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Pianists from around globe to compete in Olga Kern competition

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On Monday, Nov. 14, 24 hopefuls from 15 countries will arrive in Albuquerque to chase their dreams at the inaugural Olga Kern International Piano Competition.

The musicians will compete for $30,000 in prize money. The winner will land a professional recording on the Steinway & Sons label and book concerts throughout Europe and the U.S. The musicians range from age 18 to 32.

New Mexico Philharmonic Executive Director Marian Tanau approached Kern about lending her name to the project about a year ago.

“I said, ‘I will give you my name if it is something serious and it will help young, talented pianists,’ ” the Russian pianist said in a phone interview from Santa Fe.

Kern, who lives in New York City, performs regularly in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. She jump started her career with an historic gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Pianio Competition, where she became the first woman to win in more than 30 years. Since then, she has toured the world and become one of the premier players in the world.

Tanau had long wanted to bring an international competition to Albuquerque.

“We don’t have anything international other than the Balloon Fiesta,” he said. “People will come and see all the natural beauty here. It’s like the Van Cliburn, but it’s in Albuquerque. And there was a broad base around Olga Kern – she’s like a rock star here.”

The competition is being funded through a combination of donors and sponsorships, he added.

Kern is the artistic director.

The initial outreach drew more than 100 applicants, she said. A panel of eight judges plus Kern selected the finalists from blind auditions through a computer program.

“There were no cuts,” Kern insisted, “… one take from beginning to the end. They just play the set and you don’t know anything about them. You just look for a great understanding of music, not just playing all the notes.

“You can see immediately if a person is living in music rather than just a student playing,” she added. “When you are passionate about music, it’s showing.”

The elimination process will progress through three rounds, culminating in a performance by the four finalists with the New Mexico Philharmonic on Saturday, Nov. 19, at Popejoy Hall.

For the first rounds, it will be live streamed at

The 24 competitors span the globe, including China, South Korea, Georgia, South Africa, Ukraine, Japan, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Canada, Spain, the Czech Republic and Germany.

The awards ceremony and recital will take place at 3 p.m. Nov. 20, at the NHCC. New Mexico’s Joshua Rupley made the cut as the sole American.

The competition will be held every three to four years after its debut.

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