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All keyed up: piano contest concludes

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CAPE VINCENT — Despite cloudy skies Sunday morning, the only damper on the seventh annual Thousand Islands International Piano Competition for Young People was found among the grand piano's pedals.


The final round of the competition concluded Sunday under a large tent at the Maple Grove property in Cape Vincent. According to Elisabeth P. Brennan, co-chairwoman of the event along with Elizabeth Williams-Kelly, the competition was founded in the hope of bringing young musicians to a nurturing environment with a scenic vista.


"It was a love of the music and the river, and the idea of making that music very accessible up here, and also to promote the young artists," Ms. Brennan said.


The event featured 13 pianists in two age groups, one for 10- to 18-year-olds and another for 19- to 25-year-olds. The performances, which were conducted on a Steinway & Sons concert grand piano, were adjudicated by a panel of three concert pianists and music professors.


Competitors were required to play works by a 19th- or 20th-century composer Friday, by a 17th- or 18th-century composer Saturday and by Frederic Chopin on Sunday. While Chopin is known to be a difficult composer to play, the pianists took to the music like ducks to the nearby St. Lawrence.


"It went great," said 15-year-old Francisco Chomnalez, New York City. "Each day got better."


For Francisco, who visited Cape Vincent for the first time this weekend, the contest left a positive impression of the north country.


"It's very friendly, very supportive," he said. "It feels more like a festival or a gathering than a competition."


This weekend also marked a first for 20-year-old Solomon Z. Eichner, Baltimore, a student at the Manhattan School of Music who discovered the Thousand Islands International Piano Competition in an online database.


"I've never been in a competition that's three rounds, and I guess it's a level up from regular day competitions," he said. "It's not a typical contest."


For Mr. Eichner, who hopes to become a concert pianist and music professor, his favorite parts of performing are feeling the energy of the audience and having the chance to preserve the tradition of classical music.


"The performer has total control over the audience's emotions," he said. "I think at that moment the performer represents the composer. It's all in the hands of the performer to bring the music to life."


Mr. Eichner, who played Chopin's Scherzo No. 2 in B Flat Minor on Sunday, said he found the other competitors to be very skilled in technique and musicality. Many of the teens and young adults participating in the event were offered housing for the weekend in the homes of Cape Vincent residents, a touch the pianists appreciated.


"I think everyone is very warm and inviting," Mr. Eichner said. "I'm glad I'm able to share my music."


Being able to share their music was just what one member of the community always wanted for young people. Dr. William J. Grant, a physician, world-class sailor and music aficionado, established the Thousand Islands International Piano Competition and funded it anonymously for several years. His death this spring allowed for his contribution to become known, and this year's competition was a memorial in his honor.


"He loved piano music," said Lynn O'Malley Taylor, a cousin by marriage. "Basically, he wanted to give young people an opportunity to compete at the highest level."


Dr. Grant also was an anonymous contributor to the Cape Vincent Arts Council, which sponsored this year's contest along with the Chopin Society of the Thousand Islands, the New York State Council on the Arts, the St. Lawrence County Arts Council, the Rhodes Foundation, the Ronald McDonald House Charities and other donors.


In Mrs. Taylor's words: "What better legacy could you have than this competition?"

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