It was an anticlimax. There had been moments of high drama during the performances. In the hour-and-a-half wait for the judges' decisions, the audience had milled about in groups arguing learnedly, sometimes even heatedly, about the relative virtues of the candidates. Did the job and fire of Meral Guneyman's performance of the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto eclipse the accuracy and control of Robert McDonald's performance of the same piece? And how could these two be compared to the purposeful romanticism of Michael Korstick's Brahms Second Concerto?
But by the time the prizes were finally announced for this 10th University of Maryland International Piano Competition and Festival at Tawes Theater on Saturday, much of the excitement had dissipated.
The judges, 11 of them from nine different countries, had decided not to award a first prize. Instead, Gurneyman from Turkey and McDonald of the United States would each have a second prize and third prize would go to West Germany's Korstick.
There were lots of smaller prizes too and each of the 13 semi-finalists got a piece of the pie.
It had been a demanding week for these pianists. On their way to the finals and chance to play a concerto with the Baltimore Symphony, each had performed for 20 minutes in a preliminary round. As semi-finalists they had given hour-long recitals. By decision time, therefore, the judges had had a chance to savor the different musical asects of each contestant and the leisure to ponder their choices.
All these top winners are Juilliard students, and all have tidy portfolios of past competitions won and recitals given. All three play with the polished techniques, one would expect from finalists in a competition of this caliber, and, in varying degrees, each displayed a personal approach to music that was above and beyond the technical.
Fernando Laires, who did a splendid job of organizing this year's superb festival, almost blew it by turning the final presentations into a sort of bumbling circus, but this was a minor blemish on a week of marvelous musical activity.