- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

Ralitza Patcheva of Southwest plans to make the ebony and ivory piano keys create beautiful music at today's semifinal round of the Washington International Competition for Pianists.

"I like the way I can say things to people from the stage without using words, but on an emotional level," says Ms. Patcheva, 26, originally from Sofia, Bulgaria. She is working on a doctorate in piano at the University of Maryland in College Park while teaching piano at the Levine School of Music in Northwest.

Ms. Patcheva is one of the 18 contestants in the semifinal round of the 49th Washington International Competition. The event takes place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Catholic University of America's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music in Northeast. Finalists are scheduled to perform at 1 p.m. tomorrow in Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University.

Robert Henry, 28, of Greenbelt is another semifinalist. He teaches piano at Montgomery College in Rockville and also studies for his doctorate in piano at the University of Maryland. Mr. Henry has practiced 11 Chopin-Godowsky etudes, as part of the two full-length recital programs of 65 to 70 minutes each that semifinalists are required to prepare.

"I could play the notes after a couple weeks, but to get to all the details takes a couple months," Mr. Henry says. "I consider practicing the piano work, but performing is what I like to do. But it's all fun. I wouldn't do it if it wasn't fun."

If Mr. Henry wins any of the $14,000 prize money, he says he would use it to record the complete music of pianist Robert Helps of Tampa, Fla., who died in November.

"He's not that well-known," Mr. Henry says. "He should be better known."

Thomas Mastroianni, director of the sponsoring Friday Morning Music Club Foundation Inc., based in Northwest, says: "An altruistic view of our roles as musicians has been an attitude as part of the club. There is a great emphasis on serving the community."

Eleanor Woods of Northwest, the chairwoman of the event, says the judges for the competition include Yoheved Kaplinsky, chairman of piano at the Juilliard School in New York City; John Perry of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles; and Eugene Pridonoff, an artist in residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in Ohio. The focus of the competition rotates every year from piano to strings and composition to voice.

She says the organization received about 40 entries from musicians in 16 countries for the piano competition and winnowed them to 18 semifinalists. All applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 32.

"There is no question that the pianists will go on to have professional careers," Mrs. Woods says. "The idea of the foundation was to assist young musicians prior to them attaining professional management."

Bonnie Kellert of Potomac won the competition in 1966 at age 19. Today, she teaches, gives lecture recitals and performs in the Washington area and beyond.

"Winning gave me the feeling that I knew that I could compete with my peers," Miss Kellert says. "It can boost your confidence level and enable you to feel you can go out into the music world and contribute something to the music world."

WHAT: Washington International Competition for Pianists

WHERE: Semifinals, Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at Catholic University of America, 620 Michigan Ave NE; finals, Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University, 730 21st St. NW

WHEN: Semifinals, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today; finals, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow


PHONE: 202/363-8873

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