Piano Competitions Identify Emerging Young Talent

The university will host its Fifth Annual International Piano Competition and Second Annual N.C. Junior Piano Competition. This year’s finalists pictured from left to right are Alan Woo, Ji-Hyang Gwak and Simon Kakulidi. 

HIGH POINT, N.C., Aug. 23, 2019 – High Point University will hold its Fifth Annual International Piano Competition, funded by the Randall Thomas Johnson Trust, on Sept. 7 in Hayworth Fine Arts Center. Each year, the competition showcases acclaimed young pianists who compete for cash prizes.

The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, contact the HPU Campus Concierge at concierge@highpoint.edu or 336-841-4636.

The international competition is open to pianists ages 18 to 28. HPU faculty members reviewed first-round video submissions to select this year’s three finalists, who will each perform a 55-minute recital for a panel of guest judges from noon to 3:30 p.m.

For the second year, the N.C. Junior Piano Competition will take place starting at 9:30 a.m. Three students ages 14 to 18 have been selected to compete for cash prizes and a scholarship from the Department of Music.

All of the finalists of the N.C. Junior Piano Competition will perform a short program during the winner’s recital and awards ceremony from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. They will compete for a small cash prize, and the first prize winner will be offered a scholarship to attend HPU.

This year’s finalists are Ji-Hyang Gwak, Simon Karakulidi and Alan Woo. All of them are award-winning pianists who have studied under renowned professionals and performed extensively in festivals and concerts across the U.S. and internationally.

This year’s guest judges, also accomplished pianists, will evaluate the finalists on stage presence as well as the musical and technical aspects of their performances. They are Dr. James Giles, coordinator of the piano program and director of music performance graduate studies at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music; Dmitri Vorobiev, associate professor of piano at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts; and Ināra Zandmane, one of the leading collaborative pianists of North Carolina. A total of $20,000 in prizes will be awarded in the competition.

“I am very grateful to Mr. Randall Johnson for his generosity, which allows us to host this international piano competition at HPU,” says Marcia Dills, assistant professor of music and director of keyboard studies. “It has grown in prestige over the years, and with a $10,000 first prize, we are in the top tier of piano competitions. Visitors will certainly hear some of the best piano playing in the country.”

The piano competitions are made possible by a $1.1 million gift from Randall T. Johnson, a native and resident of High Point and member of the HPU Board of Visitors. He is a retired executive in the food brokerage business in Florida and a patron of the arts across the Piedmont.

Finalist bios:

Ji-Hyang Gwak has established herself as a performing solo artist, chamber musician and pedagogue, with appearances across the United States, Czech Republic, England, Germany, Spain, Japan and Korea. Gwak is the first prize winner of Seattle International Piano Competition and the Michigan MTNA Young Artist Piano Competition. She also received prizes in numerous competitions such as 39th Joongang Music Concours, Korea-Germany Brahms Associations Concours and was a semi-finalist at the Ricard Vines International Piano Competition in Spain and the Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition in New York City. She was selected to participate in summer festivals including CCM Prague Festival in the Czech Republic, UFIPF (University of Florida International Piano Festival) in Gainesville, Florida, and Piano Texas in Fort Worth.

She has performed in numerous masterclasses and had lessons with world-renowned artists including Philippe Bianconi, Yoheved Kaplinsky, Vadim Monastyrski, Yoshikazu Nagai, Elisabeth Pridonoff, Gustavo Romero, Jacques Rouvier, Pascal Rose, Robert Roux, Peter Serkin, Sasha Starcevich and Asaf Zohar.

Gwak holds a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance, summa cum laude, from Seoul National University and a Master of Music in Piano Performance and Literature from Eastman School of Music. Her teacher includes Kyungrok Park, Professor Hie-Yon Choi and Professor Natalya Antonova.

She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in piano performance at the University of Michigan under the tutelage of Professor Christopher Harding.

Simon Karakulidi was born in 1997 in Novorossiysk, Russia. He began his studies

with Professor Mira Marchenko at Central Musical School in Moscow in 2013. Karakulidi is a prize-winner of the First Vladimir Krainev Piano Competition in Moscow (second prize and two special awards) and Astana Piano Passion Piano Competition (first prize). Karakulidi

participated in the master-classes with world-acclaimed musicians such as Leon Fleisher, Arie Vardi, William Grant Nabore and Pavel Nercessian. In June 2018, Karakulidi was awarded Enlight Prize at the Art of Piano Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 2019, Karakulidi was awarded the first prize from Ann & Charles Eisemann International Young Artists Competition and the grand prize of Naftzger Competition. Since August 2016, Karakulidi is studying with Stanislav Ioudenitch at Park University under the full scholarship.

Alan Woo is praised by the New York Times as a pianist with “assurance and vitality.” Woo was recently named a prize winner at the 2017 Iowa Piano Competition and The Juilliard School’s 2014 Gina Bachauer Piano Competition. Woo made his Lincoln Center debut at Alice Tully Hall in 2010, performing with the Juilliard Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Other recent performances include solo appearances with conductors Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Tito Munoz, and recital engagements throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Europe. Woo has been featured on The McGraw Hill Financial “Young Artists Showcase” broadcasted on WQXR in New York and has performed in venues such as Carnegie’s Weill and Zankel Recital Halls. An avid chamber musician, Woo has made appearances at La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest, Bowdoin International Music Festival and Juilliard’s ChamberFest.

Born in Arlington, Virginia, Woo completed his Bachelor and Master of music degrees at the Juilliard School as a student of Robert McDonald. He currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland, where he is pursuing doctoral studies with a Dean’s DMA Fellowship at the Peabody Institute under the guidance of Yong Hi Moon.

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