WATCH LIVE: 16 Pianists Reach 2nd Stage of 2014 Rubinstein Competition

An exciting rendition of Beethoven’s 'Appassionata’ sonata by Russian pianist Maria Mazo capped off the 1st phase.

Haggai Hitron
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Haggai Hitron

First, the latest results of the 14th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition: The 16 contenders who are continuing to the second stage are Antonii Baryshevskyi (Ukraine), Steven Lin (United States), Leonardo Colafelice (Italy), Seong-Jin Cho (South Korea), Ilya Kondratiev (Russia) Natalia Sokolovskaya (Russia), Misora Ozaki (Japan), Ran Dank (Israel) Andrejs Osokins (Latvia), Rachel Naomi Kudo (United States), Tomoaki Yoshida (Japan), Yutong Sun (China), Ji-Yong Kim (South Korea), Hyung-Min Suh (South Korea), Marcin Koziak (Poland), Maria Mazo (Russia).

As always, the list includes surprises (in the opinion of this writer, even big surprises: I counted five so far).

What happened before the jury vote results were revealed on Sunday? The first stage of the Rubinstein contest ended with an exciting rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23, usually called the "Appassionata," which constituted the main part of the recital of Russian pianist Maria Mazo. Was this a noncontroversial rendition of the piece? Not at all (for example, there was the ostensibly impatient tempo Mazo chose in the second movement, the Andante). But to tell the truth – that’s not important, because Mazo and the piano can be seen as an inseparable pair.

To my ears, at least, from the first moment, Mazo's playing (Chopin’s Ballade No. 1) sounded like one long display of passion for the piano, which resulted in notes that were both powerful and soft, addictive and, in the performance of the Beethoven sonata – a feeling of constant, forward motion.

For Mazo, whose crowning achievement to date was first prize at the International Beethoven Piano Competition, Vienna last year, each phrase of the Beethoven reflected a talent that could be called “a gift of god,” no less. Three "Appassionatas" (including hers) were performed during this stage of the competition, but Maria Mazo's supremacy in this piece, embodying the glory of Ludwig Von’s inspiration, was decisive.

The final heat of the first stage began with a disappointment: A Taiwanese-born American pianist named Weiyin Chen, aged 30, who has studied with famous teachers, was apparently having a bad day, or rather evening. Her finger work was defective, and her rendition of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 13 (performed in an exemplary manner by Israeli contender Ran Dank) was of the level of a mediocre student .

As though that wasn’t enough, as luck would have it (a lottery determines the order in which contestants play), the piece with which Chen concluded her recital, a sonata by Bartok, was the same sonata with which the second competitor in the heat, Marcin Koziak of Poland, began his recital. The tremendous difference in his favor was genuinely embarrassing. Presumably, this is a difference that shouldn't be possible in a competition that is supposed to feature only truly outstanding pianists.

The second stage of the competition begins today (Tuesday, May 20), and will continue for three days. This stage also consists of a series of recitals and will take place in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The sixteen pianists who move to 2nd stage of 2014 Rubinstein competition.Credit: Stanley Waterman