Many International Artist Series regulars will remember Igor Levit’s debut recital at the Ordway two years ago. For those who heard him play then, it is maybe no great surprise that last week, it was announced that he won a major piano prize: the Gilmore Artist Award worth $300,000. There’s an in-depth, fascinating article about him in Sunday’s New York Times here.
I have two fun revelations relating to Igor Levit and the Gilmore Award.
First, Igor will return to the International Artist Series next season. I know that sharing this news breaks with our usual practice of announcing new seasons (International Artist Series and Music in the Park Series) in February. But given the news of the award and the fact that several Schubert Club friends immediately got in touch to urge us to bring Igor back, I am happy to “leak” Igor Levit’s return recital in October – in advance of publishing the rest of the series. I’m excited, and I know many Twin Cities recital fans will be too.
The other thing I’m pleased to reveal after the secrecy of the past two years is that I was a member of the 5-person Gilmore selection committee. It was both a privilege and a fascinating process. The selection procedure for the Gilmore Artist award winner is different to the way that most prize money is awarded in the classical music world; this is expressly not a competition. Serving on the Gilmore jury involves hearing nominated pianists performing in public performances without the artists knowing that they are under consideration. Sometimes alone and sometimes together with other committee members, I attended recitals and concerto performances in various parts of the United States and Europe. Our brief was to attend “under the radar”, listen and report back to the rest of the committee with observations and recommendations. Over the course of many months, I listened to dozens of recordings and made some 20 or so trips to hear pianists perform. It made for a busy couple of years. Increased frequent flyer miles aside, it was a remarkable opportunity to hear many of the leading emerging pianists of our time. And while it is true that you can learn a lot about a performer from a recording (both audio and video), you learn a whole lot more when you hear them live. So, I feel as if it was not only a great experience for me personally, but that it should serve Schubert Club too, as we do our very best to present outstanding artists in concert for our audience.
I’m not in a position to compare the pool of candidates with pools of previous rounds, but I can say that the quality – both technical and musical – of the short list of pianists I got to hear was unbelievably high. As a committee, we’ve agreed not to identify the broader list of names we were considering, but it is fair to say that Igor Levit stood out as an pianist who not only shone musically and technically, but as an artist who takes risks with his programming choices and always has something interesting to communicate to his audience. We’re in for a treat with his October recital featuring music by Bach, Busoni, Schumann, Wagner and Liszt. As for the rest of the artists and ensembles we will present next season, I’m afraid you will have to wait a few more weeks until our announcement next month.