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If live music performance often smacks a little bit of an athletic event -- one comes to watch the high-wire act -- a music competition takes the idea of sports to the next level, since a winner will be crowned at the end. This weekend, the Washington International Piano Artists Competition, headquartered at George Washington University, offers piano lovers in Washington a taste of the Cliburn Competition experience: a chance to follow 17 competitors from the first round (from 10-6 today) through tomorrow's semi-finals to the finals on Sunday.

The extra twist of the WIPAC is that it's specifically for amateurs: competitors have to be at least 31 years old, and cannot be professional musicians or currently studying at a conservatory. A result is that love of music can trump the kind of nail-biting competitiveness seen at other competitions. The prize is a modest $1000 and the promise of a solo Washington concert; but another lure for contestants, win or lose, is the promise of master classes on Saturday and Sunday morning. It's enough to draw contestants from around the world, and support from local embassies; a host this year is the Cultural Institute of Mexico.

I've written before about the role of amateurs in the world of music. In the 18th and 19th centuries, composers expected that highly trained amateurs would play their works (which were only available in sheet-music form). In my experience, amateur competitions -- the Cliburn holds one regularly, as well -- spotlight an excitement and personal passion about music that's a reminder of why one loves it in the first place.

By Anne Midgette  |  July 23, 2010; 6:07 AM ET
Categories:  Washington , news  
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