International piano competition launches improvisation prize

International piano competition launches improvisation prize


norman lebrecht

January 21, 2014

The Montreal International Musical Competition is claiming to be the first among the 126 World Federation of International Music Competitions to offer an award for improv. The international jury will be pianist and improviser Gabriela Montero (US); pianist and composer Bruno Fontaine (France); and composer and producer François Dompierre (Canada).

The winner will receive C$5,000.

Some further details here and below:


gabriela montero colours


With this new award, the MIMC is seeking to promote classical piano improvisation, a traditional discipline still taught in some higher music education institutions. The award will be given out every three years, alongside editions of the MIMC dedicated to piano. The winner will receive a $5,000 grant. According to its General and Artistic Director Christiane LeBlanc: “The MIMC stands out among the 126 competitions in the World Federation of International Music Competitions by being the first to offer such an award. We are also very enthusiastic at the thought of having audiences re-discover this art form.” For the president of the jury, Mr. Dompierre, improvisation is music’s twin sister, and both were born a very long time ago: “At the dawn of time, to fill his solitude, primitive man improvised a rhythm on his drum made of taut animal skin. Is God himself an improviser?

The creation of this award was made possible through the generous contribution of Mr. Richard Lupien, who is seeking “to reward a pianist who can restore the glory of improvisation in the field of classical music.” Said Mr. André Bourbeau, President and Co-founder of the MIMC: “This competition is fortunate to be able to rely on a board of directors whose members are very dynamic. Mr. Lupien has been the Vice-President and a Portfolio Manager at National Bank Financial since 2000, but he is also a great music-lover and a musician in his spare time. We are very grateful for his support.



The competition for this award is open to classically trained pianists of all nationalities, aged 35 years old or less on January 1, 2014. An initial selection is made based on a video accompanying the completed application, which must be submitted by mail no later than February 24, 2014. A maximum of 10 participants will be selected to compete, and will be provided with transportation and lodging. Potential candidates for the 2014 Piano Edition of the

MIMC may also register, on a voluntary basis, to compete for this new award. Rules and

conditions of participation, the registration form, and complete details are available online at


  • A fascinating development in the world of piano competitions!

    While I have absolutely no issues with any of the chosen jury members (I’m a great fan of Gabriela Montero), I wonder whether or not Keith Jarrett had been asked to be on the jury — and if so, why he may have turned them down? To me (as a non-improvising, classically-trained pianist), his name should have popped up at some time during the jury search.

    • Lou Cabaza says:

      The greatest God given ability to improvise in all styles has always been my strongest asset throughout 65 years of studying and playing piano, (classical the strongest and most satisfying) It would be a life long dream to be perform in this category for judges although being 68 yrs old, a five minute opportunity would be equally satisfying. Although my age would disqualify me from the competition I would forever go to great lengths simply to be heard as it may just inspire others to hear from my prospective. Please, just for one short piece to show you what God gave me .
      I have a pretty extensive work resume and would be honored to prove myself to you. I can also promise that You won’t be disappointed. I have always felt so alone improvising and just to be in the presence of an organization such as yours would complete a life long dream
      . I actually lived in Montreal in the early 1970’s ( J. P. Ferland) and to this day I have wanted so badly to return especially for a fine cause as yours, back to the city where I found my soul.
      Humbly yours
      Lou Cabaza

  • Wilhelm says:

    In Maj Lind Piano Competition in Finland there has been an optional choice for improvisation instead of a contemporary work since 2002. In last competition they awarded a price for the best performance of a contemporary work, including improvisation. Although it’s not stated in the competition rules in advance, they actually had an option to award the best improvisation of the competition (and there were a few who actually improvised in the semi-finals in 2012, including one of the finalists, Johannes Piirto).

  • Stephen says:

    This is refreshing news. I have always been amazed at how much improvisation goes on in classical music circles. Thank you for spotlighting it and bringing its process to the fore.

  • Louise Burton says:

    I’m so glad to hear that a piano competition is recognizing the value of improvisation in classical music. I look forward to hearing the winners of the competition sometime.

  • Lou Cabaza says:

    Why is improve competition limited to 35 yrs or younger. Are you frightened by us older guys?

    • Jeremy Christopher says:

      I was wondering the same thing, sincertain I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time.

  • Jeremy Christopher says:

    I’d love to help produce a music improv (possibly dance) Web show that follows the same format as an improv game show (minus the strictly comedy aspect), if anyone has any interest in helping find talent. I think it’s necessary to keep promoting this genre in many areas.