Meet the Finalists of the Dallas International Piano Competition – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
A month after the first rounds of the competition, the final round of the Dallas International Piano Competition is set.
Organized by the Dallas Chamber Symphony, the competition will end on June 24 at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Three finalists, Alexander Agate, Narae Lee and Jonathan Mamora, will perform a full concerto with the orchestra conducted by guest conductor Tong Chen. In addition to a panel of judges selecting the winner, the public will be able to vote for their favorite.
The finalists talk about their beginnings in the scene, playing with an orchestra in a competition and their ambitions for the future.
BNC DFW: At what age did you start playing the piano and what made you decide to pursue a career in music?
Alexander Agate: I started relatively late in life, at least compared to other professional pianists I’ve met, beginning formal training at age eleven (Horrible!). Being homeschooled, I enjoyed a lot of free time which my parents took advantage of to enroll me in various extracurricular activities. I have always loved music, but my first appearance with an orchestra at the age of thirteen reinforced my ambitions to become a classical pianist. I’m one of the lucky few, I think, to have found the area where the “work” part (practicing, preparing, etc.) never feels like work to me, at all.
Narae Lee: I started playing the piano at the age of six. My mother played the piano as a hobby and my brother played too. At the time, I always wanted to do what my brother was doing. The first time I wanted to do piano as a career was when I was chosen by one of the government programs for musical prodigies during my sophomore year of college. After that I transferred to an art school, I wanted to pursue music more because I always thought that my career could be something that I could enjoy and make me happy, and that part of me has not changed!
Jonathan Mamora: I started taking piano lessons at the age of 4, because my older brother had started lessons the year before. Seeing him play the piano encouraged me to want to play the piano too, and (as the story I heard goes) before I even started lessons I was “practicing” his music until I be able to play what it would be. playing! So my parents also put me in class.
BNC DFW: This is the first year that the Dallas International Piano Competition has included the orchestra as part of the competition. How does playing with an orchestra change the dynamics of the competition for you?
Agate: It certainly elevates the prestige of the competition, although my current approach to competitions is to try to forget that competitive aspect and treat heats as a series of performances. With this in mind, I consider the opportunity to play with an orchestra a treat and look forward to it.
Li: It is always a good opportunity for pianists to play with an orchestra, because few people often play with an orchestra. I think people would be more interested in applying if they saw that they could have the chance to play with an orchestra. It’s more fun to play with more people sharing music.
Mamor: Having the chance to play with any orchestra is a real privilege. Most of the time, we pianists can only practice the concertos by ourselves or with a second piano playing the orchestral reduction. I think the fact that the orchestra is playing for the final round of the competition only encourages me and the other finalists to try to elevate all aspects of our performance, from our own musical conceptions of the pieces, to the technical execution, to the collaboration between us and the musicians of the orchestra. I find it a real privilege and an honor to be able to play with the orchestra for the final, and I look forward to it.
BNC DFW: Beyond competition, what are your career goals and ambitions?
Agate: I really enjoy teaching, especially private lessons. Of course, the immediate goal remains to find some semblance of financial security, whether through relationships for more shows, or a teaching job. But if I had to state a grand ultimate goal, it would be to reinvigorate the classical scene into something that audiences and performers alike could find pleasure in.
Often, when listening to high-level modern performances, I find the playing to be in the exercise of execution and athleticism (which I think appeals more to pianists who are aware of technical difficulties on a more personal level) either in submission to an audience that I think musicians largely underestimate. I don’t believe that music considered “intelligent” should be avoided or played in a way that “helps” an audience move forward. My job as a musician is to channel those emotions and thoughts that we everything experience through the prism of composition.
Li: I liked to participate in competitions, but as I get older, I feel satisfied to teach. It makes me happy when I see my students improving, and I also learn from my students all the time!
Mamor: I love playing and I hope to be able to play for the rest of my career in whatever form. I discovered that I also like to teach a lot! It’s a lot of hard work and can be quite unglamorous, but it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to pass on everything I know and help make the next generation of musicians even better.
BNC DFW: Over the past year, more orchestras have resumed performing to live audiences following pandemic shutdowns. What role do you think music and live performances play in recovering from the pandemic, emotionally and spiritually?
Agate: I believe that ultimately all of our activities are aimed at creating a better experience for our time on this earth, and music and the arts are the icing on the cake of a society that has built and flourished. . As music and the arts return to their live formats, I like to take that as a sign that we’re getting back to form, but I don’t like to overstate the importance of my profession as, say, a Hollywood actor.
Li: The pandemic was something I did not expect. Therefore, not being able to play in public or communicate with the public was rather a shame. During the pandemic, I enjoyed having music in person more than before. Many musicians and music halls have had their series of concerts virtually. I think it made it easier for more people to access music, to find the music more interesting since a lot of people stayed at home, working from home, especially those who couldn’t go to theaters together to listen to music. Despite all the conveniences, music is meant to be shared with other people, and the audience is the most important part of the game. Live music brings us together as a community.
Mamor: During the pandemic, I gave a recital as part of my degree requirements in front of an audience of two people, my piano teacher and another member of the piano faculty. No one else was allowed in the room and everyone was watching online. I considered myself lucky to have even been able to give a recital during this period. A year later, I gave another recital, and this one was open to a live audience. I realized how important it was for everyone involved in that particular moment, be it the performer or the listener.
As performers, having an audience listening live to what we have to share creates an energy and dynamic that we feed off of. But also as listeners, seeing a show in person can be such a rewarding experience. While each person may go for a different reason (whether for spiritual fulfillment, emotional fulfillment, etc.), we will enjoy a collaborative experience where not only performers feed off the energy emanating of the public, but the public in turn feeds on the energy and the music shared by the performers. It’s a dialogue between everyone, using a language called music. For me, this is essential in understanding our humanity, and why live performances play a huge role in our efforts for this understanding.
BNC DFW: You had time to spend in Dallas during preliminary competition. Is there anything you’re looking forward to when you return later this month?
Agate: Last time I didn’t spend too much time away from my hotel/competition venue. I actually booked my ticket back to CA a few days after the competition ended, so I’m looking forward to exploring the city a bit. If anyone reads this and has any recommendations, please let me know!
Li: I love to explore, try food everywhere I go. I was shocked that Dallas had In-n-Out burgers, so my friends and I went there twice last time! I would really like to go back there. And you also want to try a Texas barbecue!
Mamor: I really enjoyed my time in Dallas during the first two rounds of the competition. Whenever I visit anywhere I am always very excited to try the food, and when I was in Dallas last month the food did not disappoint! I’m especially looking forward to a good barbecue.
Learn more: DCSymphony.org