Monday 7 October 2013

DON'T MISS THE JOY OF MUSIC FESTIVAL 2013! Here are the highlights!

promises to be another feast of great musical performances and learning experiences about music. It takes place from next Monday to Sunday (14-20 October 2013) at Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, with seven evenings of concerts, masterclasses and an exciting seminar on music criticism.

Here are the highlights:

Monday (14 October 2013)
A piano recital by LI ZHONGXIN, TSANG HIN YAT, RACHEL CHEUNG and COLLEEN LEE, all present and past students of ELEONOR WONG of the HK Academy of Performing Arts.

Music by Bach, Chopin, Barber, Schumann, Bartok, Janacek, Franck and Kapustin.

Tuesday (15 October 2013) 
A piano recital by ILYA RASHKOVSKIY, 1st Prize-winner of the 2005 Hong Kong International Piano Competition, on the theme of ballet music transcribed for the piano.

Music by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.

Wednesday (16 October 2013)
A piano recital by JINSANG LEE, 1st Prize-winner of the 2008 Hong Kong International Piano Competition, on the theme of piano music influenced by great paintings.

Music by Liszt, Rachmaninov, Granados, Debussy, Mussorgsky and Korean composer Eun-Hwa Cho. 

Thursday (17 October 2013)
Perhaps the highlight of the festival, a concert for two pianos and two cellos by GIUSEPPE ANDALORO, ILYA RASHKOVSKIY, GIOVANNI SOLLIMA and MONICA LESKOVAR, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the first performance of Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring.

Music includes stupendous transcriptions by Andaloro for this medium of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and Ravel's La Valse. Also music by Debussy and Lutoslawski.   

Friday (18 October 2013)
A cello and piano recital by GIOVANNI SOLLIMA and GIUSEPPE ANDALORO, 1st Prize-winner of the 2011 Hong Kong International Piano Competition.

Music by Dowland, Beethoven Webern, Eliodoro Sollima, Giovanni Sollima and Kapustin.

Saturday (19 October 2013)
A piano recital by BORIS GILTBURG, 1st Prize-winner of the 2013 Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competition.

Music by Rachmaninov, Brahms and Prokofiev.

Sunday (20 October 2013)
A guitar recital by ALVARO PIERRI.

Music by Albeniz, Falla, Rodrigo, Granados, Barrios, Piazzolla, Lecuona, Brouwer, Ponce, Villa-Lobos and others.

All concerts start at 8 pm at Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall.

DON'T MISS the five lunchtime talks by the well-respected broadcaster and music critic JEREMY SIEPMANN on Music Criticism entitled MUSIC FROM THE OUTSIDE IN or ADVENTURES IN MUSICAL PERCEPTION.

Tuesday to Saturday (15 to 19 October 2013)
11 am to 12 noon, 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm
City Hall Concert Hall   

Friday 23 August 2013


WELCOME to the blog of
The Friends of The Chopin Society of Hong Kong!

The Chopin Society of Hong Kong is a non-profit organisation that organises the Hong Kong International Piano Competition and The Joy of Music Festival, enriching the cultural life of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia with its critically acclaimed series of concerts and cultural events.

The next The Joy of Music Festival takes place from 14 to 20 October 2013, and is based at City Hall Concert Hall, Hong Kong.

There will be concerts by Ilya Rashkovskiy, Jinsang Lee (past winners of the Hong Kong International Piano Competition), cellist Giovanni Sollima with Giuseppe Andaloro, a special 2-Piano 2-Cello concert featuring a unique transcription of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, a recital by the 1st Prize winner of the 2013 Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competition, and guitarist Alvaro Pierri.

The esteemed British writer-broadcaster Jeremy Siepmann will continue his series of lectures over five mornings (15 to 19 October), and the subject this year is Music Criticism.

More details on this exciting festival will be released later.

The official website of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong:


Stay tuned for further news of its exciting concerts in this blog, which will be updated on a regular basis.

Tuesday 22 January 2013


Ilya Rashkovskiy, 1st Prizewinner of the 2005 Hong Kong International Piano Competition performed Schubert and Chopin in the solo segment of his recital (10 October 2012).

