Sitting in the airport, on their way to attend the Van Cliburn Amateur Piano Competition in Ft. Worth, Texas last year, Charles Cabell and Gregory Adams were touched by the muse.
The Colorado Springs region, they had been thinking, desperately needed a world-class piano competition of its own, and they realized they had the connections to make it happen. So they did.
Adams, a local restaurateur and amateur pianist, has often participated in such contests. And when, in 2001, he won first prize in the prestigious Concourse des Grandes Amateurs de Piano, Adams felt even more strongly that it was time for Colorado Springs to take the next step.
With his newly established clout, and the help of Gerard Bekerman, he decided to send letters of invitation to all the participants in the French festival, encouraging them to come to Colorado Springs for the new celebration.
Meanwhile, in Crested Butte, the Western Slope Music Festival provided a localized template for what Cabell and Adams wanted to organize in the Springs: a competition for the piano hobbyist, 21 and over, who take their playing seriously, but still hold day jobs in other fields. It was, in essence, a regional incarnation of the Van Cliburn competition which originally attracted them to Ft. Worth.
From August 13-18, Cabell and Adams will see their seed of an idea come to fruition when Colorado College's Packard Hall hosts the first annual Celebration of the Amateur Pianist.
The celebration promises to be unlike anything the region has ever seen. In addition to the Second Rocky Mountain Amateur Piano Competition (the first took place at Packard Hall in May 2000), it will feature two days of musically-based seminars, professional recitals, and enough camaraderie to fill a concert hall.
"It truly is a celebration," said Cabell. "We wanted to take the sting out of competition."
But for the broad cross-section of those participating, the contest is a serious deal, with one pianist traveling all the way from Brazil to compete. And though it is a "celebration," the idea behind it is still based on the time-honored tradition of piano competition.
This year's competition will be comprised of three rounds. Initially, each of the 28 registered pianists will be allotted twelve minutes of playing time. The "musician's jury" will then grade each performer and decide which 12 to 15 amateurs will enter the semi-final round. After further narrowing the field to five finalists, one winner and an alternate will be chosen.
Prizes will also be awarded within each classical sub-genre, including awards for best performances in baroque, romantic, and contemporary styles, as well as an award for the audience's favorite (to be decided by a vote). The winners will receive various non-monetary prizes, provided by local company sponsors.
In bringing the Celebration of the Amateur Pianist to Colorado Springs, the organizers have taken only the first step towards a much larger goal. Cabell and Adams have recently formed Amateur Pianists International (API), an organization dedicated to supporting the closely-knit amateur pianist community.
According to Cabell, API was conceived as "an idea factory for amateur pianists all over the world." With increased promotion, Cabell believes that five years from now, the celebration here in Colorado Springs could double in size and clout.
"The goal is to get more luminaries, better seminars, and of course, lots of feedback," he says.
The event is already generating lots of international buzz, and is preparing to take the Pikes Peak region by storm.
Not bad for a little idea conceived in an airport.
Celebration of the Amateur Pianist
Tuesday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m.: Duo pianists Elizabeth Smith and yelena Balabanova, $10
Thursday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m.: Wolfgang Fetsch on piano and Anita Felix on violin, $10
Saturday, Aug. 17, 7:45 p.m.: Jol Holoubek on piano, $10
Tuesday and Wednesday, all day, with a master class on Friday afternoon with Theodor Lichtmann, chair of the piano department with the Lamont School of Music; call 633-9573 for more.
Second Annual Amateur Piano Competition:
Preliminary Round I: Thursday, Aug. 15, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; $5
Preliminary Round II: Friday, Aug. 16, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; $5
Reception and announcement of semifinalists: Friday, Aug. 16, 7 p.m. (free)
Semifinal Round: Saturday, Aug. 17, 1-6 p.m. (with announcements of finalists at 7:30 p.m.); $8
Final Round: Sunday, Aug. 18, 2-5 p.m.; $10 (with award ceremony at 6 p.m.)