A long-expected grand finale of the Royal Conservatory of Music's virtual piano competition took place last night at the Koerner Hall in Toronto. Over 8.000 video recordings from Canada and the USA were submitted to Music Lights the Way Piano festival. For each RCM level-based category (from preparatory to Level 10) within the Youth division, there were 3 prizes given. Apart from that there were the participation draw prizes, an audience choice award, prizes for the studios and teachers with the most student submissions, and a recognition of the adult performers who advanced to round two. The winners of the Youth division's levels got the most prestigious and valuable awards – Yamaha pianos.
Most of the winners were little prodigies, basically ages 7-11, even in the higher levels. Surprise was the winner of the preparatory category – an 11 years old girl who played a well-known 'Oranges and Lemons' song. I submitted recording of my talented 4 years old student for the same category and I wondered where was the logic to let 4 and 11 years old compete in the same category. These are apples and oranges, not oranges and lemons!
An impression was that the jury's favorite pianists mostly performed either classical sonatas or contemporary jazzy sound songs. Classical pieces are always welcome, especially when performed with such brilliance as did the winner of Level 9, Leping Ho. Compared to him, Ana Nikolova who won the highest level and was awarded a grand Yamaha piano was pale and not extraordinary at all. Maybe it is just my musical taste, but I missed more masterpieces from the Romantic and Neoclassical periods, as well as music from different parts of the world. We don't find much of these either in the RCM piano series (both old and new ones).
Having in mind the whole event, I expected more music, more glamour, and more audience. The hall was not even half-full despite RCM's generous sharing of the free tickets and offering the banquet after the ceremony. This was far less spectacular than, for example, RCM's promotion of their 2022 Celebration Series editions (which reminded me of a Golden Globe or Oscar awards event). However, no doubt that organizing this free virtual competition Royal Conservatory of Music gave us all the chance to be part of something big. Hopefully, RCM will continue to organize the competitions in the years to come, but with age-based categories, more various musical styles, and perhaps for other instruments as well.
Dr. Helen (Jelena) Arnautovic
Musicologist, music professor, writer, and founder of Sunny Day School of Music