Professor Tran Thu Ha is chairwoman of the third Ha Noi International Piano Competition (HIPC), held at Viet Nam National Academy of Music (VNAM) from September 4 to 11. Nguyen Thuy Binh speaks to Professor Ha about the contest and Vietnamese musicians' chances.
Inner Sanctum: What can you say about the HIPC contestants this year?
There are about 52 competitors from nine countries: Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Ukraine, as well as Japan, South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan, besides the host Viet Nam.
One-fifth of the competitors are foreigners. They are taking part in Groups B and C, which are for competitors in the 14-25 age group.
The Vietnamese competitors are mainly from VNAM. In addition, the HCM Conservatory, Hue Conservatory and Ha Noi Arts School have sent their students to the competition.
Inner Sanctum: The first round ended early this week. Do you think Vietnamese competitors have the potential to win prizes this year?
As we forecast, Vietnamese competitors Quach Hoang Nhi, Truong Thi Ngan Ha and Dang Thai Vu in Group A, Ngo Phuong Vy, Nguyen Dang Quang in Group B, and Pham Nguyen Hoai Trang in Group C have cleared the first round with impressive performances.
In Group A, the competition in the first round was really fierce because there were two rounds in that group. The first-round winners will enter the final round. In addition, the age disparity (10-14) among the competitors put pressure on them. These group winners received the maximum scores from all judges.
In the final round, the competitors have to perform in a 12-minute programme, comprising a piece from a classical sonata of one of the composers Mozart, Haydn or Kuhlau, and a piece of their own choice.
Viet Nam's Quach Hoang Nhi, 11 and Ngan Ha, 13 are strong rivals of Singapore's Alyssa Kok, 13 and Australia's A Lin, 10.
It is difficult to say about Groups B and C because the competitors have to play in two rounds.
At the first HIPC, the top prizes went to foreign candidates. In the second competition, Viet Nam won the first and third prizes in Groups A and C.
Inner Sanctum: The HIPC is very young. Do you think it will become one of the major ones in Southeast Asia?
The first HIPC was held in 2010, aimed at discovering and supporting young talents in classical music. There were about 60 competitors from 10 countries and territories in that event. It was successful and was one of top cultural events of 2010 in Viet Nam.
We are proud to say that Viet Nam has made great efforts to see that classical music is recognised in the region over the years. Viet Nam has earned a place on the regional classical music map.
At present, it can be said that the HIPC is a professional international piano competition in the region.
Truthfully, the HIPC is ranked a second-level competition by the Alink-Argerich Foundation, an independent worldwide information and service centre for musicians and competitions.
Second-level competitions are professional ones that meet international standards and follow first-level competitions such as the Tchaikovsky and Chopin ones, of which there are very few held in the world.
Inner Sanctum: Which categories of professional competitions need to meet international standards?
The international-standard competitions are divided into three groups: Group A for the 10-13 age group; Group B for the 14-17 age group; and Group C for 18 years and above.
Group C is a must and is very professional for adult artists. This group has a common criterion such as music programmes and a number of rounds.
At the third HIPC, the contestants from Group B will have to play one movement with the orchestra, while Group C's competitors will play a full concerto.
In such competitions held in other countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, besides the Philippines, Group B does not have to play with the orchestra.
Inner Sanctum: Are the jury members and the music programmes very important at any international competition?
Yes, they are. The music programme and the jury panel are always important at international piano competitions.
The music programme at the HIPC is very professional, featuring styles ranging from classical, pre-classical, romance and 20th century. It is compiled with advice from renowned pianist Dang Thai Son.
The organisers invited well-known artists to judge at the HIPC, following the fame of Son and the remarkable achievements of VNAM in general and the piano department in particular.
The jury members are South Korea's Hae Won-chang; Michel Bourdoncle from France; Tamas Ungar from the United States; and Japan's Fumiko Eguchi; besides Hamsa Al-Wadi Juris from Finland and German/Austrian Stephan Moller.
Moller, a new judge, is from Austria, which is a European culture hub. He is president of the Vienna International Pianists Association. It is an honour for the HIPC.
It is difficult to invite these judges because they are well-known and judge many international competitions. They are busy and it is not easy for them to give seven days for the competition in Ha Noi.
All of them love Viet Nam and want to know more about the development of classical music here through the HIPC.
In addition, we have invited two conductors, Viet Nam's Dong Quang Vinh and Spain's David Gomez, to conduct the performances of the competitors with the orchestra this year, because several competitors have to play the concerto with the orchestra.
Inner Sanctum: Why did it take three years to hold the third HIPC?
The HIPC has been held biennially, but due to some reasons the third HIPC was delayed. One of the reasons was that we wanted to wait to inaugurate the new grand hall on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the VNAM establishment.
The new grand hall was funded by the culture, sports and tourism ministry. The 800-seat hall's sound system and stage has met international standards with Japanese support in acoustic supervision.
We also wanted to prepare well for the competition and the Vietnamese candidates needed time to qualify for the competition.
Many activities such as festivals and smaller-scale competitions were held as trials for the Vietnamese candidates.
They were also sent to other competitions in the neighbouring countries, where they gained good experience.
Between the second and the third HIPCs, master classes were held by international guest tutors.
This year, there are two Steinway and Yamaha pianos, thanks to sponsors, allowing the competitors to make a choice. The Yamaha piano is suitable for the youngest competitors, while the Steinway piano will help the older ones to showcase their skills. — VNS