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Classical 101

Cincinnati World Piano Competition fires Awadagin Pratt

Rob Davidson
Awadagin Pratt

The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition just wrapped up.  The 17th Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition commences in October.  The screening jury for the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is traveling the world looking for it's next set of contestants for 2017.  Meanwhile, the Cincinnati World Piano Competition, which just wrapped up it's latest competition last month with the finals held before a packed house...fired Awadagin Pratt, one of Classical music's finest pianists and a piano professor and artist in residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music - with an e-mail.

What did Pratt do wrong?  Nothing, if you read their press statement:

"We're looking for an expanded skill set in our artistic director as we pursue our mission to inspire and positively impact audiences in our diverse communities with the joy and power of piano music," the statement says. "We've begun an aggressive search and hope to have an announcement soon."

In the wake of this, three board members, including the chairman, have resigned.

Competition partners Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra said they were caught completely off guard.

Let's see, you fired one of the music world's most highly respected artists and educators, a one of African-American heritage, while stating that your mission is to "inspire and positively impact audiences in our diverse communities with the joy and power of piano music."

That would be like firing Peter Schickele or Igudesman and Joo while trying to inspire a blending of humor and classical music.

The only hint of controversy I have found happened in last year's competition.  As reported at Cincinnati.com, "In 2014, he and the jury decided not to award a silver medal, instead awarding two bronze medals in a tie, which upset some audience members and patrons."  Nothing unusual.  It has happened at other competitions.

I have no idea what precipitated this action, but I do look forward to hearing more.  In the meantime, those responsible for his ouster, including competition executive director Mark Ernster, might find themselves in an awkward moment if they find themselves in the same line as Pratt at Starbucks.

You can watch Awadagin Pratt in a White House performance below.  You can hear Mr. Pratt on Houston Public Media discuss Brahms, Brunge, and Beards, here.