5-Minute Piano Concerto competition: 10 finalists chosen!

U subotu i nedjelju, 8. i 9. listopada 2016., u prostorijama Hrvatskog društva skladatelja susreli su se neki od najvećih europskih autoriteta za suvremenu glazbu kako bi kao članovi prosudbene komisije, evaluirali pristigla djela na MBZ-ovo natjecanje 5-Minute Piano Concerto Competition. Johannes Kalitzke (dirigent i skladatelj, Njemačka), Berislav Šipuš (dirigent i skladatelj, Hrvatska) te Daan Vandewalle (pijanist, Belgija) pred sobom su imali nimalo lak zadatak – od ukupno 182 pristigle partiture izabrati 10 najuspjelijih koje će se izvesti u travnju 2017., na 29. MBZ-u, a među njima se skriva finalist od kojeg će MBZ naručiti cjelovečernji klavirski koncert.


Some of the greatest authorities for contemporary music met at the Croatian Composers' Society in Zagreb during the weekend of 8th and 9th October 2016, as jury members of the 5-Minute Piano Concerto Competition. Johannes Kalitzke (composer and conductor, Germany), Berislav Šipuš (composer and conductor, Croatia) and Daan Vandewalle (pianist, Belgium) confronted a challenging task –  among 182 applied scored to distinguish 10 most successful ones which will be performed in April 2017 at the 29th MBZ.

The finalists of the 5-Minute Piano Concerto Competition are:


Christina Athinodorou, Cyprus

Evan T. Gallagher, USA

Elvira Garifzyanova, Austria

Daniele Gasparini, Italy

Chris Hung, Hong Kong

Juro Kim Feliz, Canada

Theofilos Lamprianidis, Greece

Harald Muenz, Germany

Bruno Vlahek, Croatia/ Spain

Josué Zamora, Mexico


Among them a winner is hidden from which MBZ will comission a feature-lenght piano concerto. The task was even more challenging for the jury members since they had to evaluate a 5-minute form, somewhat unusual for a more extensive form as a piano concerto. How was the process of the evaluation and which criteria was important to the jury members?

Daan Vandewalle: With this kind of tasks we, as professional musicians we are confronted on almost daily basis. That helps in situation like this one – when we have to evaluate a great number of works. What I am personally looking for – and maybe I will give you a general answer – is a certain feeling which the composer transmits in the work. That I can really imagine what did he wanted to get in the real sound, during the performance. Therefore, for me one of the most important criteria is to be able to feel whether the composer can transmit his idea and feeling in a time when music is being written on a computer.

Johannes Kalitzke: In this context I find it to be very important to distinguish a writing excericise from real composing. In many pieces we have seen the composers' skills in managing the computers' programme, but that doesn't mean the result is real music. A real composition starts from an idea, after which the composer chooses in which way it will be written. Sometimes it goes the other way round – they start to write without an idea believing they are creating real music. In that case, it is a writing excercise. Here we got a number of scores whose authors were „poisoned“ by the idea of writting, instead of the actual music-making. But that is obvious from the very first page. On the other hand, we got a lot of really interesting works where you can see the composer had in mind an idea about the result. When you compose you have to have in mind the listener as well. Some works are very good combinations of sound colors and these ten chosen works deserve to be heard. Some composers are very skillful in writing but when you play the piece it turns out it doesn't work. And we are here tu judge that. For example, we have received one work written in such a way two pianists ought to play it. You can see the composer wrote it on his computer, but didn't have an actual idea whether a pianist can really play it.


As a pianist and renowned interpreter of the piano literature of the 20th and 21st century, Daan Vandewalle performed (and was reworded for his performances) the overall piano opuses of Charles Ives, György Ligeti, John Cage or Witold Lutosławski. He couldn't resist playing some of the applied scores and was engaged when commenting which were the criteria important to him as a pianist.

Daan Vandewalle: Imagine you have to play with both hands at the piano's low register and then suddenly move both hands to the high register. It is possible only on a computer! The real physical action on a piano would be impossible! I was concentrated mostly on that particular feature – whether composers actually hear how one note or harmony follows the other. Also, what Johannes has pointed out is very important –to distinguish pieces which on paper seem as interesting contemporary music from the reality behind the notes. Because sometimes notation can be a mask to something ugly and impossible. All members of this jury are also practicing musicians, and perform almost every week in front of an audience. That fact is important because if you look at the works from a purely theoretical perspective, without the possibilty to imagine them in practice, that can be dangerous. Luckily, that was not the case here and I am very pleased with that!


In 2015 when the 5-minute opera competition was held, there was 91 applications. Now, the 5-Minute Piano Concerto Competition almost doubled the number of applicants from different countries – United States of America, numerous European countries, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, South African Republic... Also, the age of composers is very divers so it could be expected their musical language would be divers too.

Berislav Šipuš: In the scores we were searching a contemporary musical language suitable for the Biennale's tradition, we were opened for all musical styles and ideas we could see, and we saw really different ones. We encountered very traditional scores, rooted in a positivistic conservatism, but also some were very modern. As my colleagues said, it was very important to grasp what will happen at the performance, how it could really sound live. Besides the help of our pianist colleague who played some of the works, we practically didn't have any soundtrack. So we tried to „hear“ the work through the visual experience. The practical experience of my colleagues from the Jury is very important because that kind of experience is needed to be able to transform the score form the visual to the audio segment. In my opinion we have done a good job, we were square, quick and efficient. We were searching for something fresh, something good which will impress the audience. I feared one thing which I think we managed to avoid – to choose similar compositions and so 50 minutes of music would sound as one composition. So we were careful the 10 chosen pieces differ from one another. 


The limitating 5-minutes form was a challenge to the composers who were forced to „show what they can do“ in very little material, and had very little space to develop their musical ideas. All jury members agreed that particular challenge is an excellent way of concise writing, which was a problem for some of them, while others managed to surmount the limitations of the Competition.

Johannes Kalitzke: In 5 minutes you have very little time therefore you have to compose a sort of a „fingerprint music“. The task alone should be very challenging – to find an idea that works well and to be able to explain it in 5 minutes. Since there was not time to develop ideas, the composer had to be clear from the very beginning.

Daan Vandewalle: That can be a problem. I know composers who are masters of the miniature and their music is fantastic when it's up to 5 minutes long. If they had to write long pieces, it doesn't work. And vice versa -  some composers are geniuses in form which are let's say 4 hours long, they need the space. Every competition has its rules, therefore – limitations. I personally think this is a great idea and a great challenge, especially due to the fact we have to choose 10 pieces and not only one. I think all the chosen finalists are pretty young composers and as such are given the oportunity to hear their own work in a professional performance.

Berislav Šipuš: My impression is that the form was a bit of a problem for the composers. It was important for the score to have a certain arc, a form with a clear begining and ending. What is interesting is that while we were evaluating the scores separately, we singled out around 17 scores who got all three votes. So, with around 25 scores we entered in the second circle. Our professional artistical criteria were in harmony.


5-Minute Piano Concerto competition: 10 finalists chosen!