Washington -- For the third time in the last six years, the William Kapell Competition failed to find a first-prize winner Saturday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
At almost midnight -- more than an hour after the last of three finalists played his concerto -- a distinguished international jury announced its decision: a second-place tie ($10,000 apiece) between Peabody Conservatory graduate Daniel Shapiro, 29, and Curtis Institute student Anthony Hewitt, 21, both students of Leon Fleisher, with third place ($5,000) going to Hie-Yon Choi, 24, a Korean who studies in Berlin.
The decision was greeted with more catcalls than cheers -- a paper airplane that had sailed the length of the stage during the long wait for a decision generated more approbation -- but it was hard to disagree with the jury.
The Kapell, which began in 1971 as an annual event and is now biennial, is sponsored by the University of Maryland at College Park and named after the great American pianist who died in a plane crash in 1953. Its aim is "to identify those contestants who have the ability to develop a major career," adding that "every group of contestants may not include a candidate of such special potential [and] that the jury reserves the right not to award the First Prize."
Neither the United States' Shapiro nor Great Britain's Hewitt seem ready now for major careers. Shapiro did well by the big moments in Brahms' D Minor Concerto, playing with vigor and fire. What he lacked -- at least on this occasion -- was the refinement and poetry that would have brought the slow movement to life and maintained the tension in the opening and TTC closing movements' meditative moments.
While Hewitt's Schumann Concerto showed the kind of refinement missing in Shapiro's performance, his is not the kind of talent that -- as his countrymen might say -- seems likely to set the Thames on fire. His playing had a nice line, crossed its T's and dotted its I's, but was rather phlegmatic. His dynamic scale might have sounded fine in his living room, but was not appropriate in a 3,000-seat hall in front of a large orchestra.
The energy and scale missing in Hewitt were certainly apparent in Hie-Yon Choi's Beethoven Concerto No. 4. But also present were a genuinely ugly sound, an inability to relax and a nervousness that eviscerated her ability to present the piece as a cogent narrative.
"Right from the start [of the judging] we all agreed that that there was no question of awarding a first prize," said the well-known pianist Gary Graffman, a member of the jury. "The reason [for the delay] was a question of whether it would be two seconds and a third, one second and two thirds or three thirds."
The pianists performed with the National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Hermann Michael, who gave some of the finest accompaniments this reviewer has heard since he began attending the Kapell in 1986.