Entertainment & Arts

Leeds International Piano Competition to be revamped

Anna Tcybuleva at the Leeds International Piano Competition Image copyright Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
Image caption Anna Tcybuleva won the last instalment of the competition, in 2015

The Leeds International Piano Competition, which launched the careers of Andras Schiff and Murray Perahia, is to be overhauled in an attempt to bring it to a wider audience.

The search will become global, with heats staged in Berlin, New York and Singapore, and streamed live online.

As before, the BBC will broadcast the semi-finals and final from Leeds.

Winners will, for the first time, receive a recording contract and management by a leading arts agency.

The triennial competition returns in 2018, and is open to pianists under the age of 30 from around the world.

It was established in 1961 by renowned piano teacher Dame Fanny Waterman, who stepped down last year at the age of 95.

Speaking to BBC Radio 3's In Tune, her successors Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse, said they wanted to make sure the contest supported its winners.

"Once the competition has finished… someone who didn't have concerts suddenly has to fulfil a really full schedule, and it's quite unrealistic," said Lewis.

Their principle concern, he added, was "how you take care of the musicians after the competition, how you nurture those talents".

Winners will receive a mentor "who has been there before, in the process of building a career, knows what the life is like [and], knows the pitfalls".

BBC Radio 3 will also offer recording and concert opportunities to participants; while The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will give the winner a Concerto engagement to open its 2018 - 19 season.

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Media captionDame Fanny Waterman speaks to BBC Radio 3 about her post-Leeds plans, after winning a Woman Of The Year award

The idea to stream the heats follows a successful trial by the competition's main rival, the International Tchaikovsky Competition.

The Moscow-based contest broadcast all of its rounds last year, achieving "10 million hits" in 190 countries, said Lewis.

Future audiences

Dame Fanny established "The Leeds", as it is known, 55 years ago with her late husband Dr Geoffrey de Keyser and Marion Thorpe, then the Countess of Harewood.

Dr Keyser was sceptical about staging the contest in a city that, at that point, was better known for its mills and factories than its cultural life. But she was determined to prove him wrong, and so the first contest took place at the University of Leeds in 1963, with the competition later moving to its current home, Leeds Town Hall.

The contest has since produced international talents including Radu Lupu, Leon McCawley and Artur Pizarro. Last year's winner was Russian Anna Tcybuleva.

Dame Fanny, now aged 96, stepped down after the final but has no plans to retire - instead focusing on finding new audiences for classical music.

"I want to take young children, let them go to concerts in major concert halls, sit on the front rows, listen to the rehearsals," she told In Tune on Monday.

"I feel very conscious that audiences are diminishing and if we don't do anything about it, we might only have a past in music, and not a future."

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