In 18th Piano Competition finals, progress is ultimate prize

Kreable Young | Staff Photographer
From left, Felisien Ng, Vincent Ip, Evelyn Lam, Laura Spector, Benjamin Goodman and David Brickle are finalists in the 18th Chautauqua Piano Competition. For the finals, they will each play a half-hour of music, beginning at 1 p.m. today in Fletcher Music Hall.

After five weeks filled with practices and challenges, six students from this season’s Piano Program will watch the works of their labor bear fruit as they enter the final round of competition.

At 1 p.m. today in Fletcher Music Hall, finalists Evelyn Lam, Vincent Ip, David Brickle, Benjamin Goodman, Laura Spector and Felisien Ng will take to the stage for half an hour each to play a repertoire of their choice.

Even with a $1,000 first place prize and $500 for second place on the line, Piano Program Co-Chairs John Milbauer and Nicola “Nikki” Melville said progress, more than money, is the main motivation for the talented students.

“From the very beginning of the summer, we say that this is a chance to learn about yourself and put into practice all the things that you’ve been working on during the summer and see how it works,” Melville said.

The prizes are just icing on the cake, Milbauer said.

“The students have already come away with something more at this point,” he said.

World-renowned pianists Gary Graffman, Angela Cheng and Chautauqua organist Jared Jacobsen will judge today’s competition.

While the judges will ultimately decide this afternoon’s winner, Melville said that audiences will also have the opportunity to get a closer look and learn more about the students.

“With six people, you become very focused,” Melville said. “You hear each of their strengths and their personalities as a pianist much more strongly when they get to be there for half an hour. I think today is a chance to hear some wonderful piano playing.”

Ip, a senior at the Manhattan School of Music, competed as a finalist last year and hopes that today’s competition will highlight the progress he has made.

“I want to perform the best I can and really enjoy the experience,” Ip said. “I hope to improve on last year’s experience in the competition. I’ve improved musically and technically and, hopefully, that can be shown in my performance.”

In addition to wanting to show how much she has improved, Spector, a junior at Oberlin College, said she is excited to play a piece that is close to her heart.

“One of the pieces means a lot to me,” Spector said. “It’s Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dumka.’ It reflects my Russian heritage. It’s a shout out to my mom who is the reason that I am where I am today. It’s very exciting to be able to play that for a big group of people and really express myself and my love for her.”

Happy to be competing among friends, Spector said she and her fellow pianists are excited to share their experiences with Chautauqua.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to witness a lot of hard work come to fruition,” she said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of talent and beautiful music.

This entire community has proven again and again that they really love music and care about the arts and so I think it’s natural for them to want to come and experience the music firsthand.”