Nashville Hosts Inaugural International Chopin Piano Competition: A Harmonious Triumph

by Madonna

Nashville, renowned as the capital of country music, has emerged as a vibrant center for classical music and classically-trained performers. Remarkably, the city had never played host to a major international piano competition—until now.

Over the weekend of October 14 and 15, Music City showcased its competitive classical music scene by welcoming some of the world’s most acclaimed young pianists to the inaugural Nashville International Chopin Piano Competition. The stage was set at Vanderbilt’s Martha Rivers Ingram Center for the Performing Arts, housed within the Blair School of Music, where 26 finalists took center stage. These gifted pianists came from diverse corners of the globe, including China, Thailand, Poland, and Russia, among other nations.


Nashville’s journey to become a global hub for classical music was almost complete, with splendid concert halls and the renowned Schermerhorn Symphony gracing the city. The addition of the Chopin competition marks a significant milestone, and this event is slated to be held biannually. It is organized by Artistic Director Dr. Graciella Kowalczyk, a virtuoso pianist of Polish origin, and Administrative Director Joshua Izzard, an accomplished American musician.


Dr. Kowalczyk shared her excitement with The Tennessean, stating, “Myself and Josh [Izzard] met in Moscow Conservatory of Music 20 years ago, and we decided that at some point we are going to start a big international competition. And here we are, 20 years later: Nashville International Chopin Piano Competition. The dream came true.”


She further explained, “We are so happy to make more diversity in Nashville when it comes to music so it’s not just country music, but now also Chopin and classical music. So it’s perfect for Music City!”

The competition serves as a platform to welcome the world’s finest young professional pianists to Nashville, providing them with the opportunity to perform before international agents. This level of exposure can be a launching pad for young musicians aspiring to make their mark on the global music stage.

Furthermore, the competition endeavors to kindle a deeper appreciation for Frédéric Chopin’s masterpieces while celebrating and promoting cultural diversity in Nashville.

Frédéric Chopin, a 19th-century Polish composer and pianist, left a lasting legacy with his emotive nocturnes and continues to garner worldwide acclaim for his musical genius. His compositions have permeated popular culture through their inclusion in numerous films and television shows, from “The Truman Show” to “Westworld.”

The competition’s most coveted prize, the $20,000 Alexei Sultanov Memorial Discovery Prize, is named in honor of the gold-medal winner of the 1989 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Alexei Sultanov. Known as one of the greatest pianists of all time, Sultanov’s interpretations of Chopin’s works remain highly regarded.

The Virtuosos of the Competition

The competition featured a diverse array of pianists, including the youngest contestant, seven-year-old Alexander Zhou from the United States. Despite his tender age, Zhou has already made a name for himself as a seasoned concert performer and competition victor, proving that age is no barrier to talent.

Finalist Kiron Atom Tellian, a 21-year-old from Austria, captivated the audience with a delicate and precise performance marked by extraordinary sensitivity and taste.

Scottish contestant Ethan Loch, a 19-year-old from the United Kingdom who has been blind since birth, delivered a powerful and emotionally charged performance, reflecting his dedication to both piano mastery and composition. Loch’s incredible talent and perseverance were evident, and his performance was met with admiration and prolonged applause from the audience.

The Nashville Nocturne

Adding an intriguing layer to the competition was the “Nashville Nocturne,” a composition specially commissioned by Ashot Ariyan. Contestants had the option to learn and perform this piece for a chance to win the $2,000 Audience Choice Award. Ariyan’s composition is a fusion of Chopin’s style with elements of blues, paying homage to the proximity of Nashville to Memphis, a notable blues music hub.

This innovative competition not only elevates Nashville’s status as a global classical music destination but also brings fresh perspectives and exceptional talent to the forefront. Nashville’s first International Chopin Piano Competition is a harmonious triumph and a testament to the city’s growing influence in the world of classical music.


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