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NYCA – Klara Min on building communal platforms for pianists

In 2008, Min, together with concert pianist Jeffrey Swann and pianist/conductor Eduard Zilberkant, created NYCA as a forum for pianists by pianists.

“NYCA grew out of my own experiences and the wish to put the artist first: Artistic choices have to be made by artists, not by big corporations,” Min says. ”Pianists are so used to working by themselves; it did take some building of trust and relationships to be able to introduce a concept of helping each other and to make mutual decisions on what’s valid. Ultimately, pianists should not react to popular demands like exchangeable puppets, but be part of the decisions that go into their performances and presentations, and so follow a more wholesome path of artistic integrity. My vision grew out of an understanding of that premise, with a special nod to Schumann’s ideal of an artists’ alliance,” explains Min.

Min’s biography might well have predestined her for to create an international platform for her art. South Korean-born, she has lived in Japan, the U.S. and Germany. She cherishes her exposure to different cultures from a young age: ”Different cultures, different people are the most enjoyable part of life for me. The way you speak and listen can also affect your music: I often hear the phrasing and certain accents of a pianist’s language in his or her playing.”

Her parents had not only recognized her talent early on, but also supported her in finding her independence. Feeling confident enough to pursue her dream of a career as a pianist, Min sought inspiration in teachers like Solomon Mikowsky, Sara Davis Buechner and Byron Janis, who reinforced her in her mission to develop, and then stick by her own taste. But still she felt something was missing; she describes that ‘something’ as a motivation to look further, and a craving for a synergy between music and community.

At Yamaha recording session with recording engineer Leszek Wojcik “The piano is so central in its role for different music collaborations, and it is the only solo instrument that offers the whole range of orchestral sound, yet it can be such a lonely place,” she says. Self doubt, the solitude of the practice room, and the confusion and mixed messages over the demands of the techniques versus those of their careers… many students lack the personal guidance or social network to help them meet the challenges of a life in music,” Min says. “That often results in being confined to thinking within the box. By the time they pass their final exam, only few have found their own voice, much less their true individuality as a musician; and then what?” Min has long bemoaned that pianists work in a very isolated way. But what preceded NYCA was simply a longing for more communal rapport, support and friendship, and never thought of herself as an entrepreneur.  “My own needs somehow cultivated the role I took on for NYCA, which in turn – and with continued success – inspired me to do more and reach out further,” she states.

The artist-friendly NYCA aims to find and support talent that merits further exposure – an approach that seems to be increasingly embraced by a great number of experienced pianists and pedagogues.

The process for NYCA’s competitions, which are part of the highly regarded Alink/Argerich foundation’s compilation of worldwide competitions, varies quite a bit from the way competitions are usually run. “First of all we do not have any pre-screenings where performers send in a CD. Our selections are based on live auditions only, and judged by various juries, whose members have been endorsed by NYCA’s member base. We are looking for artists with personality,” says Min.

She explains that it’s not enough that a pianist shows technical competence, and that many other factors come into play and count towards the final pick, such as the program itself, the depiction of an original aspect and then, of course, the overall interpretation; in other words, the artist has to have something to say that is of artistic value.

Each artist has to prepare one program for the audition and two concert programs – in case they win – for the debut concert. Both of these programs can, but don’t have to include pieces chosen for the audition. All programs are free of choice.

NYCA’s selection process has appealed to many musicians; an example is the world-renowned pianist Piotr Anderszewski, who famously once walked out on a competition in which he was a competitor; he was on the jury for NCYCA’s recent Warsaw audition.

NYCA has a recipe to counter the problematic dynamics of most competitions. Says Min: “We are not confining our choice to one winner alone – it’s a relative project, not an absolute one. If we find more than one worthy performer, [the winners] share the price. If we find no-one for that particular year, there won’t be a price. There are no rounds where artists battle each other.”

NYCA’s growing connections with established concert venues worldwide facilitate all-important performance opportunities for their chosen winners.

With spaces for auditions and debut series performances in New York, Paris, London, Düsseldorf, Munich, Warsaw and Seoul, NYCA has tapped into worldwide resources and is making them available to new talent. Berlin is the latest addition, and the Berlin Philharmonic will hold auditions for NYCA artists next year. China is next…

While things for Min and NYCA are on the up and up, Min also remembers a more difficult time in her professional life. When returning to New York after her participation at the 2004 Schumann competition in the composer’s birthplace, Zwickau, she realized that following the usual competition circuit was not the right way for her, and that she needed to create a framework for herself that would allow her to find herself as the artist she believed she was. Looking up during a stroll through New York’s midtown, she caught a glimpse of the Yamaha sign at East 54th Street. Literally knocking on the door of opportunity, the gatekeeper at the time, Stan Zielinski of Yamaha Artists Services, enthusiastically invited her in and was open to her suggestion of creating a chamber music series. The subsequent launch of the chamber music concert series at the Yamaha showroom and then at the Good Shepherd Church, off Lincoln Center, quickly grew into a concerto series. Geared to give young pianists a chance to perform with an orchestra provided a rare treat for pianists not invited by the New York Philharmonic, and also presented an opportunity for conductors to perform in New York with an orchestra. Today, that orchestra – the NYCA Symphony – consists of NYCA core members and alumni. “It only takes one good person to believe in you for others to come on board,” Min says. And look who I bumped into today....

Many details on how NYCA can reach its full potential are still crystallizing and its members are still proactively exploring different ways of audience development and the broadening of dynamic collaborations within different artistic genres. A music festival is on the list of possible further endeavors. It would include master classes and possibly extend the reach of the orchestral experience to a younger student body. Another niche of performances will be covered by a series of NYCA’s house concerts under the title “Soirée des artistes”. The series is planned for New York, Berlin and locations in China, and geared towards satisfying the increasing demand for private music events, including hosted dinner parties.

Min says: “No one can do it all alone; your path will open up to where people applaud, and there are many ways to get to one’s goal. How you get there matters and even though directions change all the time, it’s that “togetherness” that makes it worthwhile.

In the moment though, she wishes she could create more space for herself and her music. “I did not have a lot of leisure to concentrate on that, lately,” says Min, who became a Steinway Artist in 2014, and shares her time between her own performances, recordings and NYCA momentarily between Berlin and New York.

With Sean Hickey, Naxos. Photo Credit: Chris Lee

In preparation for her May 2015 recording on the Steinway label, Min currently practices a lot of Scriabin to be released in October, which will closely follow final preparations for NYCA’s grand gala in April, to celebrate its international advancement. The NYCA Gala Concert New Horizon on April 27 will feature Joshua Roman, cello Alberto Nose, Jingyi Zhang, Kyu Yeon Kim & Klara Min, piano; Harrison Hollingsworth, bassoon; Sooyun Kim, flute; Karisa Antonio, oboe; Kyle Hoyt, horn; Paul Won Jin Cho, clarinet; Rachel Lee Priday, violin. Works by CHOPIN Andante spianato e grand polonaise, Op.22; PIAZZOLLA Primavera; POULENC Sextet; SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Concerto No. 2; TCHAIKOVSKY Rococo Variations Gerard Schwarz will conduct the NYCA Symphony Orchestra. Elliott Forrest, will emcee the evening



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