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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

Gurwitz competition brings great pianists from around the world to San Antonio

Piano keys
Nathan Cone

Pianists from around the world are in San Antonio to compete in the quadrennial Gurwitz International Piano Competition, which begins this Friday.

The event used to be the San Antonio International Piano Competition, but after Musical Bridges Around the World took over management of the event in 2017, it was renamed to honor the late pianist and South Texas arts champion, Ruth Jean Gurwitz.

Suhail Arastu, Advancement Director for Musical Bridges, says the route the musicians travel to get here is a rigorous one.

“Unlike other competitions, we really push some of these classically-trained pianists out of their comfort zones with four rounds of competition. Six advance to the second round and are asked to play the music of a Latin or Spanish composer to really celebrate San Antonio's heritage.”

Three pianists will advance to the third and fourth rounds, where their talents will be challenged again by playing a piece composed by local composer and pianist, Aaron Prado.

“We have musicians from the Mexico City Philharmonic that will be performing that piece alongside classically trained pianists,” said Arastu. “And they'll have an opportunity during the cadenza to improvise, which is not so traditional for classical pianist these days.”

At this stage the audience gets to express its opinion in a vote.

“At the end of that third round, the audience gets to vote for their audience favorite award, which is a $5,000 cash prize, and [those] same three contestants and the finalists will go on to the fourth and final round, where the Mexico City Philharmonic, who we’re flying in, is going to play alongside the three finalists. The jury [will] determine the bronze, silver and gold medalist, winning a $10,000, $20,000 and $30,000 cash prize, along with future engagements with Musical Bridges Around the World San Antonio’s performing arts company."

Winners receive their awards on Sunday, February 4th.

Most events are free, but those interested in attending need to register through the Musical Bridges website.

Texas Public Radio's KPAC 88.3 FM will broadcast the second, third, and fourth rounds live on the radio. Musical Bridges Around the World will also be livestreaming the entire competition on their YouTube channel.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii