You are the owner of this article.

American Pianists Association 40th Anniversary Celebration

  • 0
  • 7 min to read

"Grand Encounters" showcases four decades of impact by the American Pianists Association, featuring six APA Awards winners representing each decade. 

The APA news release notes the most recent forays by the presenting pianists. "Drew Petersen (2017 winner) is known to Indianapolis for his riveting solo recitals and performances with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. Aaron Diehl (2011 winner) became the first jazz pianist to open the New York Philharmonic's season in 2017 and tours internationally. Thomas Rosenkranz (2003 winner), noted for performances of modern and international music, traveled as Cultural Ambassador on behalf of the United States Department of State. Lori Sims (1993 winner) has performed throughout America, Europe and China and is Professor of Piano at Western Michigan University. Jim Pryor (1992 winner) won the first jazz competition held by the American Pianists Association and has toured the world since. Jonathan Shames (1981 winner) won the organization's first competition and is now professor of Orchestral Conducting at the University of Oklahoma."

The program, in the Cook Theater, will open with Lori Sims playing Chopin's Polonaise in F#Minor. Jonathan Shames follows with Aaron Copland Piano Variations. Indianapolis-based pianist and musicologist Marianne Tobias joins Drew Petersen for Dvorak's Slavic Dances. Aaron Diehl closes the first half with selections he'll announce. The second act opens with Thomas Rosenkranz presenting Ligeti Etudes and his own Improvisations on a Theme by Beethoven. Jim Pryor shares his When Malindy Sings, along with Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz and Duke Ellington's Don't Get Around Much Anymore. Drew Peterson wraps up the concert with Debussy's Clair de lune and Fuga from Samuel Barber's Piano Sonata in E-flat Minor.

These APA 'Grand Encounters' presenters responded to NUVO's email interview touching on these topics: 

=APA develops a village of classical and jazz players, co-mingling genres and all who 'contest'- how has this sense of largesse affected you as a player, as a person?

=I [Kohn] have memories of moments that touched me, as I have been immersed in the rounds of playing in Indianapolis, and these moments remain transformative. Are there some such moments you each can share?

=What else for each of you personally and professionally, is unique to the APA experience?

Jonathan Shames 

At the time of my competing, American Pianists Association was the Beethoven Foundation, and limited to classical pianists, who were all asked to play- as you might imagine- Beethoven, exclusively. A very exciting prospect for me then- the chance to bring this repertoire to New York City, to play and hear others play, and to get a sense of where I stood, as well. I remember the winners concert in the WQXR concert hall, as we were interviewed as well as asked to play, and this was one of the first times I really felt in a larger world as a pianist- which was a little crazy as the class I was studying in at the time was loaded with terrific talents. But the experience was immensely broadening and most of all gave me some confidence as a performer; and it was with the foundation's financial help that I went then to the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, so these two competitions, my first ones, are for me closely linked. Later opportunities through the foundation to play in Indianapolis, at the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, in various other locales, were for a few years after that at the heart of my concert schedule.

There was an incredible and absolutely transformative tragedy that occurred in NY at the time of our competition, just a few blocks away from the Mayflower, where we all were staying, and that was the killing of John Lennon. Shattering, horrifying, and so close at hand, for all its horror, as to be unreal. Practicing Beethoven in the confines of the competition, and then this insane act that wrenched you out of whatever pocket you were in. A phenomenally powerful, communicative, idiosyncratic, fascinating musician and poet, murdered, just outside my window. Perhaps not what you were looking for with this question, but this was an enormous impression I brought back from the competition, this juxtaposing of art, life, and the potentialities of humans for both poetry and violence.

The Beethoven Fellowship was the first large competition I'd entered, and the boost it gave me was enormous. But it was many years after when I felt the scope of the American Pianists Association, though I'd followed its growth; this was when one of the opera students at the University of Oklahoma, where I currently direct the opera program, one of our prize-winners, a recipient of an OU Opera Fellowship, came back excitedly from Indianapolis, where she'd heard her friend Dan Tepfer win the American Pianists Awards in jazz, to say she'd unexpectedly seen my name on the list of past winners. I thought, how terrific, to be part of an organization that has found a way to celebrate jazz, Beethoven, a big part of the world of pianism really, and to be brought into that realization by one's own students, who are themselves about to conquer the world. 

Jim Pryor

 I entered the 1992 competition on a whim, never dreaming I would become the first jazz winner! Since that time, APA has become a real player in the jazz world, and I'm proud to be among its winners.

During the finals of the first jazz competition, the judges announced which jazz standard each finalist was to play, right then and there. I was comfortable with all the pieces on the list except one—Skylark—but I learned it two days before the finals. And, sure enough, they called out Skylark! Fortunately, it worked out well for me. I enjoyed being in Indianapolis, meeting jazz greats like Ramsey Lewis and David Baker (judges), and getting to know my fellow finalists. Performing in the Madam Walker Theatre was amazing, too.

Lori Sims

Competitions allow you to meet people under very intense circumstances: though in the moment it might be competitive, there is a universality to the experience that often lays the foundation for long term alliances. I remember Aileen James standing backstage before one round: she could see I was nervous and very maternally rubbed my tummy. It calmed me down! 

