There is a strange secret handshake among American pianists. Quite a few of us, at some time in our early twenties, spent a very special week or so in Indianapolis, participating in an experience that stands out in our memories from the many similar weeks spent in similar situations, during that time in our early twenties when we were doing what is known as "the competition circuit". If you read my earlier post about piano competitions, you'll understand that that time in my early twenties was not my very favorite time. Stress and anxiety were permanent traveling companions on my competition journeys. But the American Pianists Association competition in Indianapolis was different. We learned a lot. We had fun. We made friends that have lasted all these years. Many of us have maintained close relationships with the force of nature that was APA's Artistic Director for many years, Aileen James, now a neighbor of mine out in California and a beloved colleague and advisor.
APA just is different. Among the sea of competitions that take a relatively uniform approach to the identification and recognition of gifted young pianists, APA's support is unique in many ways. For one thing, there's the prize, worth $100,000: a seriously supportive $50,000 in cash and two years of in-depth career backing, APA-arranged concert tours and recording opportunities. For another, APA is the only competition that crosses the border between classical and jazz, with the APA Fellowship awarded every two years on an alternating basis to a classical or a jazz pianist.
More than anything else, though, APA stands out in terms of the breadth of musical experiences offered to and expected of contestants. Once the five finalists are chosen every Spring (from a preliminary recorded round), they begin a year-long APA journey, each finalist in turn invited to Indianapolis in the Fall to be featured in the Classical Premiere Series, an expense-paid week that includes a concerto performance with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, public solo recitals, and a three-day high-school residency. By the end of that week, they've played for, and with, a wide swath of the Indianapolis public, from subscription audiences to high-school students. The five return to Indianapolis the following Spring for Classical Discovery Week, which showcases them again in solo, chamber music, new music, and song performances, plus a concerto performance with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Joel Harrison, APA's President/CEO and Artistic Director explains it this way: “What distinguishes the APA is the innovative and unique way in which we conduct our competition by presenting finalists in a variety of genres in multiple venues throughout the concert season. In so doing, we actually mirror the professional world through our competition format.”
Claire Huangci, whose Premiere Series week begins on Monday September 24 and culminates in her performance of Beethoven's 3rd with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra next Sunday, September 30.
Claire is a competition veteran: first prize in the 2010 National Chopin Piano Competition in Miami, laureate in the 2010 Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competition... She's already busy on the festival circuit, both in the U.S. and in Europe, where she's currently studying with Arie Vardi at the Hochschule für Musik in Hanover. She made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2003 and has since performed with orchestras in Stuttgart, Frankfurt, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and with the China Philharmonic. At 22, she's the youngest of this year's finalists; born in Rochester, NY, she entered Philadelphia’s Settlement Music School at age seven and did her undergraduate work at Curtis. We connected via Skype to talk about what's coming up during her visit to Indianapolis: