Back in 2017, the Eurasian Stars International Piano Competition launched its debut edition in the Kazakh capital of Astana, bringing a new high-level contest to young pianists and music lovers across the country and beyond. So successful was this competition that it marked the beginning of a new annual event, with Eurasian Stars going on to be held in various countries over the following few years.
Now, in 2023, the competition came back to its roots on the occasion of its fifth anniversary, arriving in Astana from the 25th to the 28th of April. Open to applicants of all nationalities, this latest edition of Eurasian Stars offered talented pianists the chance to win a total prize fund of €15,000, while giving them the opportunity to test their musical skills by going head-to-head against fellow musicians.
Hosted at the Kazakh National University of Arts, and taking place over two rounds, Eurasian Stars 2023 featured an eclectic choice of repertoire ranging from across the spectrum of classical music, and also including a piece from its Composer-In-Residence Alexey Shor. The participants’ performances over both phases was judged by a five-person jury board that was specially hand-picked for this occasion, featuring some of the most respected and experienced pianists and pedagogues active today. These included amongst them Sara Assabayeva (Kazakhstan), Gulzhamilya Kadyrbekova (Kazakhstan), Nikita Mndoyants (France), and Gülsin Onay (Turkey).
“The high level of participants, many of whom are laureates of international piano competitions and quite mature established musicians with extensive experience and rich concert activities, was especially noteworthy”, Assabayeva remarked.
“As in many music competitions, the use of a specially written composition as a mandatory work allowed the performers to offer their own individual interpretations, which is always very informative. The music of Alexey Shor’s sonata is permeated with melodism; it is a single harmonious canvas, revelling in a grandiose culmination and with a poetry of musical thought that is favourable for the perception of listeners, as the composer speaks deeply and sensitively to the human soul,” she added.
Assabayeva’s sentiments regarding Shor’s composition, which was written in collaboration with the renowned pianist, conductor and composer Mikhail Pletnev, were echoed by her fellow jury members, including Kadyrbekova, who noted that “the programme was assembled in such a way as to reveal different sides of the competitors’ creative individuality as well as personality, and it also included a contemporary piece with a lot of interesting aspects. It is not an easy work, but one that needs to be understood, disclosed and conveyed. The sound palette is richly colored, and it forces one to listen. It’s amazing, like a reflection of the human soul, and it requires a mature attitude to life. It was an excellent choice for such a competition, and I believe it deserves to be performed on a world stage and deserves a place within the piano repertoire.”
As the competition progressed, the packed roster of participants who enrolled in the first round were whittled down to just eight finalists, namely, Mikhail Kan, Stanislav Korchagin, Rashid Rakhimov, Nikita Stetsenko, German Ukolov, Mark Vaza, Zarina Akayeva, and Salih Can Gevrek. Salih Can Gevrek, Mark Vaza, and Mikhail Kan ultimately went on to win the First, Second, and Third prizes respectively, with Zarina Akayeva and Stanislav Korchagin placing fourth and fifth.
Although only the top three ranked participants received a share of the prize money, with €7,000 going to the First Prize winner, €5,000 to the second, and €3,000 to the third, all five pianists at the top of the standings won an additional reward, since they automatically became eligible to participate in the invite-only Classic Piano International Competition which will take place in the UAE in 2024, with a further €250,000 worth of prizes to be shared among the award-winners there.
This is because, apart from being a competition in its own right, Eurasian Stars 2023 also formed part of the ‘14 Ways to Dubai’ initiative, a large-scale international endeavor consisting of 14 preliminary piano competitions held in 14 different countries around the world, with the top-five-ranked pianists from each contest winning the right to take part in a Grand Finale that will be held in Dubai as part of the acclaimed InClassica International Music Festival.
“I had a very special experience in Astana in this prestigious competition with very high level artists,” said First Prize winner Salih Can Gevrek. “I am extremely grateful to receive the First Prize which gave me confidence that there are audiences that like to listen to my performances!”
“I put a lot of thought into my programme choices”, Gevrek continued, “as I wanted to show many different facets of my personality and give the listener a structured programme. I really liked the Shor piece because I very much appreciate it when I hear new music written with a tonal, melodic approach. I think there are infinite possibilities to discover as a composer regarding tonal music. It only depends on one's creativity, and I very much enjoyed this new work; I think it has a great range of expressions, characters and connections between those elements which unifies the sonata in a very unique way, and is extremely well written for the instrument, always conveying different stories, pictures and characters. It is wonderful to perform on stage and the audience also never loses interest, so I will perform it in my concerts for sure!”
Jury Member Gulsin Onay also shared her observations about this topic, commenting that “It’s a very good idea to have contemporary pieces included, both for the composers, who need to get their works to different people with different voices, and also for, the competition participants, the pianists, who get to show their creativity with a relatively new piece like this because they’ve never heard it before so it’s all themselves and that’s very important, it makes a big difference. And this work by Shor was a great choice I think, it is like a bridge from the classical to the contemporary. It has very very rich colours and is very beautiful, I really like it very much”.
With this year’s edition coming to a successful close, the organisers of the Eurasian Stars International Piano Competition are already thinking of how to make next year’s edition even bigger than those before, as the event looks to keep on moving from strength to strength over the coming years. As Aiman Mussakhajayeva, the Rector of the Kazakh National University of Arts, noted, “Eurasian Stars provides a platform for talented young pianists from all over the world to showcase their skills and abilities, giving many the chance to mark their professional debuts."
As with every iteration, I am sure that this 2023 edition has been the source of unforgettable memories, invaluable professional advice, and new friends and colleagues, and it is my sincere hope that this event may continue to return again and again for countless years to come, for the benefit of all our young pianists as well as our art form itself.
Following the conclusion of the 2023 Eurasian Stars International Piano Competition, the five top-ranked contestants have now been invited to join the cohort for the 2024 Classic Piano International Competition in Dubai, with all flight, accommodation and dining expenses included. For more information about this event, please visit the official website.