Bing Hao Li and Parker Van Ostrand – piano competition winners of the 7th.annual PYPA

A native of Shanghai, China, the now 25 years old Bing Hao is this year’s winner of the senior division’s first prize at the Philadelphia Young Pianists Academy’s competition.

(Photo: Prize Winners at PYPA Parker Van Ostrand and Bing Has Li with the festival’s director Ching-Yun Hu, by Ilona Oltuski)

The popular summer hub for Philadelphia’s music lovers and eager students from near and far, now in its 7thseason continues its well visited season with concerts, masterclasses and great performance and practice opportunities. Both prize winners are attending PYPA for the first time.

Bing Hao just graduated New York’s Mannes School of Music, under the tutelage of Eteri Andjaparidze. Currently a student of the festival’s director, pianist Ching-Yun Hu, (photo by Ilona Oltuski) who praises her student’s zeal and inquisitiveness, she performed an expressive rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No.1, in B-flat minor. It was her sensitivity and temperament that won the jury over.

“It is one of my very favorite concertos,” she says. “I particularly love Russian music, for its passion and great drama. I feel it’s very close to my own personality but also says so much about the human spirit.”

She admits having had very little time to prepare for her performance of the concerto. She felt better prepared for the pieces she performed during the first round of the competition, based on which she was chosen for the final round, as she had recently performed them in recital. To counter the nerves, she says: “I tried to put myself into the emotional mood of the concerto. I listened to a lot of great recordings; of course, it is such a renowned piece and it’s not easy to feel as though you have something new to add. But I revel in the on-stage experience, performing the music I love, and yes, maybe one finds an individual facet of one’s own and can share that with an audience. I am thankful for the great experience I had here at the festival and now that I finished the competition, I will actually start enjoying a bit more of the social prospect of meeting some of the other talented students. I thank my mom every day for having chosen my instrument for me, which I grew to love so deeply. “

Both Bing Hao and Parker Von Ostrand, (photo by Ilona Oltuski) the sixteen years old winner of the competition’s junior division, agree on the positive atmosphere of the festival, its motivating programs and the comfortable setting of its location, Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts.

The spacious prewar mansion in the heart of town right off Rittenhouse Square, comes equipped with a beautiful concert hall with great acoustics, and many practice rooms with grand pianos; a most sought-after rarity compared to most other festivals.

“At PYPA only two people share a practice room, which makes life much easier,” says Parker. “You don’t have to sign up hourly, to get a spot to practice. “

His performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1, Op. 11 in E-minor impressed jurors with a wide range of color, clear sound projection and a mature expressiveness well beyond his age.

He hails from Sacramento, California, where he studies with Linda Nakagawa, Natsuki Fukasawa, and during the summer time with Sarah Chan.

For Parker this has been the first experience of partaking at a summer music academy and competition and he seems impressed all around.

“Hearing great masterclasses each day, is such an exciting opportunity,” he says. Indeed, the academy offers iconic pedagogues, like the eminent and tireless Gary Graffman (Photo: during masterclass, by Ilona Oltuski) as well as famed performers, like the recent VanCliburn winner Yekwon Sunwoo, who gave a masterclass before his concert at PYPA. The lecture of Pierre van der Westhuizen, the Director of the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival held Parker’s fascination in particular:” It was really helpful to get career advice from such a leading expert with valuable guidance through the many aspects of the music field,” he says.(Photo: Pianist Yekwon Sunwoo performs at PYPA. By Ilona Oltuski)

“Having the competition during the festival is different from performing a concert,” he says, it adds an extra level of preparation in detail and get a different kind of feedback. “I am grateful for the acknowledgement for the work on my concerto, implementing all the elements I have been taught. I worked on it for a while now and performed one movement with orchestra this year, but actually never played it through in its entirety,” he explains. He has played a lot of Chopin, a composer close to his heart and would like to try out for the Chopin Competition in Miami, next year. He just recently performed a recital of all Chopin music, which he describes as one of his favorite musical moments, so far. Performing for musicians like at the festival, is a special experience though and a new one, for him. He is looking forward to collecting more of these musical highlights, special invocations, when everything seems to come together: “Like during the slow movement in the concerto, when the key changes come unexpectedly – it’s a little bit like magic,” he describes.

PYPA continues for a few more days, until August 11th, with its engaging activities and concert programs.