When Pianist ran its Composing Competition at the end of 2019, entries came in thick and fast. Erica Worth speaks to the winner
One of the most exciting things about the Pianist Composing Competition is the moment when the judges know they’re on to a winner.
We look at each other – that’s me, musician Alexis Ffrench, composer John Kember, music educator Nigel Scaife and pianist-composer Melanie Spanswick – with a certain smile. Just one last play-through and we’re nearly there. Yes, this piece fits well under the fingers, it makes coherent musical sense and it’s not too hard. Oh, and it’s a joy to play! Having waded carefully through over 100 entries, the decision is unanimous: Italian music-school teacher Giuseppe Capasso is this year’s winner – with his sultry and dramatic Blue Habanera.
Some days later, I call Capasso to break the news. He is, of course, beyond delighted.
‘I didn’t expect it!’ he says. ‘But at the same time, I was hopeful. It’s like when you buy a ticket for the lottery… there is always a tiny part of you that hopes. I entered to take a chance.’ Much to my surprise, Capasso tells me he very nearly missed the deadline. ‘This is a trait of my personality,’ he says, with a chuckle. ‘I always do things last minute. It’s a flaw to my personality. I had the melody in mind for a long time, but I wrote it down at the very last minute.’ The score is beautifully penned, as well. ‘I have the software, but I prefer to write the music. As a student I always did it this way, so it’s a habit which I actually still prefer.’
So what were the ingredients that made this the winning piece? All five judges were impressed by Capasso’s overall style: ‘He composed a wonderfully evocative Tango packed with stylistic authenticity and Argentinean swagger,’ says Alexis Ffrench. ‘He demonstrated a highly developed sense of harmonic awareness and sensitivity to the subtle nuances of timbral shading that add so much to this very intimate and passionate style of music.’ Ffrench was also taken by the meticulously handwritten score: ‘The fact that he wrote the piece by hand,’ he continues, ‘further enhanced the sense that Giuseppe wrote this piece from such a “truthful” and honest perspective.’
Capasso worked hard at it, of course: ‘I didn’t wait for inspiration to strike,’ he tells me. ‘I usually don’t wait for that to happen. When I play piano and guitar I search for the inspiration and I try to see which way I can develop it. With Blue Habanera I wanted to create an image of Latin America with the nuances, colours and harmonies. I came up with the melody for the first part of the piece some months ago, but I couldn’t find the B part. And then, during the final month, I found it!’
As for the level of the piece, Capasso has pitched it at the intermediate-level pianist. ‘I don’t think you need fast scales to impress someone,’ he says. ‘Emotion can be portrayed by simple means. I don’t like people who show how technically good they are. Simple lines can equally impress. Look at Einaudi’s music, for example – it can sound simple, but he touches you.’
What next for our winner? ‘These times are quite challenging,’ he says. ‘I am teaching from home. It is something very new for me, but it’s a new challenge and something to learn from. One has more free time to spend on one’s interests, to read books and so on. At the moment I am enrolled on an American online piano course with like-minded people from all over the world.’
For my part, I’d like to extend a thanks to everyone who entered. There’s always next year. Right now, Giuseppe Capasso tells me he’s working on a suite of dances, which will include his Blue Habanera.
What piano challenges will you set yourself for the rest of 2020?
The score for Giuseppe's Blue Habanera appears inside issue 114 of Pianist.