[The APA experience} was unique only to be with Americans; in general, we are much less competition crazy and cynical.

Thomas Rosenkranz 

Part of American Pianists Association's inspiration is that this organization always encouraged me to perform the music that I felt most connected to, no matter how off the beaten path it was. I was encouraged to take risks with my programs for the Awards and to simply be myself. This gave me confidence in what I was doing and since then this simple yet profound idea of performing the music that you love and believe in has been something that I have continued to pursue for all of these years since then. I'm thankful to American Pianists Association and Joel Harrison for believing in my musical vision when I was 25, and I'm grateful to still feel that support at the ripe age of 42!

Drew Petersen 

Indianapolis is an extremely fortunate city to have such a confluence of classical and jazz players. I have never ceased to be inspired by my colleagues on both sides, and will admit I have heard more phenomenal jazz pianists here in the last three years than even in my hometown of NYC! I know the Indianapolis community is so appreciative of this array of artists, as I always feel this largesse in the community whenever I perform. It inspires me to give more in my performances and in person, to take more artistic risks on stage and to make more special friends.

I have fond memories of every Indianapolis performance not the least because of the special energy I feel from the Indianapolis audience. But highlights for me involve work with colleagues. My two major chamber music performances: Franck Quintet with the Pacifica Quartet in 2017 American Pianists Awards Discovery Week, Schumann Quintet with the Indianapolis Quartet during my UIndy artist residency; as well as my most recent public performance in Indianapolis, the mammoth high-energy Rhapsody in Blue collaboration with Dance Kaleidoscope(!!) and Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. I took away many different impressions from each experience - especially with such varied repertoire - but from all I gained so much inspiration, energy, and new dimensions to familiar works.

APA is really a great big family. And that family extends far beyond Indianapolis. I have become accustomed to meeting winners and friends of APA in New York, Los Angeles, most recently even Sarasota, all over the country and the world. But everyone reflects on the importance APA, and its community holds in their careers and lives. And now, after several years have gone by since my first trip to Indy, with many other visits in between, I feel like I am coming home.

The APA backstory [gleaned by RK]

Forty-seven winners have been brought forward since this competition's beginnings in 1979 in New York City under the umbrella of the Beethoven Foundation, founded by the late pianist, conductor, comedian Victor Borge, Jasper, Ind.-native Tony Habig of Kimball International, and Julius Bloom, former general manager of Carnegie Hall. In 1982, the Beethoven Foundation moved its national headquarters to Indianapolis, with an office on the Butler University campus. Newspaper articles announcing the move generally noted that Borge and Habig' had ties to Indiana' but did not expand. Some Indianapolis residents still recall that Borge, in the 1970s, had been conducting with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, as part of the Romantic Music Festival with performances at Clowes Memorial Hall, and particularly was featured at the International Conference on Cities hosted by Indianapolis in May 1971, during the tenure of Richard Lugar as mayor.

It took a bit more digging to get a fuller picture about Jasper, Ind.-native Tony Habig, who was part of the Jasper-based family enterprise, Kimball International, with its own storied history entwined within a swath of jazz and classical piano personalities and piano construction, along with an intriguing WWII aircraft scenario. Scratch the surface of any music topic in Indiana and be prepared to spend days following that thin line along an amazing landscape, including the Oct. 2016, installation of a Phillip Payne sculpture in the Jasper Community Arts Center. "Beethoven: Feeling the Music" is worth a jaunt to Jasper. 

Indy Jazz Fest has linked with this scenario, but the APA connections run even deeper. You can start your own discoveries here:

Renamed as The American Pianists Association in 1989, with the addition of the jazz in 1992, the jazz competition was added. 

Watch NUVO for more in-depth APA 40th anniversary coverage 

Also see Anne Laker's column in NUVO, July 6, 2005:

Go now:

November 6, 7:30 pm; Grand Encounters with Drew Petersen, Aaron Diehl, Thomas Rosenkranz, Lori Sims, Jim Pryor and Jonathan Shames.

 Indiana Landmarks Center

1201 Central Avenue

Indianapolis, IN 46202

Get tickets here:

Learn more:

Click here, for a special video invitation to our 40th Anniversary concert.

go here for The Journey podcasts: growth stories and moving music by jazz and classical piano's next generation:

Up next for APA:

More unique concerts featuring a daring and dynamic collection of musical styles and approaches to the piano.


- Sunday November 17, 2019, at 3:30 pm

- Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center at University of Indianapolis

Featuring Frederic Rzewski's De Profundis and new interpretations of Sondheim classics.


- Sunday March 8, 2020, at 3:30 pm

- Indiana Landmarks Center

- Celebrating Beethoven's 250th birthday with two of his best-known

- piano sonatas.


- Sunday March 3, 2020, at 3:30 pm

- Trinity Episcopal Church

- Infusing Bach with jazz improvisation in the critically-acclaimed

- Goldberg Variations Variations.

Tickets for all here:

contributed free family friendly seniors accessible all ages sponsored
contributed family friendly for kids for teens seniors all ages date night sponsored

Writer Beer & Society

There is nothing that cannot be discussed and worked out over a beer. Join me as I explore local beer, breweries and how they can civilize us.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.










Society & Individual