The string quartet from the London Chamber Orchestra gave a recital called A Cascade of Strings (11 October 2012). The players were Andrew Haveron and Magnus Johnston on violins, Joel Hunter on viola and Pierre Doumenge on cello.
Giuseppe Andaloro, 1st Prizewinner of the 2011 Hong Kong International Piano Competition, teamed up with the London strings to perform Rachmaninov's Trio Elegiaque No.1 and Shostakovich's Piano Quintet (12 October 2012).

Jinsang Lee, 1st Prizewinner of the 2008 Hong Kong International Piano Competition, brought on Magyar magic in Brahms's Piano Quartet No.1 (13 October 2012) with his partners Andrew Haveron, Joel Hunter and Pierre Doumenge.

Hong Kong music lovers had a chance to attend a five day seminar by well-known British broadcaster and writer Jeremy Siepmann entitled 2012: A Musical Space Odyssey, which dealt with the elements of music, interpretation and music criticism. 

The Joy of Music book club featured the American author Katie Hafner and her wonderful book about Glenn Gould and his piano A Romance on Three Legs. Joining her on stage was Glenn Gould's own piano technician Verne Edquist.

Historical pianism brought to life by technology and Re-Performances. Whoever thought we'd get to hear Glenn Gould performing Bach's Goldberg Variations "live". All thanks to the Zenph technology by John Q.Walker. Here the audience gets to hear and experience Oscar Peterson in real-time.


Chairman of the Jury Vladimir Ashkenazy with the 1st Prizewinners of all three editions of the Hong Kong International Piano Competition. From left, they are Jinsang Lee (Korea, 2008), Ilya Rashkovskiy (Russia, 2005) and Giuseppe Andaloro (Italy, 2011). With them are the organisers of the competition, Dr Anabella Levin-Freris and Dr Andrew Freris of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong.
The Prize-giving Ceremony and Gala Concert on  31 October 2011 featured a recital by the three 1st prizewinners. Here they are performing the Waltz and Romance for 6 hands by Rachmaninov.

The Gala Concert on 2 November 2011 was a "Mother of all piano concerto concerts", featuring four piano concertos performed by members of the competition jury with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. Here the maestro applauds Cristina Ortiz who gave a glittering performance of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No.2.

Russian juror Tigran Alikhanov played Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto.
The Hungarian-born Peter Frankl was a revelation in Liszt's Second Piano Concerto.

The ageless Gary Graffman only performs works for the left hand these days. On this evening, he put the polish on Ravel's Left Hand Piano Concerto.

Chamber music also figured in the Gala Concerts. On 1 November 2011, Pascal Rogé performed Ravel's Piano Trio in A minor on this fiery red Steinway with violinist Andrew Haveron and cellist Pierre Doumenge.


On 30 October 2011, the Italian pianist Giuseppe Andaloro was crowned 1st Prizewinner of the 3rd Hong Kong International Piano Competition.

Giuseppe Andaloro, triumphant after his performance of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.
2nd Prize went to Sato Keina (Japan), who played Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto in the finals.

Age was not a factor for the prodigious 14-year-old Min Hao Tsai (Taiwan), who was awarded the 3rd Prize, having impressed in Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto.

Soo Jung Ann (Korea) won the 4th prize, rewarded for her performance of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto in the finals.

Elmar Gasanov (Russia) won the 5th Prize with Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. He was also the first pianist to perform the competition's commissioned set piece, Howard Blake's Speech After Long Silence.

The 6th Prize was awarded to Han Chen (Taiwan) who studies in the Juilliard School. He performed Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto in the finals.


Besides promoting classical concerts through The Joy of Music Festival and organising the Hong Kong International Piano Competition, the Chopin Society of Hong Kong has its own exclusive record label, Alpha Omega Sound. To date, it has produced no less than seven CD recordings, featuring the 1st prizewinners of the piano competition and great musicians from Hong Kong and Uruguay. Also on this label are rare historical recordings from the archives of SODRE, the official radio and television broadcasting service of Montevideo, Uruguay. 


