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Music Grad Performs in International Competition

Sept. 28, 2012

10/1/12 Update: Class of 2012 music graduate Joshua Chandra had “the experience of a lifetime” finishing in the top nine of the prestigious Rubinstein Piano Competition held in Germany. No other Cal State Fullerton student or alumnus has ever been selected for the international competition, and Chandra progressed to the semifinal — the only American to do so. What began as a field of 100 talented young pianists has been narrowed to three finalists, who are performing in concerts this week for the top honor.

“It was a great learning experience, especially about the nature of my own physiology,” the 22-year-old Chandra said Monday by email. He describes the competition as “gatherings of middle- to upper-class (or, in my case, subsidized!) pianists from around the globe converging to make the best music possible under certain requirements, … ” he wrote. “I thank again the Music Associates; none of this would have been possible without their support.”

Chandra will be performing Sunday, Nov. 18, at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, where he will accompany Bei Bei, a Gu Zheng (Chinese zither) performer. The 2 p.m. concert is free.

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Since he advanced to the semifinal of the "5th International Anton G. Rubinstein Piano Competition" in Germany, Class of 2012 music graduate Joshua Chandra has been practicing four hours a day, thousands of miles from home.

Whatever happens Sunday, in the third round of this rarified four-level competition, he'll know he's made it to the top echelon of the world's young piano virtuosos.

The competition, which is organized and staged by Forum Tiberius‑International Forum for Culture and Business, is "geared toward elite young pianists from around the world, who, through their studies at a music academy or similar institution, have the required credentials," states the program brochure.

Back in February, auditions began in 11 cities on four continents to select the top 100 young pianists during a 10-month-long elimination odyssey. The final rounds began Sept. 19 in Dresden with 32 pianists, and now Chandra is one of only nine remaining competitors.

“The fact that he has made it this far in the competion, he has made a name for himself,” said Eduardo Delgado, CSUF professor of music and Chandra's major professor. The young pianist first began studying with him at the age of 14. “For me, he is a student that I have formed and molded and put all the inspiration and all the musicianship I grew up with and all the technical background that was taught to me. ... I'm extremely happy for him." 

Delgado, who also performs Sunday — in Meng Concert Hall on campus — encouraged Chandra to enter the competition, a journey that began with a performance at USC before a group of international judges. "He was competing here in Los Angeles at a very high level, and he was chosen among the many brilliant pianists there,” Delgado said. “I believe that he has a very special talent.”

On his own website blog in September, Chandra posted this message under the heading Off to Dresden: “In a week I'll be en route to Germany for the first time. There’s lots of music to be made!”

When Chandra sits down at the piano Sunday to perform for an international jury and concert hall audience, he will play the first movement of Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 1, accompanied by a full orchestra — the Symphony Orchestra of Carl Maria von Weber University of Music, Dresden, under the direction of Ekkehard Klemm.

A special feature of the semifinal calls for all nine to present a new work by a contemporary composer, a sonata commissioned especially for the competition.

"Each was given the new work one month before the competition to learn and memorize,” said Music Department Chair Marc Dickey, who has been staying abreast of developments in Germany through text messages sent by Chandra when he's not practicing or "hibernating."

“Josh is not only an incredibly fine pianist, but he also has charisma and charm,” Dickey said. “He is brilliant.”

Ingrid Shutkin a longtime member of the CSUF Music Associates, agrees and recalls how the "very personable young man" charmed a room full of guests who gathered at her home one day to hear him play. “Everyone was just delighted with his style,” she said. “He would make a marvelous teacher because before he plays, he tells you about the piece and what to listen for. Then he plays a little and explains again, and plays some more. Those 14 ladies were absolutely delighted.”

Shutkin, who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s from Germany, added: “I have a cousin in Dresden who is following his progress” and plans to call her this weekend.

Funds raised by the Music Associates and the Music Department helped underwrite expenses for Chandra’s sojourn, said Dickey, noting this is the first time a pianist from Cal State Fullerton has been selected for the competition, first held in 2003.

Just how well does Chandra play? He won the Grand Prize in the 2010 Music Associates Concerto/Aria Competition. As a sophomore, he was chosen to perform at the dedication for the Begovich Gallery on campus in the spring of 2010. He can be heard performing Claude Debussy's “Pour le Piano: III. Toccata” for this slide show of the event.

The competition's final round, for three pianists, is scheduled for Oct. 3. In the audience for that concert will be an expert jury panel composed of pianists, representatives of conservatories and media, plus artistic directors of European theaters and festivals.

The winner will perform concerts Oct. 4 in House of Culture Schwarzheide and Oct. 6 in Dippoldiswalde. The competition will culminate Oct. 10 with “The Great Concert of the Finalists in St. Petersburg” in a performance with the State Orchestra of St. Petersburg.

The competition commemorates Anton G. Rubinstein, founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, heralded as the “Michelangelo among pianists.”

For Chandra, it may be the springboard to a rewarding professional career.

By: Paula Selleck, 657-278-4856

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