Looking back on 2021 elicits many emotions.
Looking back on 2021 elicits many emotions. As the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts have pushed on, finding new ways to bring beauty, inspiration and joy to the public. The past 12 months at the American Pianists Association certainly exemplify that spirit!
We opened the year in the midst of an online series of performances and discussion in partnership with the Frances Clark Center. This ticketed series continued our efforts offering livestreams from artists’ homes and provided paid engagements for our finalists in a season with few on schedule.
In April, the 2021 American Pianists Awards finalists made their long-delayed initial visits of the competition to Indianapolis. Media Day interviews resulted in articles in the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Monthly and BBC Music Magazine. The finalists also filmed introductions to their solo recitals and found some fun playing Jenga. They recorded their individual recitals over the next three days. These solo recitals—each including a newly commissioned piece by Laura Kaminsky—began airing in May and were judged in real time by jurors watching from home.
In June everyone came together back in Indianapolis for Celebration Weekend—an abbreviated version of the traditional Discovery Week. Despite the reduced format of the Awards due to the pandemic, our artistic core remains, and the finalists were required to perform quintets and concerti for Celebration Weekend. Normally the Chamber Music series, which typically runs Monday through Friday of Discovery Week, would be produced with each finalist playing a different quintet with a guest string quartet. This year the entire series was reduced to one evening (June 25) with the Dover Quartet. Despite the reduced length the evening was a success!
Similarly, the concerto concert which normally takes place over two evenings, with each finalist playing a full-length concerto, was reduced to one evening—Saturday June 26. Social distancing of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on stage also changed the performance parameters. As a result, we heard some different pieces than what would normally be included at the finals.
The finale took place June 27 at Indiana Landmarks Center. After short solo works from each finalist, the jury broke for deliberation, and emerged with the decision that Kenny Broberg was the winner of the 2021 American Pianists Awards, recipient of the Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship and Artist-in-Residence at the University of Indianapolis! The IndyStar noted that Kenny "mastered everything he performed over the weekend, pulling a palette of moods from every register."
Changes at the top
American Pianists Association CEO/President and Artistic Director, Dr. Joel Harrison, retired July 31 after nearly 21 years with the organization. “My nearly 21 years at APA and in Indianapolis have brought much joy. I believe I have been in the perfect place in every respect and feel immensely lucky. I am grateful to all of our pianists, from whom I have learned much. And grateful to all our supporters, whose generosity has been without peer. It just could not have been better!”
Joel’s successor, Peter Mraz, a formally trained classical pianist and innovative arts leader, came aboard on August 1. Board Chair Jean Richcreek noted, “Peter’s wealth of experiences is incredibly impressive. With his international reach and connections, his creative and innovative ways of reaching new audiences and supporters, and his international public policy knowledge, he is a 21st century Renaissance man.”
Our between-competition-season series, Grand Encounters, kicked off In October with a flashy lineup of stars from past Awards seasons, including Frederic Chiu (1985), Spencer Myer (2006), Dan Tepfer (2007), Kenny Banks Jr. (2019) and Kenny Broberg (2021). The concert also featured a ceremony to honor Joel Harrison and the premieres of two pieces written in his honor.
In early December we fit two Steinway Model B pianos on the stage at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis for a thrilling evening with Awards winners Adam Birnbaum (2004) and Sullivan Fortner (2015) calling tunes for two pianos and trading off the occasional solo piece.
By the numbers
The year also saw the release of new albums from past winners including Sean Chen (“Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin & Sonatine”), Emmet Cohen (“Future Stride”) and Sullivan Fortner (on the Baylor Project’s “Generations”)
On YouTube, viewers watched over 18,000 hours of video from the American Pianists Awards. The most popular selections were:
1) Take Five - Kenny Banks Jr.
2) "Georgia on My Mind" - Kenny Banks Jr. & Kurt Elling
2) Wild "The Man I Love" - Drew Petersen
3) Bartok Three Etudes - Sean Chen
The Grand Encounters season continues in 2022 with guest artists Olga Kern (March) and Michelle Cann (May).
The first juried stage of the 2023 American Pianists Awards takes place in March with an anonymous adjudication of nominees by a distinguished panel of musicians. Five finalists will be chosen based upon exceptional technical ability and unique musical personality demonstrated in the nominees’ submitted recordings.
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Until next year!