The piano amateur competitions

Published on April 22, 2023 by Julien
The pianists attending the 2022 Cliburn amateur competition

Group picture of all pianists attending the 2022 Cliburn amateur competition (Photo by Ralph Lauer).

The history of international piano competitions specifically dedicated to non-professional pianists dates back to 1989, when the first competition was launched in Paris (concours international des Grands Amateurs). Many competitions have blossomed since then all over the world, some have had a short-lived existence while others managed to register in the long run. 

The idea is simple : to gather piano enthusiasts who, in the short interstices of spare time they manage to find while leading an otherwise very busy professional life, keep practicing piano with a high-level of requirement and enthusiasm. 

The concept immediately worked as myriads of amateur pianists of all levels found an echo into it : while most of them had not (or not much) touched a piano for years and saw in these events an opportunity to resume their piano playing and improve their skills, others had never ceased playing and wished to take advantage of these new opportunities to perform in public and take up new personal challenges. 

Such competitions thus allowed for the emergence of a vast community of enthusiasts who have become accustomed to gathering every year in various events organized throughout the world. Musicians from all backgrounds and levels started to take part in these amateur competitions, which contributed to mobilize candidates around a shared objective and to increase the overall level of requirement of the pianists towards themselves. 

Amongst the competitions for amateur pianists, some are exclusively dedicated to amateurs, while others are generalist competitions mostly aimed at professional musicians which opened up an amateur section at some point in their history. 

Today, there are no less than 18 competitions around the world, 13 of which are still active:

  • PTNA (Japan, since 1977), annual. Japanese candidates only. 
  • Concours international de l’école Polytechnique (since 1986, over since 2019). Does not exist any longer. 
  • Concours international des grands amateurs de Paris (since 1989). Annual. The oldest and probably the most famous of the list, and the only one at this point to offer all its 1st Prize winners the chance to perform a complete concerto with a professional orchestra.
  • Concours Van Cliburn Amateur (Fort Worth, Texas, since 1999). Quadriennal. A very big competition which benefits from consequent financial means as part of the global Cliburn organization. Preselections are very strict and the chosen contestants enjoy a very professional organization. Finalists perform a movement of a concerto with a professional orchestra in the spectacular Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.
  • Concours international de piano d’Ile de France de Maisons Laffitte (since 1999). Annual. The “adultes amateurs” section requires contestants to play 20 minutes of free repertoire in one single round. Laureates are awarded various prizes, including concert opportunities and masterclasses in Les Amateurs virtuoses piano festival.
  • Boston International piano amateur competition (since 2001). Bisannual. A competition which can claim to be both very professional in the requirements of the judges, and caring for its candidates, with constructive comments between the contestants and the jury at the end of the event, and attractive awards (concert opportunities and monetary). 
  • WIPAC Festival of Music and the Washington International Piano Artists Competition (Washington, since 2002). Annual.
  • Concours Chopin Amateur (Varsovie, since 2006 ?). Triennal. Inspired by the professional Chopin competition (but without direct connection to it), this competition favors the musical qualities of the performers over their technical abilities, and promotes playing in the “authentic” style of Chopin. The requested program is centered on the works of Chopin, but other composers are allowed.
  • International Piano Amateur Competition (Berlin, no longer exists since 2010)
  • Claviarium (Moscow, 2011 et 2012). No longer exists. A competition which was mainly dedicated to young amateur pianists and which had attractive monetary prizes to offer, but which unfortunately did not manage to run very long.  
  • Piano Lovers over 40 (Milano, since 2012 – in standby since 2021)
  • Piano Bridges (Saint Petersburg, since 2011 – in standby since 2022). A particularly attractive competition both for its amazing location, and for the caring spirit towards all candidates, no matter their origins or their level. Its founder, Natalia Dobrovolskaya (who sadly passed away in 2019) had designed the competition as a spiritual bridge between musicians of all sorts (hence the symbol of the competition : one of the bridges over the Neva river). 
  • Amateur pianists in San Diego (since 2016). Annual. . 
  • PianoLink international amateurs competition (Cremona, Italy, since 2019). Annual. 
  • Aloha international piano amateur competition (Hawai, since?). Annual
  • Concours international de Dinard pour les pianistes amateurs (since 2021). Annual.
  • Klavierzimmer (Köln, since 2021). Annual.
  • Lavaux Classic (Cully, Switzerland, since 2022). Annual

Some competitions include 4 hands, 2 pianos or even chamber music sections (Piano Bridges, Klavierzimmer), but most focus exclusively on solo repertoire, which is mostly left to the appreciation of each candidate. Amongst the various awards to receive from the competitions, some offer money prizes, and all offer some concert opportunities. Contestants are indeed mostly looking for opportunities to perform, which they do not receive very often (if ever) as amateur pianists. The most sought-after award is obviously the opportunity to play with orchestra, which some competitions arrange for their finalists (Van Cliburn) or their 1st prize winners (Paris). 

The above list tried to be as exhaustive as possible but is probably incomplete. Please feel free to contact us if we forgot anything! 

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