Summer academy to feature student musicians from abroad, area

Public performances

The International Institute for Young Musicians academy runs through July 29. The public can attend the following performances:

• 10 a.m.-8 p.m. July 9: International Piano Competition semifinals, Spooner Hall/The Commons (free)

• 1-6 p.m. July 10: International Piano Competition finals, Spooner Hall/The Commons (free)

• 7:30 p.m. July 14: Honors Recital, Spooner Hall/The Commons (free)

• 2:30 p.m. July 16: Winners Concert for the International Piano Competition, Spooner Hall/The Commons ($10 tickets at the door)

• 7:30 p.m. July 20: Honors Recital, Spooner Hall/The Commons (free)

• 7:30 p.m July 27: Honors Recital, Hall Center for the Humanities (free)

The Kansas University School of Music is raising the curtain on another summer of dazzling piano playing as it hosts the International Institute for Young Musicians.

IIYM’s Summer Music Academy will open July 9 with the semifinals of its prestigious international piano competition, the first of many performances that will be free and open to the public.

The program features 75 students ranging in age from 9 to 19. Many will come from abroad and especially from China, where interest in classical music is booming, said IIYM’s founder, KU professor of piano pedagogy Scott McBride Smith.

“I hope everyone in Lawrence comes to hear them,” he said. KU has hosted the summer academy since 2004.

Participants include Chaeyoung Park and Luke Rhodes, of Lawrence; Grace Brungardt, of Wichita; and Isabel Keleti, of Overland Park. Smith said the local students “are standing up to the international competition and that’s great to see.”

It will be the fourth and final year at IIYM for Rhodes, who will attend KU this fall to study music.

“IIYM is a place where you go and you’re around people who are just like you, who have the same love for music you do and the same passion,” he said. “It’s very inspiring and refreshing to be around people like that.”

One of 15 semifinalists vying for $18,000 in prizes, Rhodes has been working on Lizst’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6,” “a very challenging piece,” he said, and “a lot of fun to play.” He puts in anywhere from 2 to 10 hours of practice each day.

“It isn’t so much the hours you do as the intensity of the practice,” he said.

The IIYM program received a big boost this year from Jack Gaumnitz, a retired KU finance professor, and his wife, Jan, a visual artist. After enjoying IIYM performances for years, they donated $50,000 to augment prizes over the next five years, bringing the top award to $8,000.

“We were impressed by the quality of the student competition at a rather young age,” Jack Gaumnitz said. “Seeing (excellence), then you want to reward it. We’re setting them up for a very successful life, not necessarily in music but in any endeavor they do.”

Smith said the increased prizes attract more talent, which in turn burnishes IIYM’s credentials as one of the most prestigious piano programs.

“It made a big difference, making it doable for the top level of international students to come,” he said.