Rachel Cheung is one of the brightest young pianists to have emerged from Hong Kong. At the age of 12, she won the 1st Prize at the Gina Bachauer International Junior Piano Competition in 2004. In addition, she garnered 5th prize at the 2009 Leeds International Piano Competition.This is her début CD, and the programme includes Mozart's Sonata K.309, Schubert's Drei Klavierstücke D.946, Chopin's Mazurkas Op.24 and Ballade No.4, Liszt's Au bord d'un source and Poulenc's Trois Pieces

ILYA RASHKOVSKIY Fantasies for Piano

The Russian Ilya Rashkovskiy won the 1st Prize at the 1st Hong Kong International Piano Competition in 2005. He has since gone on to win 4th Prize at the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition 2007 (Brussels) and 1st Prize at the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. His stupendous technique is on show in this, his début CD recording with performances of fantasies by Mozart (K.475), Chopin (Op.49), Scriabin (Op.28) and Liszt's Dante Sonata.

JINSANG LEE Making Music Among Friends

The Korean Jinsang Lee was awarded the 1st Prize at the 2nd Hong Kong International Piano Competition in 2008. In 2010, he also won the 1st Prize and Audience Prize at the Geza Anda International Piano Competition (Zurich). This double CD recording is a follow-up on a recital he gave in October 2009, where he performed the music of three friends, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Ferdinand Hiller, on four historically different Steinway grand pianos. The works performed are as follows:

HILLER Sonata in E minor, Three Caprices Op.14
MENDELSSOHN Songs Without Words (Selection)
CHOPIN Variations Brillantes Op.12, Nocturnes Op.15 and Mazurkas Op.59 

The works on the first CD are played on historical pianos from 1836, 1877 and 1883, while the same works are heard on a modern Steinway D on the second CD.

ALVARO PIERRI Sonatas for Guitar Vol.1

Alvaro Pierri is one of the greatest guitarists alive today. Born in Uruguay, he presently resides and teaches in Vienna. This recording is the first of an ambitious series of recordings showcasing the length and breadth of the solo guitar sonata repertoire. The composers featured in Volume 1 are Nicolo Paganini, Manuel Ponce, Federico Torroba and Alberto Ginastera.  

All the CDs were recorded in Hong Kong by Leo Fung Wai Kwok, and re-mastered by Andrew Walter at Abbey Road Studios, London. 

All the CDs are available via online retailers including Presto Classical and MDT. They may also be purchased at all concert events organised by the Chopin Society of Hong Kong.

Historical Recordings from the SODRE Archive on THE ALPHA OMEGA SOUND Label

Also on the Alpha Omega Sound label are a series of historical recordings remastered from the archives of SODRE (Servicio Oficial de Difusion Radiotelevision y Espectaculos), the official radio and television service of Montevideo, Uruguay, now issued on CD for the very first time. The first 3 CDs have been launched, including recitals by David Oistrakh, Jascha Heifetz and a sampler disc of highlights from the SODRE historical collection.

Recorded on 9 April 1954

LECLAIR Sonata No.3 in D minor
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D minor

This recital is unusual as it contains the only known recording of Oistrakh performing the Sibelius concerto with piano accompaniment. A rarity that deserves to be heard. 

Recorded on 12 May 1955

BEETHOVEN Sonata in A major, Op.47 "Kreutzer"
DEBUSSY Sonata in G minor
DVORAK-KREISLER Slavonic Dance Op.72 No.7
R.STRAUSS- HEIFETZ An Eisamer Quelle Op.9 No.2
WIENIAWSKI Capriccio-Valse Op.7
RAVEL Tzigane

This well-filled sampler provides the listener with an idea of the musical riches in store. Besides Oistrakh and Heifetz, on this disc are excerpts from performances by Claudio Arrau, Friedrich Gulda, Walter Gieseking, Lili Kraus, Leonid Kogan, Mischa Elman, Andres Segovia and Marian Anderson. The full recital CDs will be issued serially and in due course.

All the CDs have been re-mastered at Abbey Road Studios and include an introduction by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Patron of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong.

