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IX Hamamatsu International Piano Competition

19 September 2017

The Hamamatsu competition marked a point of no return in my life and in my professional career. Many things changed after that important event, my concert engagements increased exponentially, I was approached for the first time by agents, I started playing concerts with great orchestras, and I began to receive some recognition from my colleagues which, it has to be said, is never a bad thing. In this short post I would like to relive some of the highlights of the competition.  

After a long journey (it was my first time flying to the Far East), I was understandably exhausted. The city, which is medium to small by Japanese standards, is about the size of Milan, and it wasn’t easy to get around at first.  It was made even more difficult because the Japanese concept of architecture is considerably different than in Italy, and buildings very often look quite similar.

The food instead, impressed me from the very beginning. I easily adapted to every kind of dish and even the strangest things inspired my curiosity greatly …. but I’m getting carried away, let’s get to the point.


The first day involved the very important matter of choosing a piano. The choice was between Yamaha, Steinway and Kawai. After the very short time I was given to try them out (10 minutes), I picked the Shigeru Kawai, it was the instrument that convinced me most: its sweet sound and the extreme freedom it afforded me in shaping the tone charmed me from the outset – it was a perfect choice!

And then the day came for the first round. I had practiced well and easily overcame my jet lag, so I threw myself into the Haydn Sonata (No. 48 in C major) and the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. As Sergey Babayan remarked later, it was a performance full of pathos and narrative.

They have a habit at Hamamatsu of selling single CDs by the contestants even after the first round, and, of 72 pianists who took part, mine turned out to be the best seller at the end of the first week.

There was no time for celebrations however, as the second round was starting in a few days and there was that tricky business of learning to play a contemporary piece by heart…. yes, those pages and pages of unhappy notes to be played without the score had put a large part of the contestants in a quandary, only the courageous (and I was one of them) battled on fearlessly with this challenge. Some chose to play it at the beginning of their programme, to get it over and done with, others left it as a “grande finale”, perhaps because they had learnt it better…
I played it straight off, and then something unique and unrepeatable happened inside my brain; perhaps because of the enormous mnemonic and intellectual challenge I had just undertaken, or because of the emotion or who knows what, as soon as I had finished that piece, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off me, my soul was free to soar and I couldn’t wait to play the rest of the programme. It was sheer bliss!!

And so I moved on to the next level, which involved playing Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E♭ major, K. 493. The time allotted for rehearsal with the other musicians was slim indeed, yet we gave a good performance. I followed it with a Beethoven sonata (op.10 No.3)

5 short pieces by Schumann’s op. 99 and finally Stravinsky’s Petrushka

I had made it into the final!!
I will never forget how Martha Argerich (who was on the jury) said “formidable” to me as soon as the results of the semifinal had been announced, I was in seventh heaven!

As usual, there was little time between one rehearsal and another. In the final I had to play Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto: a work I love and thoroughly enjoy playing; the physical, intellectual and emotional pleasure in that composition reaches the highest level. I couldn’t wait to play it.

Of course, during the competition I had made friends with many people; strange to say, the atmosphere was not only competitive, there was a feeling of mutual respect and admiration.

After my performance there were about a dozen friends waiting in the foyer and we all embraced in a collective show or affection that will be difficult to forget. Perhaps it was the most beautiful moment of the entire competition.

After the final, we had to wait hours for the result.

I had won! not only the First Prize, but also the Audience Prize.
It was an important achievement that opened numerous doors and has afforded me many opportunities to play all over the world.

Months, what am I saying? years of hard work had paid off in this short, fleeting moment. Life is strange, we get so worked up about making a dream come true and it lasts less than a whole night. During the evening I had already started thinking about the responsibility that came with the prize, the concerts and son on …. a new life was about to begin.

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