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Concert artist Lisa Nakamichi organized the piano festival, now in its fifth year.

The Honolulu Symphony might have temporarily bowed out, and classical music performers in general might be struggling to strike the right chord with audiences, but you could never tell by the enthusiasm being generated by the Aloha International Piano Festival and Piano Competition.

"Word is spreading out to the mainland and Asia," said Lisa Nakamichi, a concert pianist who founded the event in 2006. "Student attendance is growing, with about 60 students in the academy and the competition, and the level is getting higher and higher."

The weeklong event will bring some of Hawaii’s finest young artists, along with students from Japan and the mainland, together with renowned performers for some intense but enjoyable music-making. It begins tomorrow with an all-day competition for students and concludes with a concert June 19. In between, there will be enough to appeal to anyone tickled by the ivories.

"There are master classes, a workshop, and private lessons, all part of the education program," said Nakamichi. "Then there are concerts for the community, where we bring in world-class artists from the mainland and Asia."

This year’s visiting artists include Sara Davis Buechner, whose vast repertoire spans from Bach to Broadway, all performed to critical praise.

Along with favorites from Bach, Mozart, and Gershwin, Buechner will present the world premiere of three pieces by Japanese composer Yukiko Nishimura, described by Buechner as "a great jazz aficionado" whose new works are "very lovely, touching and highly imaginative."

"I’m particularly proud to offer a ‘first hearing’ to my Hawaiian audience," Buechner said in an e-mail message. "It’s like unwrapping a Christmas present, very special indeed. … There’s a nice surprise in the third piece which I can’t give away here." (See Buechner’s extended comments at TGIF.staradvertiser.com.)


Where: Hawaii Convention Center, 1801 Kalakaua Ave.

When: Tomorrow through June 19

Cost: $20 general admission; $5 students, unless otherwise noted (see sidebar)

Info: alohapianofestival.com



» Piano Competition (Solo), 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free.
» Opening Concert: Sara Davis Buechner Recital, 7:30 p.m.

» Young Pianists Recital Series, 2 p.m. Free.

» Norman Krieger Recital: "Beethoven Favorites," 7:30 p.m.

June 19
» Concerto Division Competition, 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Free.
» Piano Festival Finale Concert, with Chamber Music, 7:30 p.m., featuring pianist Sean Botkin, violinist Ignace Jang and cellist Mark Votapek.

Note: Master classes, open to the public, will take place throughout the festival; visit alohapianofestival.com for details.

Other guest artists include Hawaii native Sean Botkin, an award-winning performer who has toured extensively on the mainland and in Europe and Asia; and Norman Krieger, a Los Angeles-based pianist known here for several highly regarded performances and for establishing the Prince Albert Music Festival on Kauai.

Nakamichi’s piano festival, now in its fifth year, is a testament to the continued popularity of piano studies in the state. "There are more piano students per capita in Hawaii than anywhere else in the world," Nakamichi said. "The parents are very into it. They want their child to excel in it."

THE festival has become a showcase for major talent.

Heejin Kang, a second-place finisher two years ago, received the Darius Milhaud Award this year for her performance of works by the influential modern composer, and is now in the doctoral program at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

"(The festival) is a great opportunity to learn about different kinds of music, no matter whether you are a teacher, a student, or a music lover," Kang said. "It has something for everyone."

T.J. Tario, last year’s winner in the high school division, has become the first student from Hawaii to be accepted in the precollege division of New York’s prestigious Juilliard School. Tario will perform Sunday along with other competition winners.

Lessons and master classes Tario attended at the festival "helped me a lot with my pieces, both technically and with the artistic side of it," he said. "It really made me realize that this is what I want to do, become a concert artist."

Nakamichi established the festival to re-create her own experience as a young musician working with Martin Canin, a famous instructor at Juilliard, who ran a six-week summer camp for young pianists.

"So many of the kids here can’t go to the mainland, so I wanted to bring the Juilliard teachers here," she said. All of the guest artists in the festival are connected to Juilliard in some way.

She likens the instruction at the festival to a "cram session" on piano. No student is refused lessons, but those who participate are serious about their music studies.

"It’s a very competitive atmosphere, so they want to practice and practice and practice more," she said. "It really elevates their level of performance."


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