The CDs may be purchased from various online retailers and at concerts and events presented by the Chopin Society of Hong Kong.


Below is a short review of the David Oistrakh recital CD recording (from the SODRE Archive) on the Alpha Omega Sound label, published in The Straits Times (Singapore) on 10 January 2013.

Alpha Omega Sound / ****1/2

This extremely rare “live” recording from 9 April 1954 was unearthed in the archives of SODRE, the official radio and television broadcasting service of Montevideo, Uruguay. It represents the Soviet-era Russian violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974) at the height of his powers while on tour to the West. His programme was unusually eclectic despite offering no Russian music within. It opens with Jean-Marie Leclair’s Third Sonata, in the four-movement sonata da chiesa form that was popular during the Baroque era. Nowadays, it is rarely heard outside of the period instrument circle, but Oistrakh’s politically incorrect and vibrato-rich account makes no excuses for the music, which is charming and unpretentious.

The gem of this hour-long recital is a complete performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the original piano accompaniment. This version is seldom ever recorded, although regularly played at conservatory and student recitals. Oistrakh performs it as if accompanied by an orchestra, with no punches pulled or half measures taken. It is a searing account, tender in the slow movement while the furious finale lives on a knife-edge throughout. The disc is completed by Belgian Ernest Chausson’s rhapsodic Poeme, also accompanied by pianist Vladimir Yampolsky. This invaluable addition to the Oistrakh discography may be purchased from various on-line retailers via the Internet. 

Monday 21 January 2013

A Few Words with DR ANABELLA LEVIN-FRERIS, Honorary Secretary of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong (Part I)

Dr Andrew Freris and Dr Anabella Levin-Freris, at the conclusion of the 1st Hong Kong International Piano Competition in September 2005.

DR ANABELLA LEVIN-FRERIS is the face of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong International Piano Competition. Indefatigable is one description that aptly sums up the activity she involves herself in running the Competition and The Joy of Music Festivals. A qualified renal physician, she also serves as the Honorary Consul of Uruguay for HK and Macau, besides being the devoted wife and ever-present companion to her husband Dr Andrew Freris, who is the voice of the Society.  Below is a short interview about the Chopin Society and its activities.

When and how did the Chopin Society of Hong Kong come about? And why Chopin?

My husband Andrew and I have always enjoyed experiencing music and been fascinated by the different “personalities” a piece of music can adopt depending on the environment in which it is produced, the approach taken by its interpreters, and the state of mind when one listens to it.

A sort of mathematical formula once occurred to me:

Music + interpretation + environment + audience
= a unique and non–reproducible experience.

If one adds to this the different nuances introduced, whether the music is produced (“live”) or reproduced (recorded), the range of wonders that await us takes on magical dimensions.

Having had the enormous privilege of living in places as diverse as Uruguay, USA, England, Greece and Hong Kong, and repeatedly visiting many different countries, one feels humbled when faced with the culture each place has to offer. At the same time, one also feels eager to contribute, to create opportunities for each culture to be better known. The interaction of these cultures therefore introduces astronomical and cosmic variations to our formula.

Chopin in 1849

Some 17 years ago, we bought our home in London, which happened to be a residence where Frédéric Chopin himself performed on the 23 June 1848. Without entering into any kind of superstitious ideas, the knowledge of Chopin having played in “own home” gave the ownership of that abode a certain special aura. That also gave us the impetus to create an organisation - the Society - which could lead to the development, enhancement and realisation of our musical formula.

That was the year 1995. The stage was the world and we were anchored in Hong Kong. Artists, anybody who can contribute to enhance the experience of music either by creating it, performing it or teaching it, the audience, literally everybody interested in music could contribute to our Society. The name was obviously and simply a homage to this great composer who played in our home in London in 1848. Nothing to do with us, but definitely inspiring and … it makes a nice story, doesn’t it?

The world seems like a smaller place these days. You were born in Uruguay and your husband from Greece, and you both met in London. And now you are making waves with the Society and its cultural events in Hong Kong. Is this globalisation at its most glorious?

