Peabody pianists place second and third in Brussels competition

June 03, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Brussels' Queen Elisabeth Competition, one of the world's most prestigious musical contests and one of the most accurate predictors of future success, awarded second- and third-prize medals yesterday to Peabody Conservatory piano student Stephen Prutsman and to former Peabody student Bryan Ganz. They were the only two Americans in a field of 81 players to reach the finals in the monthlong contest that Belgians regard with the enthusiasm that Americans reserve for the World Series or the Super Bowl.

"We haven't slept since this thing ended," said Prutsman yesterday several hours and several parties after the decision had been announced early yesterday morning. The 30-year-old pianist won $12,000 in prize money, a monthlong concert tour this month in Belgium and Holland, more than 10 European concerts this coming season and the opportunity to make two compact discs. Ganz, 31, who teaches at St. Mary's College of Maryland, won $10,000 and a similar number of concerts. The top-prize winner, 23-year-old Frank Braley of France, won $15,000 and the special concert tour reserved for the first-prize winner.

The Brussels competition, named for the music-loving Belgian queen who inaugurated the competition in 1937, alternates between piano and violin and offers prizes in each every four years. Its prestige, equaled only by Warsaw's Chopin Competition and Moscow's Tchaikovsky Competition, dates back to the first contests which were won by violinist David Oistrakh and pianist Emil Gilels. Other celebrated prize-winning pianists include Vladimir Ashkenazy, Emanuel Ax, John Browning, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Peabody professor of piano Leon Fleisher, the teacher of both Prutsman and Ganz and the first American ever (1952) to win first prize.

Prutsman and Ganz' prizes cap an extraordinary 12 months for Peabody and Fleisher in the world's top three piano competitions. Last June Prutsman and Kevin Kenner, another Fleisher student at Peabody, were the only two Americans to win high prizes in the Tchaikovksy. Then in October, Kenner won second prize in Warsaw's Chopin, thus becoming the highest finisher because no first prize was awarded. Long before this latest string of victories by his students, Peabody's Fleisher was generally regarded as the world's pre-eminent teacher. Now his record of success is such that his position can only be compared to that enjoyed in baseball in the 1950s by the New York Yankees.

"I'm just delighted and the school is delighted," Fleisher said yesterday after Prutsman and Ganz' victories were announced. "This couldn't have happened to two nicer people or to two more more deserving musicians."

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