Amateur Pianists To Tickle The Iivories For Prizes
By Gloria Geannette
Phred Meller is passionate about the piano. He loves teaching it, playing it and listening to it.
On May 17, 18 and 19, he will be in his glory when the Second Annual Northeastern Classical Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs is held at the Unitarian Society in Ridgewood.
Thirty-nine pianists will descend on the village from as far away as Mexico in pursuit of the $1,000 first prize and the opportunity for a future recital at the showroom of Faust Harrison Pianos in New York City.
“Classical piano is so youth-oriented that if you’re over 30 there’s nothing for you,” said Meller. He decided to make 35 the youngest age for participants so that the underserved older amateurs would have a performing venue. Amateur competitions for that age group are so rare that competitors are trekking to Ridgewood from New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois and Texas as well as from several other states. Many of these pianists also compete each year at the Van Cliburn competition for Amateur Pianists in Texas and the Concours des Grandes Amateurs in Paris.
“The players are very appreciative to have another place to compete,” said Meller. He noted that Ridgewood has a lively arts community and that the competition is attracting both a local audience as well as people from much further away. “We’re building a real community backing for this event,” he said.
The jury for this year’s competition features David Dubal, noted pianist, teacher and radio personality and a member of the Juilliard School faculty since 1983, Stuart Isacoff, pianist and composer, editor of Piano Today and a performer and lecturer at the Van Cliburn Institute, Dr. Angelin Chang, an award-winning pianist who is a member of the piano faculty at Rutgers University, and Paul Somers, publisher and editor of Classical New Jersey.
A new feature this year will be three master classes conducted by jury members so community members will be able to learn as well as enjoy music. Each master class is open to 10 experienced pianists. The fee to participate is $75. Chang’s class will be on Friday from 12 to 3 p.m., Isacoff’s on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. and Dubal’s on Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. Auditors may attend for $10.
Meller’s background is as an actor and a pop/jazz pianist at clubs. He was a theater and English major at U.C.L.A. and later took extension courses in the piano at Juilliard and at Manhattan School of Music. His user-friendly teaching method is meant to appeal to people who don’t have four hours to devote to practice every day but who want to play what he calls the “good stuff” right away. “The world can only accommodate about 10 concert pianists at one time,” he said, “but many people want to learn to play the piano.” For his students and for anyone who wants to listen to excellent piano performances right in Ridgewood, the competition promises to be an outstanding opportunity.
(Reprinted from The Ridgewood News, May 10, 2001)