Boulder piano student tapped for NYC competition

By Wes Blomster

Daily Camera

Boulder, CO

June 22, 2008


It’s a competition where everyone wins; there are no losers. “We downplay the whole idea of competitiveness,” says Melvin Stecher, who with Norman Horowitz, his duo-piano partner of 35 years, founded the New York Piano Competition in 2002.

“These kids have worked so hard; why eliminate some of them in every round of the program.

“Everybody stays with it to the end — for a full week — and, at the least, takes home a prize of $1,250.”

Among the “winners” in the fourth session of the semi-annual program is Leann Osterkamp, who just finished her junior year at Boulder High School.

Leann — daughter of Kaye and Jeff Osterkamp, of Boulder — leaves for New York today.

She is one of 22 finalists, selected from more than 100 pianists ages 14 to 18, who will be in the city for the competition.

“My mother heard about the program,” Leann says. “We put together a CD of half a dozen pieces and sent it off to New York with photos.”

The winner of numerous awards and prizes, Leann looks forward to the week at the Manhattan School of Music.

“I think competitions are good,” she says. “They put pressure on you to reach a level that you wouldn’t achieve otherwise.”

And she hasn’t been troubled by stage fright for years.

“That’s a stage,” she says, “and it’s now behind me.”

Leann, who is currently working on Tchaikovsky’s famous B Flat Concerto with Doris Lehnert, describes the New York program.

“The first two rounds are solo,” she says. “The second must include ‘Improvisation and Fugue,’ a new work by John Musto, commissioned for the competition.”

In the third round Leann plays the first movement of a concerto, accompanied by a second pianist.

“In the fourth and final round I playa work for piano, four hands,” she says. “Partners are chosen by lot when we arrive.”

An evening seminar with Musto is part of the week. “This gives us a chance to talk about his piece and find out what went into it,” she says.

“John is an outstanding composer, and this is a marvelous work,” Stecher says. “It will serve these kids well as an audition piece when they apply for college.”

Monetary awards total $40,000, and first- through fourth-place winners will be presented in full-evening recitals during the coming year.

“Participants will work individually with the judges,” Stecher says. “We see ourselves not as managers, but rather as mentors for these young artists.”

The pianists will learn about the importance of image, of the very way they walk on stage and how they dress.

“Many of them are naive kids,” Stecher says. “They don’t even think about having an encore ready in case they need one.”

Among the 2008 judges are pianists Ian Hobson, Tong-II Han, Andre-Michel Schub, Susan Starr and Jeffrey Swann.

At Boulder High, Leann is pianist in the chamber orchestra. Last year she performed Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the school’s larger symphonic ensemble.

She knows she will study music after high school but has not yet chosen between conservatory and university programs.

“I love to perform,” she says, “but I’m equally interested in music theory.”

And she also loves jazz — not just Bach and Beethoven.

Lehnert was not accepting new students when Kaye Osterkamp asked her to recommend a teacher for Leann.

“I told her that I’d listen to Leann, who was 8 at the time, and give her some advice,” Lehnert says.

“Then Ozzi said that if Leann was talented I should take her.”

(Doris and her violinist husband, Ozzi, are both members of the music faculty at the University of Colorado.)

Today Lehnert looks with surprise – and admiration — at the dedicated and devoted student Leann has become.

“She loves music more than even I can imagine!” Lehnert says. “She’s a full-time high-school student and yet she practices five hours a day.

“I couldn’t do that myself.”