Kapell winner consistent Indonesia-born Budiardjo beats 31 to win $20,000 and important concerts.

July 29, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

COLLEGE PARK -- Esther Budiardjo won first prize in the 1996 University of Maryland International William Kapell Piano Competition Saturday night, beating out 31 other pianists from North America, Europe and Asia for $20,000 in prize money and several concert dates that include a prestigious New York recital in Alice Tully Hall.

Budiardjo, 23, was announced as the winner after the competition's final round in which she and two other pianists -- second-prize winner Hsing-Ay Hsu, 19, of the United States and third-prize winner Giampaolo Stuani, 31, of Italy -- performed concertos with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Mario Venzago in Meyerhoff Hall.

Budiardjo, who has lived in Boston since 1988 and who has studied at the New England Conservatory with Wha Kyung Byung, gave a forthright, dashing performance of Chopin's E minor Concerto that brought many members of the audience to their feet in cheers.

"I'm happy and I'm not planning to enter another competition for a while," Budiardjo said at a reception afterward. "The requirements for a big competition like this, two hours of solo repertory and three concertos, take more energy than I will have for a while."

Exciting as Budiardjo's performance was, she sometimes played little too fast for the concerto's own good, piling into its elegant, if demanding, passage work and snapping off phrases as if she were angry with it. While her performance was more popular with the audience than third-prize winner Stuani's somewhat rhythmically shaky and technically challenged performance of Rachmaninov's Concerto No. 2, it was clearly Hsu's performance, after intermission, of Brahms' Concerto No. 1 in D minor that most excited the audience.

Although there were one or two places where Hsu, 19, showed her inexperience, her performance was masterly in its strength and authority and was sustained throughout the 50-minute concerto by exquisite lyricism.

The sentiments of the audience -- which gave Hsu, who studies with Herbert Stessin at the Juilliard School in New York, a standing ovation -- were shared by many members of the orchestra. And, although the eight-member jury of pianists (Leon Bates, Bradford Gowen, Martin Jones, Ruth Laredo, Cecile Ousset, Nikolai Petrov, Santiago Rodriguez and Peter Rosel) took less than 30 minutes to announce its decision for Budiardjo, one of them said afterward that he thought Hsu's performance deserved first prize.

"She was the only one who moved and excited me, the only one who seemed to make music with the orchestra," said the juror, a prominent pianist, once the winner of several international competitions and now a frequent judge at such contests. "She was not perfectly polished, but the others were nowhere near as good." But this juror explained that the winner was determined not only by the concerto performance in the final round, but also by the performances in the preceding two rounds as well -- and that Hsu had been less impressive earlier.

"It moved all of us," said yet another juror, acknowledging the eloquence of Hsu's performance of the Brahms Concerto No. 1. "But Budiardjo was the pianist who consistently did the best playing in the preliminaries and semi-finals."

The Indonesian-born Budiardjo gave a first-round account of Balakirev's stunningly virtuosic "Islamey" that, in the words of the second juror, "blew everyone away."

Then, because she had played such a flashy piece in the first round, Budiardjo was asked to perform Beethoven's intellectually demanding, hour-long "33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli" in the semi-finals.

"The 'Diabelli' usually puts me to sleep by the 10th variation, but her performance was completely engrossing," the second juror continued. "It impressed everybody very much."

Hsu, on the other hand, had given a performance of Schumann's "Symphonic Etudes" that was regarded as insufficiently coherent and another of Prokofiev's ferocious Sonata No. 6 that was, according to a third juror, "decidedly underpowered."

"It wasn't until the Brahms concerto that she showed us what she could really do," he continued. "She had a hell of a lot more going for her than I thought."

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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