Acoustic Upright and Grand: The American Pianists Awards

January 11, 2017

Founded in 1979, the Indianapolis-based American Pianists Association is on a mission to discover, promote and advance the careers of young American pianists. The main way it does this is though its prestigious American Pianists Awards, a competition held every two years—rotated between jazz and classical genres—for U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 30.

The winners, which are awarded either the Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship or the Cole Porter Jazz Fellowship, receive a package valued at $100,000 that includes cash, two years of career assistance, and a recording contract. Moreover, the winning artist is immediately slotted into a season of concert engagements that have already been booked by the APA, and it is during this phase that he or she will be introduced to key industry professionals.

Sullivan Fortner
The recording contract for classical competitors is with Steinway & Sons, which also provides a model D grand piano for the competition. Jazz competition winners get a contract with the renowned Mack Avenue (mackavenue.com) label.

Recent American Pianists Awards winners include Sean Chen in the 2013 classical competition and Sullivan Fortner in the 2015 jazz competition. The finalists in the 2017 classical competition, which is currently in progress, are Alex Beyer, Sam Hong, Henry Kramer, Steven Lin, and Drew Petersen.

Competitors for the American Pianists Award are nominated by their peers, teachers, and industry professionals. Those that accept the invitation submit a resume and recorded materials. To narrow the field down to five finalists, the recordings are judged in a blind listening environment by a jury of internationally recognized pianists, university faculty, and journalists. The nominee list for the 2017 Awards began with 38 pianists.

Over the course of 13 months, each finalist will visit Indianapolis for a week-long residency that includes a juried recital as well as community-based projects that are not adjudicated, such as working up a concerto with a local high-school ensemble and performing in a local hospital or retirement home. The adjudicated recital includes a solo work and a performance with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra.

Sean Chen
In April, the finalists return to Indianapolis to take part in Discovery Week, where each pianist will play several more juried concerts—a solo recital premiering a new work that has been commissioned for them, an event accompanying a vocalist, and another with a chamber music ensemble.

The culmination of the competition happens during the final two days of Discovery Week, when each artist performs a concerto with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Then, the scores collected over the course of the year are tallied and a winner is announced.

The APA’s jazz competition has a parallel program that includes a performance with a combo at Indianapolis’ Jazz Kitchen as well as concerts with a big band and with a vocalist (Dianne Reeves was the featured singer in 2015).

The finals of the last two American Pianists Awards were webcast to an international audience. On April 7th and 8th, 2017, at 8 p.m. (EST), you can watch the five 2017 Awards finalists perform live one last time and hear the winner announced over the web: Details are available at americanpianists.org/live.

In addition to the competition, the APA provides cultural enrichment through a concert series that brings world-class artists to Indianapolis on a regular basis. To learn more about the American Pianist Awards and to see a calendar of events, including the schedule for the final week of competition, visit the APA’s website (americanpianists.org).

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