International NTD Piano Competition Judge Sheds Light Upon the Art of Playing Piano

By Amy Tang

NEW YORK—The fifth NTD International Piano Competition is coming to the Engelman Recital Hall in New York this September.

Its mission is to preserve the 250-year legacy of classical piano literature. One of the judges of the competition, Professor Becky Yao, tells how this international competition is different from others.

“Our repertoire is a little different, we limit [it] to only 3 periods,” said Yao.

The repertoire focuses strictly on the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods.

These are the times when piano music was formalized. With this systematic musical form, composers express their philosophy, hopes, and struggles through their music.

Professor Becky Yao
Professor Becky Yao is a jury member of the 2019 NTD International Piano Competition. (NTD Television)

“Everything about life—through their composition, they can express it,” said Yao. “Music is life, life is music.”

The first round of the competition is a show of musicianship. The second round requires contestants to play the commission piece, a piece based on traditional Chinese melody, before playing a complete sonata by Beethoven.

For the final round, contestants will have the chance to show their virtuosity in the mastery of tempo, dynamic, clarity and accuracy.

“In the final, we’re giving contestants much more space to express themselves, express their ability, express the music, and ability to show their technique level, they can show their highest artistic level,” said Yao.

Professor Yao gives advice about how to reach a high artistic level. She stresses the importance of authentic interpretation, playing according to the composer’s style, and the form of the piece.

“Play Chopin Waltz and play Chopin Mazurka is different, you have to play [them with] different style,” said Yao.

Understanding Music

Understanding the music is also important, Yao says a musician should be well-rounded, with systematic training in various aspects of music.

“Like a scholar, they know everything [that’s] related music, so they understand the background of that period, so they can present it better, the composer’s style,” said Yao. “Plus, your own personal feeling, your personal experience, how to interpret it.”

And when performing on stage, it’s important to remember it’s about the music, not oneself.

“You want to bring the beauty and the purity to the audience, so the contestants, they themselves had to clear their mind, to be very calm, very peaceful, very pure, nothing and just focus on their piece,” said Yao. “They [are] totally engulfed in this music world, and they forget [about] themselves. That’s the best state of their mind.”

The piano competition is part of a series of international competitions with the mission of promoting traditional culture. Other competitions in the series include oil-painting, dance, and martial arts. Yao says this is a great platform for pianists to share their understanding of classical music.

“They love our competition, and when they come to the competition, the[y] feel very peaceful and they feel very friendly,” said Yao.

As a judge of the previous competition, Yao said she was surprised by the feedback received the contestants.

“They came to the competition because we have a very unique choice of repertoire,” she said.

Dmitri Levkovich performs
Dmitri Levkovich performs during the finals of the 2016 NTD International Piano Competition in New York on Oct. 2, 2016. (Larry Dai/NTD Television)

In fact, some contestants continue to play those pieces.

“The competitors bring those repertoire[s] back, to put that in their own concert, to their future concert program, to their studio for their teaching the younger generation,” said Yao. “So those classical music [pieces] will never die and they will even flourish. Those repertoire[s], this is the legacy from our ancestor, from our musician ancestor[s].”

Good music can inspire people, and pianists act like messenger, shouldering the mission of carrying on tradition and bringing back neglected music. Yao talks about the importance of the goodness in traditional music, peace, loving, honest, respect, and rationality.

“We want to carry on those good [traits of] humanity in the world through our competition through our classical music,” she said.

The performances will be live streamed on the internet, and later broadcasted on NTD’s TV network, reaching millions of audiences all around the world. The gold award of the competition is $10,000.

For more information, please visit the competition’s webpage.

NTD Piano Competition
NTD Piano Competition will be held at Engelman Recital Hall in N.Y. on Sept. 26-28, 2019. (NTD Television)