Every spring since 2006, Gavilan College’s music department has put on an annual Marian Filice Youth Piano Competition. Talented piano students travel from as far away as San Francisco to perform at the Gavilan College Theater on the main campus in Gilroy. This year, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition will be held online on March 6.
Ludmila Rivkin, a Russian immigrant and a piano teacher in Morgan Hill, said that the competition is organized every year by Gavilan instructors Maria Amirkhanian and Albert Marques. Though Rivkin declined an invitation to the first competition back in 2006, she sent some of her students the following year. Rivkin said she’s always been impressed by the organizers’ professionalism and the competitors’ skill.
“I don’t know any colleges which are running such a music festival during 15 years,” Rivkin said. “A huge achievement.”
Amirkhanian, herself a celebrated pianist, said the competition started off with local teachers featuring their students.
“With time it gained so much popularity that we have students coming up all the way from San Francisco,” she said. “And the level [of performance] goes up too, obviously.”
The competition will feature two categories of students: “junior,” for students in grades 5-8, and “senior,” for high school students. Within these categories the best “local contestant” will walk away with a small prize. There is also a best-in-show prize of $500 for a senior and $300 for a junior. Second- and third-place prizes will also be awarded.
Local contestants are considered to be individuals from within the tri-county “Gavilan Service Area,” which encompasses the cities of Aromas, Watsonville and Salinas, and San Benito and Santa Clara counties.
Caroline Askar, an 18-year-old student of Rivkin’s, never played in the competition, but she’s played in the post-competition festival, which was cancelled this year. Every year before the pandemic, an open festival was held after competitors were judged and prizes were awarded. Anyone can play piano in the festival, as Askar has for the past nine years and her sister Christina, 14, has for five years.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to learn the piano and play at music festivals, like the Marian Filice Music Festival, because they have given me a strong skill and passion for music, and encouraged me to pursue other instruments,” said Askar, who also plays the violin and the viola.
Rivkin expressed her “words of highest appreciation” to Amarkhanian and Marques, for organizing the competition and festival for over a decade. “They give me an opportunity to bring my students to the stage.”
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