I welcome globalisation with open arms. It is a fascinating, scaring, and humbling experience, but one that allows you to step higher up to see further. I look at it as an opportunity to benefit from the output of human beings from all over the world, as a magical potion to help us to join forces and conquer our universe. Of course globalisarion has its negative aspects, but that just reinforces its validity as a true wisdom enhancer.

Vladimir Ashkenazy practising the piano at the Peninsula Hotel. 

Tell us about the Hong Kong International Piano Competition, which thanks to the active involvement of Vladimir Ashkenazy (above) since its conception, has rapidly become one of the most important piano competitions in the Far East. How did the Society get the ever-busy world renowned pianist-conductor on board?

When we started running the Society, there were two things Andrew and I had very clear in mind: one was we were starting the Society in Hong Kong, a place which has always put great emphasis in education and cultural development. So the Society had to contribute and create, alongside the existing organisations which had similar goals and preoccupations.

The second thing we had in mind was that we had to learn from the interpreters, creators and teachers in Hong Kong and help in establishing links with the interpreters, creators and teachers from the rest of the world. As with any other activity taking place in the world, there is much to be learnt from each other. One of our preoccupations was to establish links with artists operating at the highest possible level, and that was why we contacted Vladimir Ashkenazy. He trusted the motives that inspired us, and agreed to be the Honorary President of the Society and the Chairman of the Jury of the Hong Kong International Piano Competition.

We consider it a stroke of good fortune that an artist of the calibre of Vladimir Ashkenazy had accepted our invitations. The fact that he has now become a very good friend and is entirely committed to work for the benefit of Hong Kong is another stroke of good fortune.

To be continued...

A Few Words with DR ANABELLA LEVIN-FRERIS, Honorary Secretary of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong (Part II)

Here we continue our interview...

A star-studded piano competition jury. See how many names you can identify.

Could you briefly relate to us the Herculian tasks of running a competition?

Running a competition is indeed a very demanding job which is made easier when we can count on an exceptional panel of Jury members (above), and by having strong commitment to make Hong Kong a centre of excellence in the musical world. We have one of the best competitions in the world despite having a run of just three editions. The 4th Hong Kong International Piano Competition will take place in October 2014. The trust deposited in us by the sponsors is a source of strength for us, given that running a competition is a very expensive proposition.

It is true that many times one feels that pushing the Competition through is simply the result of sheer force of will nurtured by the belief in what we are pursuing, and what we are trying to achieve. It is a great performance by everybody involved. 

An informal pose by the three 1st Prizewinners of the Hong Kong International Piano Competition: (From left) Giuseppe Andaloro (2011), Ilya Rashkovskiy (2005) and Jinsang Lee (2008).

There have been three competitions so far, bringing to the fore wonderful pianistic talents such as Ilya Rashkovskiy, Jinsang Lee and Giuseppe Andaloro. They are also being promoted in the annual The Joy of Music Festival held each October in Hong Kong. How do you see their careers developing post-competition?

The career of a performing artist is definitely not an easy one. There are so many new artists continuously arriving into the performing arena. To be able to say who will succeed in this very competitive world is extremely difficult. Many times, it is not only a matter of being specially gifted (essential for an artist) but also a matter of being well taught and having the opportunities to be invited to perform around the world. There are many pressures exerted on these budding artists to which, justly or unjustly, many will succumb. 

Winning a competition gives the artists a card of credibility, a card that is being signed (and backed up) by a group of exceptional musicians (the members of the Jury), and this is of great help to the artists who hope to perform in front of audiences around the world. Of course, it is the approval of the audiences which is, in the long term, going to determine whether an artist is going to survive or not as a performer.

The Joy of Music Festival essentially sees three separate lines of musical activities – the Winners Series of piano recitals, the Highly Recommended Series of concerts, and the Master Teacher Series of masterclasses – coalesced into one event-packed week. How lucky Hong Kong is to have such dedication to music and culture!

