Allegheny College will present its first biennial “Unusual Combinations” Piano Competition on Saturday, Nov. 11.
The competition, sponsored by Kawai America Corporation, features top high school student pianists from western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Two of the judges, Jonathan Kuuskoski and Paola Savvidou of the New Muse Piano Duo, will kick off the competition with a free recital entitled “Music of the Future: 21st Century Piano Music” on Friday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in Ford Memorial Chapel.
On Saturday, the final round of the competition is a free recital open to the public at 3 p.m. in Ford Memorial Chapel, featuring the top six to eight performers from preliminary rounds held in the morning. In addition to sponsoring the first prize cash award, Kawai has also loaned a Shigeru Sk-6 piano for use in the competition and the rest of the academic year.
Savvidou previously served as assistant professor of Piano Pedagogy at the University of Michigan, and now as wellness coordinator and global engagement advisor for Michigan’s School of Music, Theater & Dance. Savvidou utilizes Laban Movement Analysis, yoga, and creative movement as part of her teaching strategy to improve alignment as well as deepening expressivity in performance.
Kuuskoski is the interim chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship and Leadership and director of the EXCEL Lab at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Prior to his tenure at Michigan, he served as director of Entrepreneurship and Community Programs at the University of Missouri School of Music, where he designed and implemented all aspects of their new Music Entrepreneurship program.
Together, Kuuskoski and Savvidou perform as the New Muse Piano Duo, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The ensemble is dedicated to commissioning and performing newly composed works for four-hands and two pianos, with particular interest in exploring the piano in its fullest capacity as a string, percussion, and keyboard instrument.
“Both exemplify the idea of ‘Unusual Combinations’ in their own careers, which is why I asked them to judge the inaugural competition,” said Douglas Jurs, assistant professor of music and piano, who organized the competition. “They have both coupled diverse interests in combination with music to forge successful careers that encompass performance, teaching, and creative entrepreneurship.”
Kuuskoski will be in residence on Friday to work with Allegheny students interested in pursuing a profession in the creative or performing arts. He will hold an interactive workshop on Friday at 3 p.m. in the Campus Center room 206, called “Shooting for the Moon: Reversing Career Assumptions to Achieve the Impossible.” The presentation explores a step-by-step process for inspiring students to identify one big career goal, reverse assumptions about that goal, and convert what may seem like an “impossible” idea into a realistic, and potentially innovative, pilot project. Students interested in pursuing a profession in the creative or performing arts, as well as students interested in pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors after graduation, are especially encouraged to attend. Refreshments will also be served during the workshop.
On Saturday, Savvidou will hold an additional optional interactive workshop called “Move Your Way Through Stress” from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Wise Center Dance Studio. It is open to competitors, parents, and the Allegheny community. Savvidou recommends participants wear clothes they can move in.
Savvidou and Kuuskoski will be joined as competition jurors on Saturday by Allegheny’s Alec Chien, the third judge. Certainly no stranger to Meadville audiences, Chien first came to prominence upon winning the gold medal at the 1986 Gina Bachauer Competition, beginning an intercontinental career. After years of traveling for concerts across the world, he came to Allegheny to teach as artist-in-residence and professor of music. Retiring in 2016, Chien continues to be active as a performer, teacher, and Meadville community advocate.
Competitors will perform at least two contrasting pieces memorized from two different composers, lasting from between six and 12 minutes. There are two rounds, the preliminary round in the morning, and the final round a recital in the late afternoon that will be live-streamed online. There are over $10,000 in prizes and scholarships offered, including a $1,000 First Prize, and several Allegheny Music Department Scholarships.
The competitors also have the option of entering to win the Unusual Combinations Prize by either writing a short essay or presenting a visual, which show how music and another personal passion intersect in the student’s life. Faculty from Allegheny will judge the entries.
The Unusual Combinations Prize and competition finalists will be announced at 2 p.m. Saturday, prior to the final round of performances at 3 p.m.