First ever Syrian to enter prestigious Leeds Int'l Piano Competition

Ati Metwaly , Friday 22 Dec 2017

British-Syrian national Riyad Nicolas is the only Arab pianist selected to take part in the Leeds competition

Riyad Nicolas
Riyad Nicolas (Photo: still from YouTube)

The 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition will feature British-Syrian pianist Riyad Nicolas among the 68 competitors, the only representative of the Arab world in next year's competition.

Born in Aleppo in 1989, Nicolas "has already established himself as a leading figure of his generation on the international performing circuit," reads the pianist's website.

Now 28 years old, he made his first appearance as a soloist with an orchestra in Aleppo at the age of 10. Since then, he has performed with renowned international orchestras and has given solo recitals in many prestigious venues in UK and USA.

"Through music Riyad has been promoting peace and raising awareness for the plights of the Syrian people and performing for many organizations such as UNHCR, the International Rescue Committee, the Arab British Centre, Said and Asfari Foundation," the website continues.

International Piano, the bi-monthly magazine published by Rhinegold, describes Nicolas as "Syria's leading young pianist."

This is the first time a Syrian national has gained entry to the prestigious piano competition, and so far no other competitors from the Arab world have been announced.

The Leeds International Piano Competition (formerly Leeds International Pianoforte Competition) was launched in 1961 in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England and takes place every three years.

This year, the chosen competitors are aged between 20 and 29 and represent 28 countries. Half of the competitors are Asian nationals, predominantly from China and Korea, in addition to young pianists from the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand, France and the USA, among others.

The first round will take place in April 2018 in Berlin, Singapore and New York. Chaired by Adam Gatehouse and including Thomas Hübsch, Noriko Ogawa and Marna Seltzer, the competitors will each perform a 25-minute recital.

The jury will then select 24 pianists to move to the second round, followed by semi-finals and finals, to be held in Leeds between 6 and 15 September 2018.

"All rounds will be streamed worldwide by and BBC Radio 3 and BBC Four TV will cover the Finals," a press release said.

Adam Gatehouse, the competition's co-artistic director and juror, commented: "We are thrilled that so many extraordinary young pianists applied, particularly considering that the entry requirements are tougher than before, with the introduction of a chamber music element and with candidates having to prepare more repertoire than ever.

"Although The Leeds has such a strong track record in identifying and supporting new talent, we were astonished by the sheer quality of applicants and are delighted that our many developments have yielded so much potential. All of the 68 players selected have something special to bring and the selection process has been extremely rigorous and difficult."

The press release adds that this year "the stakes are higher than ever with generous cash prizes worth over £90,000 and a prize package which has redefined what a competition can offer young artists.

"It includes artistic management with Askonas Holt, one of the world’s most renowned music management agencies; concerts and engagements with some of the world’s premiere venues and orchestras, including London’s Wigmore Hall and South Bank Centre, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Hallé, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Oslo Philharmonic Orchestras; concert and recording engagements with BBC Radio 3, a media partner of The Leeds; a major European tour organised with partners Steinway & Sons; a recital CD with a leading recording label; a programme of recital engagements in Yorkshire and other UK venues; and mentoring from Co-Artistic Director Paul Lewis, Patron Murray Perahia and other members of the performer-led jury, chaired by Paul Lewis, which includes Sa Chen, Imogen Cooper, Adam Gatehouse, Henning Kraggerud, Thomas Larcher, Gillian Moore, Simon Trpčeski and Lars Vogt."

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