Organising a music festival creates the opportunity for several artists to be in Hong Kong at the same time. They not only give solo performances, but also perform together, in different combinations of chamber music. Many of the artists get to know each other during the Festival and they develop friendships that can greatly help them in what is essentially a very lonely profession. It would be very difficult and expensive to achieve that if we were to invite artists separately at different times of the year. A festival also creates a different atmosphere, a different attraction for the audiences.   

A friendly breakfast meeting held at Tom Lee (Megabox) with Gary Graffman and Malaysian child prodigy pianist Tengku Irfan in attendance. 

You also have those Breakfast Meetings with illustrious guest speakers and much intellectual discourse. This has evolved to become the series of talks about music by the eminent writer and broadcaster Jeremy Siepmann. How do you intend to develop this thread further?    

We have invited Jeremy Siepmann (below) to be a regular fixture in The Joy of Music Festivals. He is an artist with a vast knowledge of music in the broadest sense of the word. His enormous experience is in communicating the essence of music to make its component parts comprehensible, and then reconstructing these parts so that the wider picture of music becomes greater than the sum of its parts. When listening to music under his guidance, one feels something “clicking together”, which otherwise would have been missed altogether. Make no mistake, he does not teach you to like or dislike a piece of music or the way it is performed. Instead he helps you to understand, to sharpen your senses, to be more aware, when you listen to a piece of music being performed. One does not need to know music to enjoy a performance or listening to a recording, but one can definitely learn to listen to music differently, with new ears.   

When Jeremy Siepmann speaks, people listen.

One would imagine that sponsorship plays a massive part in order for the Competition, Festival and other activities to take place. How does the Society undertake and manage its fundraising?

We depend completely on our sponsors to present our activities. As I said before, the trust deposited on the Chopin Society of Hong Kong to present events of a very high cultural and educational value, have contributed to making Hong Kong a centre of artistic excellence in Asia and the world.   
You are busy with work as the honorary consul of Uruguay in Hong Kong and Macao, while Andrew travels the world as investment advisor for BNP Paribas Wealth Management. How do the both of you find time for the Society and everything else?

Hong Kong is a place where YOU CAN. Of course, this does not come easily but somehow, efforts are, in general, rewarded. This is an enormous incentive when you set your sights to try to achieve something big. Having lived in places which I refer to as “You Cannot” places, it is a great relief to be part of a society which trusts that efforts are rewarded, and one is able to push forward to achieve whatever goals one sets to achieve. Once you believe in something, just grab that belief very tightly and run. You will be amazed to realise how much you are able to stand and to push. Sometimes you cannot get it, but you feel you want to try, and you feel prouder to have tried.

Hong Kong presents to the world three top pianists from Korea, Russian and Italy.

What does the future hold for the Chopin Society of Hong Kong?

We hope the Chopin Society of Hong Kong will be a source of pride for the citizens of Hong Kong and a source of friendship, inspiration and help for all artists no matter where they come from. 

A Few Words with VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY, Patron of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong


Room 646 at Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel is also called the Music Room. It is a luxuriously decorated suite with its own Yamaha grand piano, and that was where this interview (in October 2008) with VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY, President of the jury at the Hong Kong International Piano Competition, was conducted. The maestro was practising the piano part of works for violin and piano by Rachmaninov for a forthcoming recording, and was most gracious for this intrusion of his time and space.

You do not make a regular habit of judging piano competitions, do you?

Frankly, I am not interested in competitions. Besides, time is precious. I have however made a few exceptions. About 25 years ago, André Previn asked me to judge in a one-day competition. He is my very good friend, and it was difficult to say no. In 1995, I managed two or three days at the Finals of the Chopin International Piano Competition. Warsaw and Poland are very close to my heart. It is a very cultured country – the land of Chopin, Szymanowski and Mickiewicz – and that was where I made my first trip abroad. That was easy, we all agreed that no first prize would be awarded that year.

If so, how did you end up becoming the chief judge of this piano competition in Hong Kong?

