Lack of cash spells the end for prestigious Newport piano contest

South Wales Argus: TALENTED: Rosemary Butler with some of the contestants in the competiton in 2003 TALENTED: Rosemary Butler with some of the contestants in the competiton in 2003

A MUSICAL competition based in Newport that attracted brilliant young pianists worldwide for almost thirty years has ended.

The Newport International Competition for Young Pianists started in 1979 and was held in the city every three years. The last one was in 2006.

But lack of sponsorship meant the 2009 event could not go ahead – and there is to be no competition this year either. Up till now there’s been no official statement about the future of the event.

The structure of the competition is still in place but the surviving competition committee, headed by Welsh Assembly Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler, is unlikely to be running any future competition should it re-start.

Mrs Butler said: “No formal announcement was made that the competition could not continue, as we were always hopeful of getting sponsorship.

“However, there will be no more competitions under the present committee but the format is there for someone to pick it up if they have the cash.

“As I happens there is a meeting next week to see how the committee can use the small amount of money we have left in the coffers for the benefit of young local musicians.”

The competition was always professionally organised and put Newport on the international stage. Its patron was Princess Diana.

There have been some great winners, including the American Mark Anderson, who went on to win the audience prize at the Leeds Piano Competition, one of the world’s most important.

Others include Boris Giltberg, at 12 the youngest competitor; John Lenehan, one of the UK’s leading piano accompanists; and Jack Gibbons, a specialist in the music of George Gershwin.

Russian-Israeli Giltberg has since appeared at the Cheltenham Festival and elsewhere. He was signed by EMI records and has been compared by BBC Music magazine to the great Sviatoslav Richter.

Anya Alexeyev, who won in 1991, was chosen by Paul McCartney to premiere his first solo piano piece,ALeaf, subsequently issued on record by EMI.

Brave move won great acclaim

ROSEMARY Butler, then a Newport Labour councillor, founded the competition with Glynne Jones, at that time senior music adviser for Gwent schools.

It was a brave move but it won universal favour and was vindicated by fast-growing interest among the most talented students in music colleges across the world.

The emphasis was always on the young, as Mrs Butler and her committee were concerned that the competition should grant status to musicians at the start of their careers.

Auditions were held in London and the heats and finals in Newport, first at the Newport Centre and then at the Riverfront.

The first winner was Nicholas Walker, then a student at the Moscow Conservatoire.

Among the competition judges have been Richard McMahon, the committee’s musical adviser, and Martin Jones, for many years pianist-in-residence at Cardiff University’s music department.


COMMENT: We’ll miss contest

IT IS a real shame that a competition which put Newport on the international stage looks set to disappear.

Lack of financial backing means The Newport International Competition for Young Pianists will be no more.

From small beginnings the competition, which first ran in 1979, grew into a well-respected triennial event boasting Princess Diana as its patron.

A lot of that success was down to a committed band of volunteers, headed by the then Labour councillor Rosemary Butler.

They succeeded in turning an ambitious idea into a hugely professional event.

The competition was open to pianists under the age of 25 and the calibre of contestants attracted were testament to its reputation.

Auditions attracted entries from up to 60 pianists with past winners coming from Hong Kong, South Korea, England, China, America, Israel and Russia.

Now it appears that the financial strains which led to the cancellation of the 2009 competition have not gone away and the committee is prepared to face the fact that without a major sponsor, the competition will have to be shelved.

This is a real shame for all those who have supported and enjoyed the event over so many years.

Being home to such a major cultural event is a coup for any city.

And without it Newport will definitely be a poorer place.

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