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Q&A with WRTI's Kevin Gordon and Pianist Ching-Yun Hu about PYPA's 9th Annual Summer Piano Festival

Courtesy of PYPA
Pianist Ching-Yun Hu is founder and artistic director of PYPA, Philadelphia Young Pianists' Academy.

WRTI is thrilled to be a partner with the Philadelphia Young Pianists’ Academy as it presents its 9th Annual Summer Piano Festival. The festival lasts for nine days, and features piano master classes and concerts given by internationally renowned pianists.The festival culminates in the annual Philadelphia International Piano Competition, which is judged by top pianists and educators, and features performances by the finalists chosen from entrants from around the world. Because of Covid restrictions, the events will be presented online and will introduce the PYPA Livestream Recital Award.

Here’s a summary of what the young pianists are competing for.

The Festival kicks off at 8 PM on July 31st with a special concert by PYPA founder Ching-Yun Hu, playing works by Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Schubert, and Liszt among others.

The concert, performed at New York’s Merkin Concert Hall, is sponsored by the Taipei Cultural Center of New York, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. To mark that occasion, a work by Taiwanese composer Tyzen Hsiao will also be performed and Ching-Yun will be joined by two young Taiwanese pianists, Natasha Wu and Yao-Wen ChangYou can watch it streaming for free here.

WRTI Classical Host Kevin Gordon had a chance to sit down with Ching-Yun Hu and they talked about the festival and its importance both locally and internationally..

Q: The PYPA event is a major undertaking under the best of circumstances. The pandemic has presented very different challenges.

A: You have to be flexible and go with things you cannot predict. It’s a very creative time because of the broadcasts and live-streaming everywhere and because of the internet you have brought people closer together. Now, we can have a festival with seven different time zones across the world, with audiences from Asia to Australia and Poland and a day would stretch into 41 hours. Imagine that during the day in Philadelphia as Beijing is sleeping, we are live here with activities and then at night, when Beijing wakes up, the activities continue on. So it’s really a 24 hour around-the-clock event.

Q: Does the absence of a live audience make a difference?

A: Yeah, it really does. I myself went back to Taiwan last year and stayed there for four months. Until then, I had been doing livestream concerts. The first time I stepped onto the stage and performed a live concert, I almost cried, because I felt  I had been missing that connection. During a live performance, there is that conversation with the people sitting in the audience. It’s invisible, but it’s so tangible that I enjoyed the concert so much.

Q: A major highlight of the festival is the series of master classes.

A: During the festival, we will have 125 hours of master classes given by luminaries like Gary Graffman, Kathryn Brown from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Chen Jiang, who is the head of the piano department at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music as well as Marina Lomazov who teaches at the Eastman School of Music. People can tune in and watch the classes live as the teachers are teaching the very talented young pianists and observe what happens during the process and see the result after 45 minutes. It’s always been very fascinating to watch. You don’t have to be a pianist. You can just be a  music lover and someone who wants to discover new things. 

Faculty and jury members of 2021 PYPA Piano Festival.

Q: Of course, the big finale of the PYPA’s Piano Festival is the International Piano Competition.

A: The last two days of the festival, audiences can follow twenty young pianists as they each perform twenty minutes of music. They can watch it onPYPA’s Facebook page live, and choose their own favorites. At the same time we have a team of internationally known jury members including Deutsche Grammophon artist Sergei Babayan, who is my dear teacher and an international jury from London, from Brussels and from Israel.

Ching-Yun Hu and Kevin Gordon at 2019 PYPA Festival at the Kimmel Center.

This jury has sat in competitions like the Queen Elizabeth Competition, The Van Cliburn Competition, the Chopin Competition and the Tchaikovsky Competition. The jury will select one winner from out of the 20 to come back to Philadelphia to perform live during the 2022 PYPA Piano Festival, which will be our 10th anniversary.

Q: How are you planning for next year, once things become more normal?

A: We hope that by 2022, we will be able to be back with live events and be able to welcome people back to a performance venue so everybody can greet each other and hug each other before the concert. I anticipate we will be back to live concerts, but we will not let go of the broadcast and the livestreaming aspect to the festival because I’ve discovered it to be such a wonderful way to reach audiences that are not able to be present in Philadelphia. So, I think the festival will be a combination of the two.

Watch the 2019 PYPA winners performing live from WRTI:

A veteran broadcaster, Kevin garnered a wealth of experience in radio before taking the weekday classical host position from 2 to 6 PM at WRTI, where he was on the air until his retirement in March 2023.