|For 57 years, the Cincinnati-based World Piano Competition has introduced some of the most talented pianists in the world to the Queen City. Our mission is to promote and celebrate the art of classical piano music.
The World Piano Competition has established a new alliance with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Each year, The World Piano Competition is held at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. Contestants from all over the world gather to compete for a cash prize and performance awards.
World Piano Competition rolls Out
New format, expanded offerings and altered Name
58-year-old organization continues to evolve
Fresh off its second consecutive banner year, the World Piano Competition is starting its new year off with a very loud bang. The organization has completed a long-term strategic plan, has made major changes to both the format and scheduling of its signature event, expanded its outreach concerts and slightly changed its name. Underpinning all of these changes is the strategic plan being developed with the help of the Executive Service Corps of Cincinnati, generously funded by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. The goal is to build on the success of the last two years by implementing a marketable strategy for the future.
“We’re borrowing shamelessly from P&G by speaking in terms of ‘where to play’ and ‘how to win’,” said Mark Ernster, P&G retiree and executive director of the WPC. “We will ‘play’ to three distinct audiences: international piano competitions; entertainment and education; and collaborations. And we’ll win by making the audience the boss. That means a heavy emphasis on providing entertaining content designed to broaden our demographic reach.”
First, the name change: the organization is now officially known as Cincinnati’s World Piano Competition (CWPC). “This is an event that has world-wide recognition, and we wanted our hometown to benefit from that recognition,” said Ernster. “We are a Cincinnati organization and we’re proud of it. We want our community to be equally proud.”
Substantial changes are being made to the organization’s signature event: the competition itself. Since its founding in 1956 up through the 2013 season, CWPC held two annual competitions: one for performers aged five through 17 (“Young Artists”) and one for performers aged 18-32 (“Artists”). The Young Artist category was postponed in 2014 as the CWPC completely overhauled it.
Now, CWPC has added a new category for “Amateurs.” The Amateur Competition will be open to people from varying professions who are not in the music business. These are people who may have had classical music training but decided to pursue careers elsewhere, or people who had studied piano early in life, stayed with it and developed their talents as a hobby. The Amateur Competition will be all about uncovering and highlighting hidden talent from the most unexpected places. This exciting new addition will be a fun way to include even more community members and their families in the competition segment of the organization.
These three categories – Artists, Young Artists and Amateurs – will rotate every three years. 2015 will feature the Artist Division, followed in 2016 by the Young Artists and in 2017 by the Amateurs.
The Artist Division will now be patterned in head to head brackets, much like a tennis tournament. Each competitor will give two 15 minute performances before any are eliminated. Advancing competitors will perform 30 minutes in the next round, with six-to-eight competitors advancing to the semifinal round, where they will perform for 40 minutes. Of course the final round will feature three finalists playing complete piano concerti backed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
“We developed this new format after conducting some research with our audience,” said Ernster. “People were interested in shorter performances early on, and the bracketing will really build excitement. This is a classic example of making the audience the boss. No other piano competition that we know of follows this kind of order.”
CWPC will repeat the contemporary requirement – which was introduced in 2014 and requires the artist to perform a short work from a contemporary artist. “The contemporary requirement was a big hit,” said Ernster. “This requirement is also exclusive to CWPC.” Improvements continue to be made to the Young Artist division. “We’re not finished with this division yet, but we’re being guided by what’s best for the performers and the audience,” said Ernster. “We’re trying to balance the educational aspect of it while also giving students who are not yet conservatory age the chance to see what an international piano competition is all about.”
While the competitions are CWPC’s signature events, the organization is hardly dormant for the other 50 weeks. “We live our mission of promoting and celebrating the art of classical piano all year long,” said Ernster. “This is where the audience building is going to take place.”
The organization’s “Bach/Beethoven/Brahms” education series – which is geared toward school age audiences – has been renamed “Hammers, Strings & Keys.” The change is not merely cosmetic. “We’re looking to add flexibility in terms of content, and this name more accurately reflects that orientation,” said Ernster. “We’re going to branch off into science and engineering, for example. Imagine a concert where we show the audience how the hammers, strings and keys actually work together.”
Dinner concerts are also an important audience-building endeavor of the CWPC. Here, too, the organization is bringing audience-friendly changes. “Our season opener on September 18 featured two former competitors, but also brothers Stacey and Scot Woolley,” said Ernster. “Stacey is a CSO violinist and Scot is a pianist. But, first and foremost, both are performers. It was a fantastic event, and it shows the versatility inherent in our mission.”
Last year, CWPC also held 10 recitals for senior citizens. These will continue and expand, said Ernster
“We do this work because we love the art form, and because we know others will if given the opportunity,” said Ernster. “In two short years of revitalizing this organization, the results bear that out. And we’re only just beginning.”