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Friday, August 12, 2022

Young pianists headline the UF International Piano Festival

One by one, young pianists stepped to a black, 9-foot-long Steinway and Sons Model-D and performed their renditions of compositions by classical composers like Mozart and Beethoven.

At Sunday night’s recital, young musicians filled Room 101 of the UF Music Building with notes played purely from memory.

Pianists Quin Nardone, 17; Abigail Lee, 17, and Lien Nguyen, 23, gave encore performances from their previous night’s recital in the UF Health Shands Hospital’s South Building’s waiting area Monday at noon. For an hour, they played classical music for the patients.

“It wasn’t the best place to perform noise-wise, but it was a nice performance,” Nardone said. “Hopefully, we helped the people waiting up there.”

Twenty-four musicians flocked to Gainesville last week to participate in the UF International Piano Festival, which began Saturday, June 9, and ends Saturday, June 16.

The youngest participants are in the pre-college division, like Elise Brown, 13, from Fort Myers, and the oldest are in the artist division, like Nguyen, who is from Vietnam.

The pianists participate in personal lessons, recitals and master classes taught by UF faculty and guest lecturers.

The first recitals were Sunday and Monday. The artist division competition will be held Friday at 7 p.m., and the pre-college competition will conclude the festival Saturday at 9:30 a.m. There will also be a duet recital Friday at 3:30 p.m.

Both the competition and the duet performance are new to the festival, which started in 2007. This is also the festival’s first year under its new director, Jasmin Arakawa.

“I just wanted to have something festive, not so much into competitive things,” Arakawa said. “They get to play once without any kind of pressure and once at the end so they have something to look forward to.”

The students said they spend about four hours each day of the weeklong festival with scheduled practice on top of the two to three months many of them said they already took to learn their pieces.

“We spend all day in the practice room,” Lee said.

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Despite spending most of their days at the festival either in lessons or practicing, Nguyen and some of her fellow student pianists said they prefer the small classes and action-packed days to the larger camps they’ve attended in the past.

“The level of playing in this festival is a lot higher,” Nguyen said. “We learn a lot of things in a short amount of time.”

Follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr or contact him at

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