New music competition showcases emerging pianists of color

There’s a new competition in town.

The Art of the Piano Festival is not happening this summer, but you can still experience plenty of pianistic talent, especially over the next few days.

Founded by Art of the Piano director and pianist Awadagin Pratt, the Nina Simone Piano Competition debuts here this week. A partnership between the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and the Sphinx Organization, this biennial competition is intended to showcase and provide opportunities for emerging classical pianists of color. Additionally, the competition aims to place more African American artists on concert stages in general, to commission new works, and to add more African American pianistic voices to the classical canon.

The initial rounds take place June 21-24 in Werner Recital Hall at CCM and admission is free.

On June 24, the jury will determine which three competitors will continue on to play in the Concerto Round with the CSO in October. The jury, if they wish, can select these finalists from both the Artists (18+) and Senior (under 18) Divisions.

In October, the three finalists will each play their concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony during a regular season concert.  A new jury will be listening and adjudicating, and at the end of the evening the winner will be announced.  The grand price winner earns $50,000, among other awards and benefits. Tickets are $10 for the concerto round.

Although known primarily throughout her career as a jazz singer, Nina Simone began her musical life as a classical pianist. Denied opportunties due to her race, she began playing jazz in clubs to make a living, changing her name to hide from her family the fact that she was playing what was considered “the devil’s music.” Also, she was told she would have to also sing as she played, and her vocal career was born. Simone frequently injected classical snippets into her arrangements, particularly the music of J.S. Bach.

Meet the competing artists.


  • Mikael Darmanie
  • Jeremy Jordan
  • Alexander Korsantia
  • Artina McCain
  • Stephen Prutsman


  • Bonnie Barrett, Yamaha
  • Aaron Dworkin, The Sphinx Organization
  • Yaron Kohlberg, Piano Cleveland
  • Jessie Montgomery, composer
  • Paul Shaw, University of Minnesota/performer
  • David Stull, San Francisco Conservatory of Music
  • Pierre van der Westhuizen, Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and Awards

*additional jury members still to be announced

Complete schedule and tickets

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