2 Peabody pianists finish in money in world competition

June 03, 1991|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

The Peabody Conservatory came up with a 2-3 punch this weekend as two of its graduates, Maryland pianists and friends Stephen Prutsman and Brian Ganz won the $11,400 second prize and $10,000 third prize respectively in the top-rated Queen Elizabeth of Belgian Piano Competition in Brussels.

"We're very happy," Prutsman said of Ganz and himself after they heard at 1:30 a.m. yesterday that they had won second and third prizes. "We just sat up there soaking it all in, after a week of sharing tensions and being closeted. I had my share of the jitters but things went pretty well. We learned our limitations and possibilities."

Prutsman, 30, who lives in Baltimore, and Ganz, 31, of Olney, head of the piano faculty at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland, were the only Americans among 12 finalists from 81 original contestants in one of the top four international piano contests.

France's Frank Braley, 22, won the overall competition and the $14,300 first prize. South Korea's Haesun Paik was fourth and Soviet Alexander Melnikov was fifth. Another award for best interpretation of a new 12-minute piece was to be awarded later this week.

Ganz praised Prutsman and Braley as the two best Brussels performers. Having done his finals Friday before theirs, he was able to hear both and predicted they would place first and second. "I'm very delighted for Steve and thrilled to be playing with both the next few weeks. I was absolutely overwhelmed by Frank's beautiful playing of the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto and other pieces."

The story of Prutsman and Ganz would be roughly like that of two casual acquaintances and long-distance runners at college who crossed paths occasionally, then became good friends and finally wound up placing 2-3 in the Olympic marathon.

The two Marylanders share a number of things besides Peabody. They were both 1989 Beethoven Fellows, a rare American honor involving funds for bright new careers. While all Brussels finalists had to play a Mozart sonata and learn and play the brand-new 12-minute contemporary work by Patrice Chalullau, they each picked Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 as their third choice.

They are both finished with pressure-cooker competitions. After a month in Brussels, the two are homesick for Maryland.

And they are both pupils of Leon Fleisher, Peabody's ace piano teacher, who was "delighted for both these wonderful young people. They will be important figures on the international concert scene." Fleisher won the same competition in 1952 as the first American winner. He has been teaching both men in graduate classes and in the artist diploma programs.

"With this, Peabody has probably made a stronger showing in the four big competitions in the last three years than any other music school in the country, if not the world," said Anne Garside, director of public information.

Two years ago, Kevin Kenner was a finalist in the Van Cliburn competition in Fort Worth, Texas. Last year, Prutsman placed fourth and Kenner placed third in the Tchaikovsky competition. Then last fall, Kenner won the top prize in the Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, although the judges skipped first prize. In December 1989, Ganz won the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud competition in Paris.

Both Prutsman and Ganz won European concert dates, at healthy fees, for their Brussels showings. They and Braley play in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.

Prutsman will play 10 concerts. He won a two-compact disc contract, returns to Baltimore for a week in July, plays the Newport (R.I.) Festival for two weeks and winds up July with the San Diego Symphony. Although he teaches some, he seems headed for a concert career.

Ganz's wife, Andrea, was with him in Brussels.

Besides his eight European concerts, Ganz has other possible European offers dangling. He will be invited to play a big welcome-home public concert at St. Mary's College in the fall, will play the Arthur Friedheim Memorial Concert April 7, 1992, at Peabody with Fleisher conducting, and will play in Europe next summer, including the Helsinki Festival.

"I love St. Mary's College," Ganz said. "I can't imagine ever leaving there." He took the unusual course this spring of preparing for the Queen Elizabeth in public in four free concerts and lectures at St. Mary's. This created great interest in southern Maryland audiences but also risked fostering disappointment if he had won nothing.

St. Mary's officials were happy and proud yesterday. The Washington-area native has been a popular teacher at St. Mary's since 1986 and is known for his "warm, caring" ways with students and colleagues, said Chris Cihlar, public affairs director.

Raised in California and a piano player since before kindergarten, Prutsman thanked Fleisher's teaching assistant, Kwang-Wu Kim, for helping him prepare.

Prutsman said of Fleisher: "He's been an incredible influence on my musical life. He's taught me the possibilities of sound, time and rhythm, totally his own ideas and compelling. He helps students explore, think and challenge. On top of that, he's a magnetic musical personality. Through the whole process, you grow."

Peabody's ties to the Queen Elizabeth piano and violin contests extend to the violin. Faculty member Berl Senofsky won the violin competition in 1955, the only American violinist ever to win a gold medal. His student at Peabody, Zhang Le, won a 10th prize bronze medal in 1989.

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