What about Hong Kong? It is a very peculiar but true story. Sometime during the 1980s, I was performing Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the Hong Kong Philharmonic when I was introduced to Drs Andrew and Anabella Freris. They had just moved to Hong Kong, and were very friendly to me. They invited me to be the Patron of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong. I was impressed by the way they were promoting music, and enhancing cultural life in Hong Kong. They also asked me if they have an international piano competition in Hong Kong and whether I would agree to the President of the jury. I said “Yes”, and then thought that event would not ever happen. But so 20 years later, they had organised the first Hong Kong International Piano Competition in 2005! I had made a promise, and so kept my promise. To do otherwise would have been dishonest.

The Maestro demonstrates Rachmaninov's early piano writing and accompaniment for his rarely performed violin pieces.

What do you think of this year’s competition so far?

They are fewer pianists this year, but the playing is of a higher level. There are four Orientals among the five finalists. Lots of attention is paid to classical music in Korea, China and Japan today, which accounts for this interesting Oriental presence. Spiritual inspiration is high in these exciting young people, and it does not matter where they come from. By judging in Hong Kong, I feel that I am contributing something to the future of music, and to support the efforts of young musicians in Asia.

Did you formulate the rules, regulation and repertoire of this competition?

The rules and regulation were done in consultation with Professor Li Mingqiang (piano pedagogue based in Hong Kong) and Dr Andrew Freris. It was a collective decision as I did not want to act like some Prime Minister!

The required repertoire is extremely important. There is a lot to choose from the prescribed list of set works. Pieces like J.S.Bach’s Partitas and Goldberg Variations, late sonatas by Beethoven, Schubert and Prokofiev are the building stones of our culture, and are the most demanding in the area of musical communication. There is no second-rate music in this repertoire, which may be easier to interpret and understand. We the judges want to know all the aspects of a young person’s musicianship, and whether he understands great music. We do not expect them to be master performers, hut hope to judge their potential in tackling important repertoire.

What about the inclusion as compulsory set pieces shorter works by Sibelius and Albeniz?

About the Sibelius Impromptu and Albeniz Triana (from Iberia), works from the North and the South, we wanted to see whether each performer could infuse something special into what is not regularly performed. Isn’t Triana such a miraculous pieces of music? Such character and imagination, and what a gift of harmonies. This music was not just composed – it just came out on its own. We just heard twelve performances of Triana, and I could hear this twelve times a day for a whole month, and not tire of it!

The jury for the 3rd Hong Kong International Piano Competition. (From L): Vladimir Ashkenazy, Li Mingqiang, Tigran Alikhanov, Peter Frankl, Gary Graffman, Thorunn Ashkenazy, Gabriel Kwok, Cristina Ortiz, Pascal Rogé, Jeremy Siepmann, Eleanor Wong and commissioned composer Howard Blake.

The Hong Kong jury is one of the most prestigious assembled in the history of all piano competitions. Tell us more.

Our jury is formed by people who are committed musicians, all of whom know so much about music.This includes experienced performers like Gary Graffman, Peter Frankl, Pascal Rogé and Cristina Ortiz, who know what it is like being on stage. There are also people who do not perform, like Jeremy Siepmann who is unbelievably experienced on all matters in music. I also hope to include conductors and music critics in future competitions.

The Ashkenazys have an impromptu conference.

Your wife is an interesting addition to the jury. Does she have much experience judging?

We had several cancellations among the judges. Geoffrey Norris, Vladimir Krainev, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Viktoria Postnikova, Maria Joao Pires and Paul Badura-Skoda could not come for various reasons. So Dr Anabella Freris invited my wife Thorunn (Dody to her close friends) to be a judge as well, and she agreed. In February 2009, we would have been married for 48 years! We care very similar in views and tastes, and there are no disagreements. She has an unbelievable memory and can not only remember everything that I play at home, but can also play every note without mistake. She is an honest critic who never flatters. Once after having given a fantastic concert, she told me, “That was good…” and then went on to show me how I could further improve! I could not have a better judge. 

What do you look for in a winner at this competition?

To reiterate, we are judging potential, both musically and artistically. Winning First Prize does not necessarily mean one is ready for a career. If the winners are too young, they have to be careful not to be exploited. In each winner there is a gift, and if he or she works hard to develop this gift, there is a chance of making a good career in music.