XVII International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition

I’ve been wanting to have more of my friends write for this blog, and this week’s post has been graciously contributed by my wonderful pianist friend Lauren! Enjoy…


When someone mentions a “Chopin competition,” there is inarguably only one that comes to mind, and that is the Chopin Piano Competition, held in Warsaw, Poland, every five years since 1955. If you haven’t kept up with what’s been going on, for the month of October these marvelous musicians have been competing in what is probably one of the most momentous and memorable experiences of their lives. Many of the performers from previous years–Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini, Garrick Ohlsson, to name a brief few–have gone on to fabulous careers and established a name for themselves as a result of participating in this competition, so I have high hopes for some of these phenomenal young artists. I’ve been incredibly engrossed in performance-watching (belated), scoring, artist bio research, interviews, and personal budgetary restrictions for the next five years in hopes of attending the XVIII.

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stranded on a desert island (#3)

A blog series in which a musician shares which three pieces they would choose to listen to, if they were hypothetically stranded on an island and could only listen to those three pieces for the rest of their life. Want to contribute? Contact me here!

This week one of my closest friends, Lauren Tokunaga, shares her choices:

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the chopin competition

Martha Argerich playing a Chopin mazurka in the 1965 Chopin Competition, the year she won.

The preliminaries for the 17th International Chopin Competition in Warsaw are currently underway. Held every five years, this competition has jump-started the careers of superstar pianists like Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Garrick Ohlsson, and Krystian Zimerman. It is also infamous for a kerfuffle among the jury in 1980, when Martha Argerich resigned from the jury to protest the elimination of highly provocative and controversial young pianist Ivo Pogorelić.

You can access live streams of the preliminaries on the Chopin Competition’s Youtube channel, as well as recordings of previous days’ competitors. Every day, competitors play from 10:00am till 8:00 or 9:00pm Warsaw time (except Sunday, which starts at 5:00pm Warsaw time). For those of us on the other side of the Atlantic, that’s 1:00am till 11:00am or 12:00pm Pacific Standard Time.

stranded on a desert island (#1)

A new blog series in which a musician shares which three pieces they would choose to listen to, if they were hypothetically stranded on an island and could only listen to those three pieces for the rest of their life. Want to contribute? Contact me here!

This week’s contributor is Eric Tran, a fellow graduate student and a pianist friend who has an inspiring enthusiasm for music and also has the distinction of being both a composer and a talented performer. Without further ado:


Three pieces on a desert island.

This challenge is the worst. Just three pieces? On a desert island? Not even a *dessert* island? Both ways I’m sure to die quickly, but here I would be unable have my creme brûlée… nor would I be able to float to safety on a giant donut (would eat accidentally) or a raft of a million marshmallows tied together with twizzlers (would not eat).

OK, enough of the food fantasies. I will also assume that I would break the conditions of the challenge by selecting pieces that by nature would radically change – else I would select an improvisation. 😛

Here we go – three pieces accompanied by brief notes with my thoughts and experiences:

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notes from the past: the letters between robert and clara

robertclaraschumann“One might think you were very pale or even somewhat sickly, based on the painting [of you]. You aren’t, are you? But as I said, I’d like you to put on some weight, and I want to tell you how to do that–you have to be very cheerful, drink an occasional glass of Bavarian beer, and you must not play anything by Bellini and Chopin, and only amusing and funny pieces by your beloved. By the way, remain just as you are if you want (I already wrote you that)–you please me, truly you do–I imagine my future wife to be just like you–do you hear?” – Robert Schumann, to Clara Wieck, April 1838

Source: The Complete Correspondence of Clara and Robert Schumann, edited by Eva Weissweiler (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1994).

composers as you’ve never seen them before

We’re all familiar with the faces behind the music–music history books, program notes, and even the walls of music libraries and teachers’ studios are inundated with portraits of the greats. Without them we would be logging hours in a cubicle rather than a practice room, or sketching diagrams that didn’t include the terms “recapitulation” or “pitch set” or “inversion,” or counting change at a cash register instead of counting rests at a music stand (insert joke about how musicians can’t count past 4). Most of these portraits are weighty and austere and portray the composer reverently: Shostakovich at the piano, the clean, crisp shades of black and white highlighting the dark frames of his glasses and the stern, knifelike line of his mouth. His head rests in his hand, the quintessential intellectual pose (aka “My brain is too heavy for my neck to hold up all the time”). Or Chopin as portrayed by Delacroix in thick, rich brushstrokes–we, the viewers, gaze up at him from below as if aware of our inferiority in the presence of such a man. His gaze, on the other hand, is inscrutable and distant under elegantly furrowed brows, a mixture of both “tortured artist” and “visionary genius.”

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