Cleveland International Piano Competition Winner Mndoyants Returns to Northeast Ohio

Sun 4/30 @ 3 PM

Less than a year after Nikita Mndoyants was named the Mixon First Prize winner at the 2016 Cleveland International Piano Competition, the Russian pianist returns to Northeast Ohio for a special April 30 performance at the Maltz Performing Arts Center.

The program features Mndoyants performing solo works by Beethoven and Prokofiev, as well as Schumann’s magnificent Piano Quintet, Op. 44 with the Omni String Quartet. The latter piece will feature Cleveland Orchestra members Amy Lee, Alicia Koelz, Joanna Zakany and Tanya Ell.

CoolCleveland talked to the Cleveland International Piano Competition president/CEO Pierre van der Westhuizen about the upcoming performance.

How excited are you to have Mndoyants back in Northeast Ohio?

I’m a pianist, I’ve run this organization for six years, and Nikita is probably one most exciting winners I’ve ever seen come through here. He’s a young Russian guy. He comes from that strong Russian pianist tradition, which is they’re just phenomenal. He’s having an incredible career in Russia and Europe, and now starting out here. It’s very thrilling to have him back.

Can you talk a little bit about his talents that led him to becoming the Mixon First Prize winner at the 2016 Cleveland International Piano Competition?

He can literally do anything. His technique is ferocious. It’s like, if you want to come and experience the perfect piano technique, this is your guy. He’ll play a big piece by Prokofiev, which if people don’t know anything about classical musical, they know the Russian composers are usually very virtuosic, very flashy and showy. And he just makes mincemeat out of it. He’s not an overly dramatic player at the piano. He’s very regal and very stately when he plays.

What else can audiences expect from the upcoming performance?

Mndoyants is also playing Beethoven’s “Six Bagatelles.” There are these short little pieces strung together, so that in itself is quite a feat. He’s also playing Prokofiev’s eighth sonata, which is rarely played. It’s quite long and is astoundingly difficult for the pianist. Then the second half, he has to switch gears entirely and play chamber music with the Omni String Quartet. The Schumann Piano Quintet, Op. 44 is the industry standard for chamber music. It’s basically a piano concerto, not that the strings aren’t difficult, but certainly the piano has the most difficult runs and flourishes.

What are the origins of the Cleveland International Piano Competition?

The competition has been going on for 40 years. And it initially started at Cleveland Institute of Music to honor one of their professors. We do this to celebrate the art of piano, to inspire the next generation of pianists to keep them practicing and to offer this sort of career help. This piano competition is one of the top piano competitions in the world. It’s very prestigious. The first prize is $75,000, a Carnegie Hall debut and recording contract, tours around the world and concerts in the states. So, it’s a very, very big deal in the classical music world if you win this.

Do the winners of the competition normally return the following year for a performance?

Yeah, that’s something I instituted when I started. We bring back the winner to kind of come and preview his Carnegie Hall program, which will be in June. So that’s been a tradition for us.

Even though they are separate entities, how significant are the ties between Cleveland International Piano Competition and the Cleveland Orchestra?

In our final round, the pianists get to play with the Cleveland Orchestra. Really, no other competition has an orchestra of this caliber playing for their final round. It brings great fame and notoriety to the competition and to the winner. It’s something they can always say they’ve done is play with the Cleveland Orchestra.

You’re a perfect person to talk about how special it is for Northeast Ohio to have the equally world-renowned Cleveland International Piano Competition and Cleveland Orchestra. It seems as though some folks don’t understand the magnitude of these organizations within the classical music world.

Between the orchestra and the competition and Cleveland Institute of Music, musically speaking, this is a mecca. It attracts musicians from all over the world. We’ve had four of our past winners from overseas decide to move here. It’s a big draw for the international community. It’s a showcase. It puts Cleveland on the musical map, on par with New York City and Paris and London. As far as the musical scene goes, we can take the world stage. If you go anywhere, to China or where I’m from in South Africa, and you say “Cleveland,” people know two things — the orchestra and the competition. It has that sort of international standing. So, it’s a great cultural and tourist asset for the city.

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