Looking back at how it all started

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Here are our Artistic Director Tori Stødle’s thoughts and dreams about the realisation of an International Piano Competition in Tromsø:

When I moved to Tromsø in 1972 to take up the position as head of piano in the Northern Norway Music Conservatory, the reaction among friends and colleagues in Oslo was “You are mad; you will be forgotten!” Instead I have, over nearly 40 years just by living and working in Tromsø, gained a network of pianists all over the world.

Music Conservatory

Since 1972 the music conservatory has built a tradition by inviting each year a guest pianist/professor from the top international and national institutions. Our guests have given masterclasses, lecture-recitals and concerts and all events have been open to the public. The concerts took place in the Bystyresalen until a terrible fire destroyed this building in 1979. After that they moved to the Verdensteatret until the conservatory’s new building was ready in 1985.

There have been many events over the years, here are a few:

Lidia Kozubek
At end of the 1970s we had a visit from Lidia Kozubek from Warszawa. It was the first time a Polish pianist presented a whole programme of Chopin. The concert in the Verdensteatret was sold out, and out in the cold February weather stood a long queue of people who could not get in. The concert was repeated the next day so that everyone could hear it.

Adele Marcus International Piano Festival
In June 1980 and 1982, we arranged the Adele Marcus International Piano Festival. Adele Marcus was USA’s piano queen: her reputation was such that pianists from the whole world came to Tromsø to experience this legend. After 1982, her age and health put a stop to visits to Tromsø.

When my colleagues in Oslo heard about my wish to invite Adele Marcus to Tromsø, they laughed and said, ”She can barely make it to Oslo, let alone to Tromsø”. But Adele Marcus looked at the map and said ”But Tromsø! – It is nearly on the North Pole and I have not been there – I want to go there”.

The press did not miss the events that took place in Tromsø on these June days in 1980 and 1982. The newspaper Aftenposten sent Mona Levin who wrote daily reports and interviews and the newspaper VG wrote a big article with a title that I particularly liked: “Travel to Tromsø and learn to play!”. When Adele Marcus died in 1993, all the main newspapers in the USA included her obituary and it was mentioned in all of them that she had her own piano festival in Tromsø, Norway!

European Piano Conference on the Top of the World
In June 1999, Tromsø hosted the annual European Piano Conference on the Top of the World. More than 116 pianists took part and they came from 39 countries, many more than the year before when this conference was held in London and the year after in Budapest. All of them thought that they had to go to ”the top of the world” because they had not been there before.

During this conference, the idea of an international piano competition in Tromsø was first proposed. It was Paul Pollei, founder of one of the most prestigious competitions in the world: The Gina Bachauer in Salt Lake City, Utah, who thought that a competition in Tromsø would attract pianists from all over the world. His good friend Svein Ludvigsen was also there for a whole day during the conference and approved of the idea. It was also supported by the Member of Parliament Tove Karoline Knutsen who thought that a competition would boost the town’s international culture profile and further highlight the city’s application for the Winter Olympics in 2018. In addition Paul Pollei promised to assist in any way if the idea became a reality.

After the conference Nordlys wrote an article: ”Tromsø on the world’s culture map” and concluded: “Keep going to get the idea realised”. Let Harstad have Festspillene, let Bodø have the Musikkfestuke. An international piano competition in Tromsø will be the top of the culture list in this part of the country.

Establishing the competition

We continued with good spirit. An interim committee was established led by Else Sundquist. Applications were written and meetings held with all conceivable partners: Municipality of Tromsø (Tromsø Kommune); Troms County Council (Troms Fylkeskommune); The Northern Lights Festival (Nordlysfestivalen); Tromsø Symphony Orchestra; NRK; and Kulturhuset.

They all wanted to participate but none of them could make a financial contribution. For the undersigned there was no intention to establish a competition in line with the many other small competitions, for example in Italy there are at least 120 such piano competitions. If an international competition for pianists in Tromsø was going to be established, it should have first class prestige from the very start in line with the Queen Sonja competition forsingers in Oslo.

Consequently we realized that the time was not right for such grand ideas in Tromsø and the plans were laid on ice until last year.

Financial support
It was at this time that the Northern Lights Festival arranged the Piano Marathon from noon till midnight in Sparebanken’s concert hall in conjunction with the inauguration of the bank’s newly purchased Steinway grand piano. The festival showcased nine top pianists from Norway and abroad in this event.

Then the idea arose that the Høgskolen and the Northern Lights Festival together would be able to establish the competition. At the same time the possibility to apply for the necessary financial support for the competition arose from the regional funding programme RDA 2 point 5, concerning larger cultural events.

The Music Conservatory has all the facilities to arrange an international competition. We have practice rooms and first rate grand pianos. We have no less than eight Steinway grand pianos of which two are 2.76m concert grands. Furthermore the Kulturhus has three Steinway pianos, the Kunstforening has one, and Sparebanken’s concert hall has one.

Impressive jury and a big prize

The undersigned was well aware that the programme committee was horrified over the budget items for the judges and the prize money. But it is exactly these two amounts that signal which level the competition is aiming at!

By means of a impressive jury and a big prize we would signal that we are indeed at the top: there will be prestige in taking part and winning a prize in Tromsø! As a comparisom Germany’s most prestigeous competition, the Beethoven competition in Bonn, has a first prize of 30 000 Euro.

There is no other piano competition in Scandinavia with so large a prize. By working closely with the Northern Lights Festival we will have good possibilities for associating Crown Prince Haakon to the competition since he is the Northern Lights festival’s patron. I have been a member of many juries in international competitions; I have a clear vision and enough knowlegde on how the competition in Tromsø should be – and naturally high ambitions for the competition here in the town!

Support from Steinway & Sons

The project has support from the world’s most prestigious piano factory, Steinway & Sons which will contribute to the advertising all over the world (the undersigned was appointed as a Steinway Artist in 2007).

Furthermore the Alink-Argerich Foundation will help in any way possible with additional advice, advertising and PR; they have contacts all over the world. In addition such an event will draw the attention of the media abroad. Tromsø will be placed on the international music and culture map. And as mentioned earlier it should be of interest for the town’s application for the Winter Olympics in 2018 to count on such a cultural event. It is the intention that the competition will be held on a biennial basis.

We will consider the competition’s formal organisation in due course to find the most practical and economical model. The most important thing is that the competition is a reality! The competition will have a big impact on business in that a large number of artists and media will be here during a substantial event of 6 days duration.

Tromsø, April 3rd, 2008

Tori Stødle

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