Tuesday, September 19

Music contest strikes new notes


Angela Meade sings at the 2008 José Iturbi International Music Competition. She was the first prize winner in the voice category.

Angela Meade sings at the 2008 José Iturbi International Music Competition. She was the first prize winner in the voice category. LONG PHOTOGRAPHY

In the world of classical music competitions, a new city has entered the ring: Los Angeles.

The José Iturbi Foundation will put on its third annual international music competition, taking place at Schoenberg Hall June 15 through June 20. The competition will draw in 24 of the best vocalists and pianists in the world.

The foundation was created by UCLA alumna Donelle Dadigan and her godmother, Marion Seabury, to honor Dadigan’s late godfather, piano great José Iturbi.

In his prime, Iturbi was considered the epitome of old-school Hollywood glamour.

A ladies’ man who constantly had celebrities dropping in and out of his home, he was not only playing classical piano, but performing as a musician in movies with the likes of Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra.

Originally a classical performer, he began blending the classical with the hip to make his music more appealing to the public.

“He would play the great classics like Rachmaninoff concertos, Tchaikovsky concertos and Chopin waltzes, but he would always infuse his performance somewhere along the line with a popular number, like a boogie-woogie,” Dadigan said. “He always brought that popular music element into his realm.”

Iturbi wanted people to enjoy classical music and promoted it through movies, which made it more accessible.

“People would think classical music was so serious, but he made it more enjoyable,” Dadigan said.

The Iturbi Foundation is working toward continuing this popularization of classical music with the help of the international competition, gaining it the nickname of “Classical Idol,” a reference to the popular reality show “American Idol.”

The competition requires an American standards repertoire component, which sets it apart from other classical competitions.

“We have true classical music coupled with the American popular standards of Gershwin, Broadway standards and popular music standards that were big in the 1930s and 1940s and have been embraced all over the world,” Dadigan said.

Musicians wishing to participate in the competition submit themselves to an online pre-screening round. Organizers select 24 pianists and 24 vocalists to come to Los Angeles to compete in a program consisting of three rounds. In each of the rounds, competitors are rated by a panel of five judges.

The panel is made up of some of the top professors, professional judges, concert artists, artist agents and artist managers.

The first prize winners in each category are awarded $50,000 each, and many awards are given to other winners.

For many competitors, however, the real prize is getting to have their performances heard by such renowned names.

“The young contestants would almost die to have that opportunity to perform in front of them, and here they do,” Dadigan said. “They’ve had great opportunities in the past where the judges have heard the contestants and put them in touch with an artist manager or representative, and the rest is history.”

In the music world, winning contests is basically like building a resume .

“It’s helped my career quite a bit,” said Rufus Choi, winner of the piano contest in 2007. “It’s definitely easier to introduce yourself as a winner of a major international piano competition.”

The Iturbi contest has doubled and tripled in applicants each year since its start in 2007.

“The Iturbi is really the first international competition (in the area) at a world-class stage. They have the financial support, and the quality of the pianists that come definitely compete with some of the top international piano competitions out there,” Choi said.

For UCLA students and musicians, the influx of talent to Schoenberg Hall offers a chance to see world talent as well as to give their input about those performing.

“It is a thoroughly absorbing learning experience, whether or not you are a pianist,” said Daniel Pollack, piano judge and jury chairman. “The audience gets to vote for a People’s Choice Award, so attendees can have a say in the competition.”

For Dadigan, hosting the competition at UCLA seemed to be part of a natural progression. Dadigan said she was hopeful that the competition would be held at UCLA because of her alumna ties and the fact that Iturbi lived close to the school.

“It’s kind of amazing that we’re able to do this in Schoenberg with all the practice rooms,” Dadigan said. “The halls will be vibrating and emanating these fabulous sounds of all these world-class young pianists and singers practicing. The world’s emergent young artists and the talents of tomorrow ““ you’re able to hear them today.”

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.