Classical musicians compete in Dubai for prestigious pianist title

Playing for keeps; a pianist competes in Classic Piano competition 2024
Playing for keeps; a pianist competes in Classic Piano competition 2024 Copyright Classic Piano
Copyright Classic Piano
By Emma Pearson
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The next superstar pianist will be crowned this weekend as classical musicians take over Dubai with €250,000 cash prizes and a life-changing concert tour up for grabs.


When it comes to classical music, Dubai doesn’t traditionally hit the high notes.

This month, however, some of the industry’s biggest names have been drawn to the desert city as the world’s most promising pianists have been gathering for the chance of a lifetime.

Against the backdrop of towering skyscrapers and shimmering sands, 70 virtuosos from around the world were invited to battle with passion and to seek perfection during the third edition of the Classic Piano International Competition.

The finalists have each triumphed at earlier stages held in France, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Spain, the UK, Armenia, Israel and Poland, as well as the US and four countries in Asia.


Now, the last nine are taking part in the final round of the competition from Saturday 24th until Monday 26th February, with overall prize money totalling €250,000 and the winner embarking on a ten-date concert tour.

For composer-in-residence, Alexey Shor, every competitor is a potential superstar, with the competition set to make waves in the classical music scene.

Classic Piano's composer in residence Alexey Shor
Classic Piano's composer in residence Alexey ShorClassic Piano

“For all the competitors, it’s an excellent experience in terms of their professional development, but the main impact of any competition is a discovery of a potential star,” says Shor.

“Whenever somebody wins the Queen Elisabeth Competition or the Cleveland International Piano Competition, the whole world takes notice. And I think the Classic Piano Competition has a good chance of being one of the competitions of that calibre.”

What is the jury looking for?

The competition will test participants on every aspect of their musical skillset, including solo recitals and performances with a symphonic orchestra covering a diverse and wide-ranging repertoire.

For British classical pianist and jury member Ashley Wass, however, technical skill is just the beginning.

“What we're looking for are those who have a strong individual, artistic voice. They have something to say, and they say it with conviction and clarity and really communicate with their listeners,” says Wass.

Ashley Wass, one of the international judges deciding who wins the top prize.
Ashley Wass, one of the international judges deciding who wins the top prize.Classic Piano

“I want to see somebody who is clearly in love with being on stage and in love with playing music.”

Each round of the competition is judged by 15 classical music experts from a variety of backgrounds, with blind scoring ensuring a fair contest.

The final nine will receive cash prizes ranging from €2,000 to €100,000, with the winner set to embark on a career-changing international tour.

So far, the contestants have impressed, though Wass insists everything is still to play for.

“The standard of playing has been overall quite high,” he says. “One or two people have made a big first impression and as the competition evolves, it’s interesting to see whether they maintain that level of playing or whether some of those who perhaps didn't shine early on suddenly arise as things progress.

“The longer recitals are much more personal and that’s where individual personalities of the competitors really begin to shine.”


Uniting people and cultures

The competition is open to all, with the only criteria being the individual’s skill and determination.

Both competitors and judges hail from around the world, with jury members from Austria, France, Germany and Italy joining counterparts from China, the US, the UK, Turkey, South Africa and South Korea.

“Music is probably the most culturally independent form of art,” says Shor. “People from all cultures and backgrounds tend to react to the best in classical music. It brings people of different cultures together like nothing else.”

Wass in particular has a passion for accessibility, promoting inclusion as a key part of his role as director of music at England’s prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School.

He now hopes competitions like Classic Piano will build on this legacy, making musical success attainable for everyone.


“Events like this must be financially accessible for any participants,” he says. “Competitive expenses are covered here in Dubai and up-and-coming musicians need that level of support.

“Once you get people into the hall, very often the music and the experience speaks for itself. The challenge is breaking down the barriers that are stopping them from going there in the first place.

“That's something that I hope that the organisation here is going to look at in terms of the opportunities that are presented to the prize winners going forward.”

The lasting legacy

After the final curtain falls, organisers hope the legacy of Classic Piano 2024 will live on, not just for the competitors, but in the region itself.

In recent years, classical music in the UAE has reached new audiences thanks to world-class events such as the InClassica International Music Festival and venues like Dubai Opera.


“I think it's clear that Dubai and the surrounding states have a huge amount of untapped potential in terms of the development of western classical music and building a following for those interested in that,” says Wass.

“I hope this sort of event helps to lay the foundations for garnering more support and more interest in this style of music.

“It’s important to keep the traditions we love alive and make them accessible to the widest audience possible.”

Use this link this weekend to follow the finalists live at the Classic Piano International Competition.

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