Music makes everyone happy. A live performance gives us a feeling of a miracle in the making. I just got home from the Awards Ceremony and final recital of the 11th San Antonio International Piano Competition. It was great to see young artists from all over the world recognized by the panel of respected judges and the audience. It was a very special week for us San Antonians who love music! I cannot say who I was more impressed with, the pianists or the support team of donors and volunteers. Piano performance became the most important business for them all! There was one very happy, emotional family sharing the greatest art: MUSIC! The competition, in its 29th year, filled the week with master classes, workshops, musical presentations and many other exiting adventures. It felt like New York, New York! In some peculiar ways it reminded me of my years of University examinations, time when there are just two things in life that matter, you and your piano.
Musicians live inside a very unique and beautiful bubble. How do they get there? They build it inside out by practicing and learning and feeling. To be a musician is not really a profession-it is a way of life. Not everyone can be a concert artist. It take a rare combination of extraordinary talent, sensitivity, fast reaction, a photographic memory, a strong and flexible physique and the best teachers; but most of all, it takes a lifetime of dedication. International competition of this caliber gives a rare opportunity for outsiders to glimpse inside the beautiful world of a professional musician and The San Antonio International Piano Competition supporters received it with honor. Many families adopted a contestant. They fed, drove and took care of these musical guests like their own kids. I bet they were worried about who would win and who would lose, probably even more than the contestants themselves. One of the host families was an old friend of mine, Dr. Sheila Swartzman.
She appeared in the row behind me before the third contestant on Thursday morning. “Mei is next. I am so nervous I can hardly breath.” A young Asian lady appeared on stage in a silver dress and very, very high heels. My first thought was, “OMG, How in the world is she going to play in those heels!” Her performance breathed life into the concert hall and into all of us who were there. She started with Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata No. 29. “How dare she play that at the competition!” said the snob inside me. Just to let you know, “Hammerklavier“ is one of the most difficult pieces written for the piano ever! It is difficult on every level, technically, musically but most of all intellectually because it is embedded with fugues. It is the “Hamlet” of the piano world and I would give a prize to any pianist who dared play it just for having the guts. Guess what! Mei won a special prize for Best Classical performance and made it to the finals!
Friday morning I learned from Sheila that Mei’s father had a heart attack Thursday night and Mei took a 5 am flight to New York to be with her father and had to withdraw from competition. I am glad I got a chance to hear her play and will bring her as a Musical Bridges guest artist next season. All our lives we walk a fine line between the joy and tragedy of our existence, and music, our fateful companion is always there for us. It was fascinating to hear the special prizes announcements: Leo Greenblum in memory of Sue Greenblum, Robert Cruise in memory of Constance Jones and many others. For these people music was a beautiful bubble binding them together before one of them was suddenly gone. By giving these special prizes to young players they bring memories of those wonderful days when they could share the gift of music. We are very fortunate to have our own International Piano Competition. By bringing together young artists and the local community it creates a cozy and beautiful bubble of Music. While we can, let’s enjoy it together!