The event, which began in 2005 as a competition for high school students, was expanded in 2011 to include opportunities for participants to study with internationally-acclaimed artists. At the same time, it offers the public a chance to take in some brilliant performances.
This year’s festival has attracted 13 outstanding young pianists to the Lee campus. The participants come from across the country and range in age from middle school to graduate school.
Highly-praised performers and teachers Jerome Lowenthal, Ursula Oppens and Minsoo Sohn are the guest artists for this year’s festival. Lee faculty Ning An and Dr. Gloria Chien will also contribute to the festival, which is chaired by Lee’s Dr. Phillip Thomas.
One feature of this annual event is that the guest artists offer concerts to the community. An and Sohn will take the stage in the first concert Monday evening. Lowenthal and Oppens will present a recital Friday.
Concerts on Tuesday and Wednesday evening will feature selected festival participants, many of whom already have impressive bios. All of the festival concerts will begin at 8 p.m. in Squires Recital Hall on the Lee campus (Humanities Center) and are free and open to the public.
Festival participants have the opportunity to learn from faculty and guest artists in master classes during the day. Faculty and guest artists will also offer private lessons.
On Thursday, the competition will begin at 9:30 a.m. and showcase the talents of nine students from across the country. Winners will be presented on the morning of Saturday, June 21, following the competition’s final round which begins at 10 a.m.
Lowenthal has taught for 22 years at The Juilliard School and over 40 summers at the Music Academy of the West. He studied in his native Philadelphia with Olga Samaroff-Stokowski in New York with William Kapell and Edward Steuermann, and in Paris with Alfred Cortot, meanwhile traveling annually to Los Angeles for coaching with Arthur Rubinstein. After winning prizes in three international competitions (Bolzano, Darmstadt, and Brussels), he moved to Jerusalem where, for three years, he played, taught and lectured.
Lowenthal has performed from the Aleutians to Zagreb. Conductors with whom he has appeared as soloist include Barenboim, Ozawa, Tilson Thomas, and Slatkin, as well as such giants of the past as Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy and Leopold Stokowski. He has recently recorded the Beethoven Fourth Concerto with cadenzas by eleven different composers. His other recordings include concerti by Tchaikovsky and Liszt, solo works by Sinding and Bartok, and chamber music by Arensky and Taneyev.
Oppens studied piano with her mother, the late Edith Oppens, as well as with Leonard Shure and Guido Agosti. She received her master’s degree at The Juilliard School, where she studied with Felix Galimir and Rosina Lhévinne. After 14 years as the John Evans Distinguished Professor of Music at Northwestern University, Oppens is now a Distinguished Professor on the faculty of the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
A co-founder of Speculum Musicae, Oppens has an extensive recording catalogue and has received three Grammy nominations. Driven by an enduring commitment to integrating new music into regular concert life, Oppens has commissioned and premiered many compositions, including works by Anthony Braxton, Elliott Carter, Anthony Davis, John Harbison, Julius Hemphill, Tania Leon, György Ligeti, Witold Lutoslawski, Conlon Nancarrow, Tobias Picker, Frederic Rzewski, Alvin Singleton, Joan Tower, Lois V Vierk, Christian Wolff, Amnon Wolman, and Charles Wuorinen.
Sohn studied with Russell Sherman and Wha Kyung Byun at New England Conservatory where he recieved an Artist Diploma in 2004. He has collaborated with leading conductors such as Gilbert Varga, Keith Lockhart, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Jane Glover, Yoav Talmi, Goerges Octors, Jahja Ling, David Hoose, Roy Goodman, Andrew Grams, Avner Biron and has performed with orchestras including Boston Symphony, Boston Pops, Calgary Philharmonic, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, Israel Philharmonic, Jerusalem Camerata, Holland Symfonia, National Orchestra of Belgium, Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, among others.
An avid chamber musician, Sohn has performed with Aviv Quartet, Cecilia Quartet and Ysaÿe Quartet and Israel Camerata Woodwind Quintet. In January 2010, he collaborated with Mark Morris Dance Group alongside pianist Russell Sherman and the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music in the Boston premiere of Mozart Dances. In 2006, Sohn became the First Laureate of the Honens International Piano Competition. Prior to that, he was top prize winner of international competitions such as the Busoni, Cleveland, Hilton Head, Rubinstein, and Laureate of Santander and Queen Elizabeth competitions.
An has been hailed as a musician who “combines a flawless technique and mastery of the instrument with an expressive power that is fueled by profound and insightful understanding” (New York concert review). His top prizes from the Queen Elizabeth, Cleveland and William Kapell Piano Competitions led to performances from Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, Salle Verdi (Milan), to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.
An has given masterclasses throughout the U.S. and Asia and currently serves as an assistant professor of piano at Lee.
Chien, founder and artistic director of the String Theory Chamber Series, currently serves as a member of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston and an associate professor at Lee. She has performed solo recitals around the world and earned distinction at countless competitions and festivals, including World Piano Competition and San Antonio Competition.
Chien has been praised by Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe for "a wondrously rich palette of colors, which she mixes with dashing bravado and with an uncanny precision of calibration.”
Thomas has served as chair for the festival since its inception. He has studied piano, music history, and conducting at some of the world’s finest institutions and has also served as adjudicator for a variety of competitions on the local, regional and international levels. He currently serves as the chair for the Department of Musicianship Studies at Lee and has appeared as harpsichord soloist with the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra.