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CLAVIERS BAROQUES News Desk -- 2010 International Bach Competition -- Torontonian Ilya Poletaev First Prize Winner

July 17, 2010 -- Ilya Poletaev of Toronto, Ontario, Canada was awarded first prize for piano at the XVIIth (Seventeenth) International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition (Internationaler Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Wettbewerb) in Leipzig, Germany on July 17, 2010. This prestigious competition, open to musicians over the age of 16 of any nationalty, takes place over ten days as part of the Bachfest Leipzig. It was founded in 1950 and held every four years from 1964 to 1996 with five categories of competition. Begnning in 1997 it has been held every two years with three changing categories. This years' categories were piano, harpsichord and violin/baroque violin. Prizes include a recital at the Leipzig Gewandhaus and other concert engagements, the right to use the title “Bachpreisträger” (Bach Prize-winner) and substantial cash awards. Each of the three first prize winners receives a purse of € 10,000, second prize winners receive € 7,500 and third prize winners € 5,000.

Forty-seven pianists, forty-six harpsichordists and thirty-three violinists / baroque violinists from around the world took part in this year's competition. Second and third prize for piano were won by Stepan Simonian and Ekaterina Richter, both from Russia. In the harpsichord section, Russian Maria Uspenskaya won the first prize, followed by Magdalena Malec from Poland and Nadja Lesaulnier from France. First prize for violin was awarded to 21-year-old Evgeny Sviridov from Russia; second prize went to Shunsuke Sato from Japan and third prize to Friederike Starkloff from Germany. Dr Poletaev is the only winner from North America this year, or indeed, any America. "It's kind of a big deal," he admits.

Each of the entrants had submitted an audition recording earlier in the year of a J. S. Bach partitia, suite or symphonia from a prescribed list. Based on that recording contestants were selected for the competition, a maximum of fifty per category. The selected contestants arrived in Leipzig the first week in July and on July 8 the competition commenced. For the First Round each player had 20 minutes to to impress the judges with their performance of a set programme of J. S. Bach and, in the case of piano, Dmitri Shostakovitch. Three days later twelve or thirteen players in each category were chosen to advance to the Second Round.

After one day off the Second Round began, this time with a set programme of 60 minutes. More J. S. Bach, of course, but other composers, too: C. P. E or Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Robert Schumann for the pianists, the harpsichordists could chose a pair of Scarlatti sonatas and either a Froberger toccata or some pieces by François Couperin, as well as a J S Bach sonata for flute and basso continuo. The violinists could chose from pieces by Geminiani, Guillemain and Veracini as well as J. S. Bach, some solo and some with harpsichord continuo. Six players in each category advanced to the Semi-finals, which were gruelling solo works and all J S Bach. Harpsichordists got to chose one of the Six Partitas, BWV 825–830 or the Italian Concerto F Major, BWV 971, and Four Duets, BWV 802–805. Pianists presented either one of the Six Partitas or the French Ouverture b Minor, BWV 831. Violinists had no choice: the Partita d Minor, BWV 1004, take it or leave it. As a side note, the competition takes place as part of the Bachfest Leipzig, which attracted 65,000 visitors this year, and all of the rounds are open to the public for a very reasonable € 5, so the players had a large audience in addition to the panel of judges. For anyone who is curious, a complete listing of the prescribed pieces can be found here: piano, harpsichord, violin. If you are interested in the rules of the competition, they are here.

The list of judges is a Who's Who of international early music professors and performers. A few of the illustrious names are Malcolm Bilson (USA), Choong-Mo Kang (SK), João Carlos Martins (BS) for piano category; Lionel Party (USA/Chile), Michael Behringer (D) and Robert Hill (D/USA) for harpsichord; James Buswell (USA), Lucy van Dael (NL) and Rainer Kussmaul (D) for violin.

Dr. Poletaev was born in Moscow, began his piano studies there at the age of six and continued them in Israel. When he was 14 he moved with his family to Toronto, which he still calls home. He continued at the Royal Conservatory of Music and then earned his Bachelor of Music in piano performance at the University of Toronto, where he studied with Marietta Orlov (piano) and Colin Tilney (harpsichord). During that time he won several prizes including Scholarship in ??. He did his master's and doctoral work at Yale University (’03 MM, ’04 MMA, ’10 DMA) with the revered Boris Berman and served on the faculties of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, the Yale Department of Music, and the Yale School of Music as a lecturer in early music.

While at Yale he also competed successfully around the world, notably the XX Concorso Sala Gallo Piano Competition in Monza, Italy, where he swept First Prize and the Audience, Bach, and Orchestra Prizes. He also captured First Prize at the 2009 Grieg International Competition, was a laureate of the 2008 National Stepping Stone Competition in Canada and was a top prizewinner at the 2007 Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society harpsichord competition. He joined the Astral Artists roster as a winner of its 2009 National Auditions. In addition to teaching, competition, and, of course, his studies, he has performed extensively in the United States and Europe: Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, New York City’s Pierpont Morgan Library, the Aston Magna Early Music Festival, the Amherst Early Music Festival, and Yale’s Collection of Musical Instruments; recitals at Italy’s Festival Lago Maggiore, the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan, and a concerto performance at the Accademia Filarmonica Romana. As a continuo player, he has performed under Masaaki Suzuki, Andrew Lawrence-King, Steven Stubbs, Nicholas McGegan, Simon Carrington, Graham O’Reilly, and Helmuth Rilling. As a chamber musician, he has performed alongside such distinguished artists as Robert Mann, Donald Weilerstein, Gary Hoffmann, Boris Berman, Paul Hersh, Susan Narucki, and Miah Persson. He has also appeared at the Moab, Caramoor, Sarasota, Norfolk, Yellow Barn, Banff, Orford, and Stratford Summer Music festivals.

Unlike many modern pianinsts, Dr. Poletaev deeply respects historical keyboards -- harpsichord and fortepiano -- and intends to make his career with them as well as modern piano. He will be appearing this fall at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in both C.P.E. Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D Major, Wq. 23 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor under Rossen Milanov. He is keenly interested in music history and patricularly in the less well-known works of well-known composers. He has recently completed a project unearthing largely unknown works of the twentieth-century Romanian composer George Enescu, and with violinist Jennifer Curtis has recorded Enescu's complete works for violin and piano, scheduled for release soon by Naxos. He will appear with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in June 2011 to play the rarely-performed Medtner’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Peter Oundjian conducting.

The next International Bach Competion will be held in July 2012 in the categories organ, voice and cello / baroque cello. Information about the 2012 competition and other events will be available on the official website events listings and via their e-mail newsletter.

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