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Pianists Win International Duo Competition

Feb. 7, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt, Emily Binetti
Story By: Misti Jones

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Kirk sitting and Sarah standing by the piano
Kirk Jimenez and Sarah Ray recently won first place in a competition where they played side-by-side at a single piano. —Submitted photos

Sam Houston State University music majors Kirk Jiménez and Sarah Ray recently were recognized as first-place medalists in the 16th annual United States International Duo Piano Competition hosted at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Jiménez, a sophomore, and Ray, a graduate student, won from a pool of nearly 70 professional and amateur piano players from around the world for their performance of “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt.

The competition required pianists to perform in teams of two playing side-by-side at a piano, utilizing skills that made the contest more unique than others and also required a more challenging skill set, according to Ilonka Rus-Edery, director of keyboard studies in SHSU’s School of Music.

“Duo piano performance is considered much harder than playing solo because of its complexity and demand for both players to have equal artistry and technique,” said Rus-Edery, who instructs both students.

In addition the two players must complete each other’s musical ideas and become one while performing.

“It gives a challenge to the performers in that they must listen to each other and have complete articulation given to the work they are performing,” Rus-Edery said, "and it's more fun because they play off of each other’s performance.”

The USIDPC is one of only three duo piano competitions in the world.

In order to qualify for the prestigious event, duo concert pianists from around the world submitted performance tapes and applications to a three-judge panel of renowned music professors. Each year the USIDPC hosts competitors representing Russia, Taiwan, Korea, China, India, Canada, United States and the Middle East, each performing five to 10 minutes of classical music by Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Stravinsky and others.

Only 70 competitors were chosen from nearly 400 applicants for the honor of performing before the judges in Colorado. There were 11 categories in which students could enter and there were no age restrictions.

“When our names were announced as the first prize winners, we were exuberant,” Ray said. “Words fail to attempt to describe our emotions. Walking away from an international event with the grand prize is an amazing feeling.”

Jiménez and Ray discovered the USIDPC online and submitted their audition CD in October. Within a month, the duo was informed that they were accepted as one of four groups to travel to Colorado in order to compete in the final round.

Jiménez and Ray met for extra lessons and rehearsals during the winter break and prepared to win it all.

The USIDPC was not the first time these partners had performed together.

Ray and Jimenez sitting at the piano playing a duet
Ray and Jimenez have a history of playing together; both were students of Diane Delk before coming to SHSU.

Jiménez and Ray were both piano students of Diane Delk in high school, and Delk paired the two together for piano duets. When Jiménez came to SHSU, Ray was already an experienced musician.

“Pairing back up to play seemed like a no-brainer,” Ray said. “We had already known each other for years so we didn't have to work through the awkward stage of strangers trying to work intimately together. We just picked up where we left off.”

The duo has played many works together within the past year including those by Lecuona, Saint-Saens, Rachmaninoff, Anderson, Rosenblatt and Liszt.

Jiménez began playing piano at 12 years old and quickly gained the skill and confidence needed to succeed in the piano field. He competed throughout high school in various competitions, placing in the Conroe Music Teachers Association, the Cypress Creek Music Teachers Association, and the Blinn piano contest.

During the fall semester, he accompanied Edery, flute professor Kathryn Daniels and two graduate students, including Ray, to Colombia. While abroad, Jiménez performed and gave a master class through an interpreter to the students of the Bellas Artes University in Medellin, Colombia.

Jiménez intends to continue performing and competing throughout his collegiate career.

Ray grew up in a home where music was vital and said she does not remember a time where she was not playing the piano. Having outgrown several piano teachers, Ray said she was able to find Delk, who “breathed life into [her] playing and gave [her] a purpose by introducing piano competitions.”

In high school, Ray competed often. She placed multiple years in the CMTA, the CCMTA, as well as making the top 12 in the Music Teachers National Association senior high school piano concerto division. Ray performs multiple times per year in several various avenues.

While in Colombia, she performed several times, participated in several academic discussions and taught a master class.

An alumna of SHSU, Ray is now pursuing a master’s degree in piano collaboration and is anticipating a vibrant future in what she absolutely loves to do.



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