sun, running from Charles Parsons as she sported his darkly tinted shades.

The lighthearted moment came this past weekend, when all six finalists for the 2012 Chautauqua School of Music Piano Competition awaited the results from the judges, who awarded Sun the $7,500 first prize and a $3,000 runner-up prize split between Michael Delfin and Lishan Xue.

The three pianists will headline the 2012 Chautauqua Piano Competition Winner Recital at 7 p.m. tonight in Fletcher Music Hall.

“The result is important,” said Sun, the 2011 runner-up. “But what’s most important is to share the music with the audience. Music is about a relationship, instead of competition. No matter who wins or who doesn’t win, I hope that we are all still friends.”

Deliberation lasted more than an hour, as Sun, 21, played coy after taking Parson’s sunglasses, drawing a motherly look from her primary teacher, School of Music Piano Chair Rebecca Penneys.

Sun’s playfulness is what resonates with her friends, the audience and judges alike.

“I feel this prize does not belong to me,” she said. “It belongs to my parents, to my teacher Rebecca Penneys and to all my friends who support me.”

Sun has relied heavily on her close bonds forged this season with Parsons and others, even though she was not ready to make new friends after last summer.

“Before I came here, I felt this would be a sad year for me,” Sun said. “I had really good friends last year. But I really love my friends this year. And I think I’m going to miss them a lot.”

Sun, nervous and exhausted, shared more than musical notes in the final round — she gave her heart and more.

This season especially, Sun feels closer with the music emotionally, and her playing of Debussy’s Images, Book 2, reveals that passionate and imaginative spirit.

“It brought me back to Asian atmosphere,” Sun said about the piece. “I just imagine that there is a really old temple in the middle of nowhere. And nobody’s there. I imagine myself in that environment at night, and I’m walking in the forest, and I hear the sound of the trees, chimes and bell tower.

Debussy’s music often includes pentatonic scales, which is common in Asian music.

“I enjoy that sort of ambiance,” Sun said, as she explained her connection with the third movement, titled “Poissons d’or,” or “Goldfish.”

“When I was in middle school, I bought a goldfish,” she said. “It was the first fish I ever had. And I loved it so much. I talked to it every day. So, I imagine the goldfishes in this movement are flashing around. Then in the bass part, there’s a shark in the sea, and the fish swim together and get away, as the faster notes represent the sound of water.”

Sun seeks to learn bigger repertoire, which includes Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Bach’s “Goldberg Variation,” and Chopin’s “Fantaisie.”

“This is not the end,” she said. “It’s the beginning of another section to me.”

In the fall, Sun will return to the University of Rochester for her junior year.

Lishan Xue, 27, who shares the runner-up prize with Delfin, left for her dorm as the judges worked through their final decision.

“I was not satisfied with what I played,” she said. “I could have been much better.”

Xue, who studies at Oberlin Conservatory and whose primary teacher is pianist Monique Duphil, still feels there was something valuable to take away from the competition.

“I need to become calmer,” she said. “I get too involved in the music playing, which is also my advantage.”

Delfin said he feels he has made leaps and bounds this season.

“To place in this competition, I am very happy,” he said. “You feel a sense of pressure, but also gratitude.”

Delfin, 21, took on a grueling workload in addition to the piano competition, which included many chamber music sessions, instructing amateur pianists, as well as a concert performance with the Music School Festival Orchestra.

But through it all, Delfin overcame his mental apprehension.

“I have a hyperactive brain when performing,” he said. “I think one of my greatest strides is being able to let go completely when I perform.”

And Delfin, who studies at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University with Boris Slutsky and Judah Adashi, has made a stride that goes beyond his music playing.

“I’ve made some wonderful friends here,” he said. “I am very thankful to God, because it was really worth my time.”

Seyeon An, who studies at Seoul National University, won Faculty Merit Award, given by resident Chautauqua faculty, and $600. 

Rie Tanaka, who studies at University of Wisconsin–Steven’s Point with Raffi Besalyan, won Best Performance for Doug Opel’s commissioned work and $500. 

The competition’s judges included, Laurent Boukobza, Christopher Harding, Jared Jacobsen, Marina Lomazov, Yoshi Nagai, and Brian Preston


Updated: This story has been edited to reflect a correction in the spelling of Charles Parsons’ name.