Paris Hosts International Piano Festival For Outstanding Amateurs Wedging hours of practice into the demands of careers as doctors, lawyers or office workers, participants reach virtuosic heights.

Paris Hosts International Piano Festival For Outstanding Amateurs

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All right, let's hear now from some musicians who gather in Paris. These are artists who are engineers, psychiatrists, accountants or teachers by day. They're amateurs. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports on an amateur piano festival taking place. It is not a competition. It is a celebration of music.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Les Amateurs Virtuoses is one week filled with 10 concerts, six master classes and 27 artists from around the world who all have day jobs but love to play the piano.

JULEIN LOMBARDO: I am Julien Lombardo. I live in Paris. For me, it's a passion since I am 7 years old. The first time I'm listening to the third concerto of Chopin - and for me, it was wonderful. I have a feeling that something special happened. For me, the piano is - it's a way also to go very far away from your daily life.

BEARDSLEY: Dale Backus, from Colorado Springs, installs satellite systems for the Air Force. But today, he's playing Beethoven. Backus got a master's in music and engineering. He never thought he had the discipline to play professionally. And at one point, he even gave up music for a couple years. And then one day...

DALE BACKUS: And I heard the Brahms "Piano Concerto" come on. And I had performed that at University of Michigan in my master's. And I heard it on the radio. And I just started bawling my eyes out. I don't think it's a choice. I think it's more of a calling. You don't have a choice.


BEARDSLEY: Backus is getting instruction from professional Russian pianist Rena Shereshevskaya. These are known as master classes.

RENA SHERESHEVSKAYA: (Singing in French).

Yes, thank you very much.

(Singing in French)...

BEARDSLEY: The audience is riveted during the hour-long rigorous exchange that provides a window into an intricate world of music and emotion that most of us will never know.

SHERESHEVSKAYA: No, Beethoven, he hear out that it's...


JULIEN KURTZ: (Speaking French).

SHERESHEVSKAYA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Julien Kurtz, who is one of the founders of this festival, says the master classes erase the line between professional and amateur, which he doesn't think should be there anyway.

KURTZ: If you look at it in the etymological meaning, amateur means the one who loves. So that's what we mean when we say this word amateur, which unfortunately has, sometimes, a bad connotation. We mean it in a lover way. So that's what it is all about.

BEARDSLEY: Kurtz came up with the idea for the festival when competing in an international competition himself in Boston. He realized then there are lots of contests but nothing for the pure pleasure of playing. Many amateurs consider going professional at one point or another. But Kurtz says there are so many good pianists, there's not room for everyone, no matter how good you are.

KURTZ: And second problem is the harshness of the career. It's very difficult. You have to - you're under a lot of pressure all the time and - so that it's actually a lot more pleasant to be performing as an amateur just for the sake of playing.

BEARDSLEY: The festival of amateur virtuosi actually takes place twice a year - once in Paris and, recently, in Brazil, Russia, Argentina, Hungary and, this year, Germany. Participants must have reached the finals in an international competition.


BEARDSLEY: A Russian financial analyst and a computer software engineer are playing a duet from Prokofiev's "Cinderella" ballet. Polina Rendak says music and her career are complimentary.

POLINA RENDAK: Well, yeah, I'm happy that music stayed my hobby - maybe not a profession, but a hobby - because it really helps you distract from the world of numbers and this quantitative job.

BEARDSLEY: Rendak met her music and life partner, Mikhail Dubov, in 2011 in an extracurricular piano class while they were both studying in Moscow.

MIKHAIL DUBOV: Music making together is the most intimate form of communication. It's incredibly emotionally binding.

BEARDSLEY: Dubov says it's something really special, which is nearly impossible to describe with words. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.


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