GENEVA (Reuters Life!) - Two young pianists from Japan and South Korea demonstrated the dominance of young Asians in the world of classical music at the Geneva International Music Competition on Thursday night.
Japan's Mami Hagiwara took the jury's first prize, worth 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,820), with her performance of Maurice Ravel's Concerto for Piano in G major.
The jury awarded South Korea's Hyo Joo Lee a second prize worth 12,000 francs for her playing of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto in C minor.
But Lee, 25, delighted the public more with her sensitive but masterly rendition of one of the great works of late Romanticism, and she took the audience prize voted on by the public in the hall as well as winning a contract to record a portrait CD with orchestra sponsored by Swiss watchmaker Breguet, part of the Swatch Group.
The Geneva contest, launched in 1939, is one of the most prestigious on the international circuit, with pianists such as Martha Argerich and Maurizio Pollini among its laureates.
In this year's piano section, by far the biggest number of the 41 entrants came from East Asian countries, with Russia forming the next biggest group.
With the Ravel concerto, Hagiwara, 23, chose a demanding piece, where the piano is matched against swelling jazz references in the first movement and the military gallop of the last.
But she handled the apparently artless slow second movement with a firm delicacy, never allowing the piano to be submerged by the orchestra.
The jury awarded the third finalist, Russia's Maria Masycheva, another second prize.
Masycheva, 28, chose to display her technical mastery with the fiendishly difficult third piano concerto in C major by Sergei Prokofiev. She seemed to handle Prokofiev's rippling scales effortlessly but was often hard to hear above the orchestra, raised almost to an equal partner by Prokofiev.
The finalists played on a Steinway and were accompanied by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Switzerland's leading classical ensemble.
Editing by Paul Casciato