CMIM – Piano 2024: The penultimate round of finalists (Part 1)

Interview by Alexandre Villemaire

Additional Information

We’re entering the final days of the 2024 edition of the Concours musical international de Montréal, this year devoted to the piano. Six young pianists from five different countries will be vying for the top spot on the podium in an all-male final that will reach its ultimate conclusion on May 16th. In the run-up to the final, which takes place today and Thursday, we spoke to the finalists after their dress rehearsal with the OSM, the official orchestra of the competition, conducted by guest conductor Xian Zhang, just a few hours before the competition.

To begin with, here are Elias Ackerley (UK; South Korea), who will play Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1, Anthony Ratinov (USA), who will perform Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3, and Gabriele Strata (Italy), who will conclude the evening by also performing Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1.

PAN M 360: What’s your current state of mind, with just a few hours to go before your final round of the competition?

Elias Ackerley: Right now, I’ve got nothing to lose. So I’ll just consider it a wonderful performance. I think it’s a great venue, and the orchestra’s great. I’m just going to try and enjoy myself.

Anthony Ratinov: I think at this point, the hardest part is over. I think the pre-selection and semi-final rounds were much more stressful. I recognize how much luck is involved with competitions to get to the final and be among the six finalists. I recognize how lucky I was because the level has been extraordinarily high in this competition from the very beginning. 

For me, the goal of competitions is to be able to play with such wonderful orchestras and conductors and in such nice halls. It’s an opportunity to share my music and my artistry with the audience. So, at this point, I’m really excited. I’m not nearly as stressed as I was a week ago. I truly think that the hard part is over and that now this part is just fun. So, right now, I’m very focused because, of course, I want to play as well as I can, but I’m also insisting to my body and mind that I have to enjoy every step of the way, because otherwise, what’s the point?

Gabriele Strata: I’m so excited. I can’t wait, and I just want to play! It’s an incredible place; the orchestra is magnificent, and so is the conductor. I’m not anxious or stressed. It’s really just joy in my spirit for tonight. For me, just being here, I’ve already won. Now all I want to do is enjoy the moment and make music.

PAN M 360 : Of all the concertos available in the repertoire, why did you choose this one and why?

Elias Ackerley: I think Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is probably one of the most ultimate concertos in the piano repertoire.  It’s just a beautifully constructed composition, and I think it’s wonderful to play it, and you can really express a lot of things through that piece.

Anthony Ratinov: I chose Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto for this finale, because it has always been a very special piece for me. It was the first piece I fell in love with when I was younger and discovering classical music. The recording of Martha Argerich playing this concerto when she was younger simply moved me and made me want to be a musician, especially to play this piece with an orchestra.

In this particular piece by Prokofiev, the orchestra is so integral with the piano that it gives the impression that they are one. It’s a piece that I love, a piece I play very well, and I love playing it every opportunity I get. It highlights a lot of my strengths pianistically. I played Prokofiev’s Eighth Piano Sonata in the semi-final, and it’s also one of my favorite pieces. They’re very different pieces, but there are similarities, although there are some extraordinary differences too, and it’s really great fun to play with them.

Gabriele Strata: It’s certainly not an atypical choice! But I really love the piece. It’s full of incredible melodies, beautiful lines, and lyricism. Also, it’s for a practical reason. It’s a concerto I’ve played many times, so it’s always nice to have a piece very close to me for orchestral playing. It makes me feel more comfortable on stage, too.

PAN M 360: What do you want to express through this work?

Elias Ackerley: I think one of the aspects I really treasure in this concerto is the softer parts. Because, everyone knows that it’s a loud concerto and that it’s extremely magnificent, royal, even in a certain sense. But I want to express the gems qualities of the second movement and of the other softer sections.

Anthony Ratinov: I think my goal is to express certain characteristics of Prokofiev’s music that are often overlooked. Prokofiev is very well known for his mechanical and warlike pieces, and of course there’s a lot of that energy in this piece, but there’s also a lot of Russian fairy tales and imagination. For me, these are the most beautiful moments in the piece. In the first movement, after explosions of sound and texture, we have these beautiful moments of intimacy and magic that are really connected. 

My family is from Russia, so I grew up hearing all these Russian fairy tales and stories of ice princesses, evil witches and wizards, and so on. Being able to communicate that to the listener is really important and really fulfilling for me.Gabriele Strata: It really is kaleidoscopic music. There are so many emotions in this concerto. What I think of when I listen to and play this music is ballet. It really is ballet music written for piano and orchestra. For me, the ultimate goal is to be able to paint this atmosphere and this picture.

You can watch the final here

Crédit photo: Tam Photography

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