An article in yesterday's Style section incorrectly identified the nationality of University of Maryland Piano Competition finalist Igor Kamenz. He holds dual citizenship in the Soviet Union and West Germany.
You've sweated your way into the final round of a prestigious piano competition, with the fattest piano cash prize in the world. Now you have to play a major concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra, while a full house in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall watches you in silence. It's your first time in front of an orchestra and you're 19.
"The only thing I was thinking about was the piece," said Makoto Ueno, one of the three finalists in the University of Maryland's International Piano Festival and Competition Saturday night. "I tried very hard to think of only that thing. Not anything else."
It didn't work. Although Ueno, a a native of Japan and a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, showed considerable flair, he seemed uncomfortable with his Rachmaninoff Third Concerto, his body rigid. He bowed to the audience from the wrong side of his piano bench when it was over and forgot to shake the hand of the first violinist. He finished third with the $3,500 prize.
"It was not my best performance," said Ueno, who said he had no regrets because "it was such a great experience."
Igor Kamenz, a gangly 20-year-old East German also representing the Soviet Union, was all handshakes when he stepped up to the piano. He shook hands with members of the orchestra as though they were long-lost comrades, nodding vigorously to the audience before the performance.
When he sat down to play Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18, the crowd loved him immediately. And although he sometimes hunched so far forward he threatened to somersault into the piano wires, he played like a veteran.
But his playing, at times, was inaudible against the volume of the orchestra. "He didn't project," said Joachim Segger, a music professor at King's College, Edmonton, Alberta, and one of the competitors who didn't get past the preliminaries. "But emotionally I thought he was the best by far."
When Jeffrey Biegel, a 24-year-old, curly-haired pianist from Plainview, N.Y., opened the competition, it was clear he had played a concert hall or two before. Biegel, a doctoral candidate at the Juilliard School, bowed majestically before and after his performance and played throughout with a poise that demonstated his age advantage. He played languidly, he played vivace, his head jerking with conviction. He could allegro moderato and he could allegro tempestoso. His playing of Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16, was enthusiastically received by the audience.
"Biegel's a real showman," said Jane Mobille, a pianist and audience member, afterward. " Ueno hit one or two wrong notes, but Biegel hit none."
After the judges had announced her son as the winner, Janet Biegel reached for her son's hand and drew him away from reporters' microphones. They embraced in silence for several moments with no words, just quiet tears from Mother.
"Can I say congratulations?" said Eugene Biegel, the pianist's father, shaking his hand.
"We've been listening to him play for 18 years," said the proud father. "He never needed encouragement."
"You do your best and leave it in the hands of the judges," said Jeffrey Biegel. "I didn't think of the money or the competition. I was just aware of a full house and giving it everything I had.
"This work's a challenging piece -- Prokofiev at his best . . . I feel the audience feels as exhausted as the perfomer by the end. You have to gauge your physical output. You can't overdo it at the beginning; otherwise you'll lose your energy. You practice the piece by performing over and over and over again. You have to be prepared to give your guts and your blood."
He was superstitious before the competition, he said. "I had everyone around me going around the pole to the right. If you didn't, you had to go back around. My parents came out of the cafeteria the wrong way and they had to go back to the right."
A friend hugged Biegel and called him a star.
"As Toscanini says, stars are in the heavens," replied Biegel. "We are the workers."
He will invest the prize money ($15,000) "wisely," Biegel said before excusing himself to deal with the burgeoning crowd of well-wishers. He was soon lost in a sea of evening jackets and dresses.
Kamenz was not present at the ceremony afterward. "He's extremely allergic to smoke," explained George Moquin, executive director of the University of Maryland Summer Program, which organizes the festival. "And he doesn't speak English." Kamenz won $7,500.
Each finalist had a "good run-through" with the orchestra Saturday morning before the concert, said Maryland professor Stewart Gordon, who founded the festival in 1971. "This might sound like a short time, but on a professional level, when one is invited as a guest performer to play before a major orchestra, this is what is expected. These youngsters should be on that level."
This year's competition, the 15th, marked the first time it was held at the Kennedy Center and the first time the performers were obliged to play before an orchestra, he said. Previously, the competition took place in College Park at the university's Tawes Recital Hall.
"There's nothing like bringing the competition into the heart of the city," said Gordon. "We'd like to continue with this every year."