Leeds International Piano Competition: How the city has come together in 'epic' effort to bring festival to life

The chief executive of one of the world's biggest music competitions has praised the "epic" effort of the Leeds community in bringing the event to life.

By Abbey Maclure
Thursday, 9th September 2021, 4:45 am

Leeds International Piano Competition is giving a much-needed boost to talented young stars from across the globe, as they compete for the gold medal in a series of performances.

But the competition wouldn't have been possible without dozens of community organisations and businesses who have been working tirelessly behind the scenes, its chief executive Fiona Sinclair said.

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Fiona Sinclair (left), chief executive of the Leeds International Piano Competition, pictured with Adam Gatehouse, the competition's artistic director, and two Leeds University interns - Hannah Booth and Vaiva Paulauskaite

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    "It's been an epic local effort to create an international competition," Fiona told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

    "We've needed everyone's help more than ever this year and the way that people have pulled together has been beyond all our expectations."

    The University of Leeds has been the competition's principal partner since its launch in 1963, providing venues, staff, production and catering.

    Leeds BID, Leeds Conservatoire and Leeds City Council have played a vital role in bringing the festival's Piano Trail to life across the city, while dozens of venues, charities and businesses have partnered to sponsor the events, host performances and supply equipment.

    Student interns and volunteers from the University of Leeds have been instrumental in the production, Fiona added, as have the city's homeless - who have told organisers they have made a pact to protect the Piano Trail sculptures from damage.

    "It has really been on every level," Fiona added.

    "The student interns now have a completely different view of the city beyond campus life, they've been out in the streets for the piano trail and the stories they're bringing back to us are wonderful."

    More than 18 families signed up to host international competitors during any isolation period required. Although only four competitors had to isolate, Fiona added that the offers were testament to the generosity of people in Leeds.

    "It's one of the biggest competitions in the world and the stakes are incredibly high," she said.

    "We had 18 families who were all prepared to take the risk, ready to give their pianos and hospitality to bring them in with the warmest possible welcome.

    "For our competitors, that's what's unique about Leeds. I don't think they'll go anywhere that's as friendly as Yorkshire."

    Since the last competition in 2018, musicians, venues and business in Leeds have faced unimaginable challenges as they fight for their livelihoods in the coronavirus pandemic.

    The festival is breathing new life back into the city's streets and music venues; giving a financial boost not only to the competitors, but to the city as a whole.

    Fiona said: "It's about getting people back to the city, engaging with culture, bringing the streets to life and animating them with music.

    "We were going to be doing that anyway, but it has taken on a new resonance.

    "The decoration of our community pianos and the commissions we gave to artists have been a lifeline, financially, to many of them - who have had little work and an uncertain future."

    Competitors will play in individual and collaborative rounds, featuring solo work, chamber music performances, before a concerto finale at Leeds Town Hall sees the winner announced on September 18.

    And the festival will pay a poignant tribute to its founder, Dame Fanny Waterman, who died last year in Ilkley at the age of 100.

    Fiona added: "It's brought an explosion of music and activity to the streets and we're really ready to have that big party."

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