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Wimbledon International Piano Competition 2018: founder Dr Sally Wave’s grand project

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Sally Wave and Fadi Hanna.

Wimbledon International Piano Competition 2018: founder Dr Sally Wave’s grand project

By James Brewer

Wimbledon is about to host an inaugural event which should bond classical music to the London locality’s repertoire of renown as firmly as does its famous tennis tournament.

Excitement is building for the launch on June 23, 2018, of Wimbledon International Piano Competition, which will culminate in a concert by the winners the following day. It is set to be as important to its participants as success will be to the players in the All England Lawn Tennis Club championships the following month.

Sally in concert gown

The prestigious piano contest has aroused considerable interest at home and abroad and will be inclusive of all levels of competence and excellence.

Instigators of the competition are the brilliant pianist and educator Sally Wave, and piano impresario Fadi Hanna who supports concerts and runs one of the few traditional businesses in the London area specialising in sales, service, restoration and care of top makes of piano.

“Our love for music and specifically the piano has inspired us to host this international piano competition,” said the two coordinators.

“This will be a unique opportunity for amateurs to enjoy themselves and share their passion for music with others in a fun, relaxed and non-professional environment.”

Sally Wave: perfect pitch for Wimbledon.

Dr Sally Wave is founder and musical director of the festival, and Fadi Hanna is head of organisation. They exude a dynamic and infectious enthusiasm for their project and for all things “piano.”

Intense work is going into setting up the competition, which remains open for further sponsors.

Sally Wave is the artistic pseudonym of Bulgarian-born Savelina Kancheva. Her friends began to call her Sally while at university, and her adopted surname is homage to the white waves that caress the shore near her childhood home in the city of Bourgas.

She spoke to us of her vision for a more inclusive and welcoming style of event than that of many contests in the musical field.

A Hanna & Sons pianos, Wimbledon.

She said: “I grew up in this way, going to many competitions. After each competition there is one disappointed child that did very well and did not get the reward – maybe more – and they are so sad because they have spent a great deal of time to prepare.

“The goal of this competition is that if people are doing really well we should like to encourage them, to make them happy that they are doing well, to give a prize even if not the first prize. With everyone you can always find two notes that could be better.”

The structure is for nine graded categories, and one non-competitive solo and one non-competitive duet, the last two “for people who are afraid to compete.”

Violinist Joy Tedford.

Dr Sally Wave – she has a PhD in Music and Musical Culture awarded for her thesis in 2008 entitled Mendelssohn’s Clavier Sonatas – will adjudicate together with the mentors Yukiko Shinohara and Ken Virgin.

In her stage performance, Sally is acclaimed for her rapturous interpretations of compositions from the baroque to the contemporary. Her captivating presence is filled with grace as she pours utter concentration into the work at hand, enthralling her every audience. Her dedication is an outstanding asset in attracting participants and fellow leading musicians to her new venture.

Among her notable appearances was a spellbinding, heartfelt performance at The Colour House, a theatre in the Merton Abbey Mills complex so named because it was where Arthur Liberty mixed dyes for silk printing. Sally’s memorable evening there in January 2016 was appropriately chromatic – that is, chromatic only in the sense of being highly coloured – for as she played the 24 Preludes Op 11 by Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915), projectors diffused subtle hues onto her hands and keyboard.  Each of the 24 preludes was lit by a colour tone, starting with red at C major, until the final D minor some 40 minutes later. Moreover, the preludes were interspersed with poems she had composed, read out by John Hawks, organiser of the Music Among Friends series. Extracts from that performance, and Sally’s moving renditions of other short pieces can be seen and heard on her website www.sallywave.com.

Since discovering as a gifted student Scriabin’s preludes, Sally has been fascinated by his approach to the perceived relationship between colour and musical timbre. Scriabin, who even designed a clavier à lumières (keyboard with lights) might have been intrigued to see a modern virtuoso in London illuminating the theme.

Cellist Petia Kassarova.

Yukiko Shinohara was born in Ibaraki, a prefecture northeast of Tokyo near the Pacific Ocean.  She studied at Tokyo Metropolitan Senior High School for Fine Arts and Music and received her Batchelor of Music degree from Goldsmith’s College, University of London. She went on to Trinity College of Music where she gained a Master of Music degree and postgraduate certificate in advanced performance. She is on the staff as an accompanist at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, which is based at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Ken Virgin, a Master of Arts of the University of Oxford, has taught pupils for many years at all grade levels and ages, and has a teaching qualification with excellence from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. Ken has worked with Sally in chamber music projects and is involved in a piano trio collaboration with students at Trinity Laban.

The top three in the Wimbledon competition categories will play in the winners’ concert on Sunday June 24, from 16.00 to 18.00 hrs, when trophies and medals will be presented. The competition stages and the concert will take place at Pelham Primary School, Southey Road, Wimbledon, London SW19.

A further incentive is that the three most distinguished performers from all categories will play a single piece at a special event, Music for the Soul, on July 20 at Holy Trinity Church, 234 The Broadway, SW19.

Music for the Soul will feature Trio Bourgas, which is the fruit of a remarkable reunion of three women musicians who grew up in the Black Sea city after which their new collaboration is named. They are Sally Wave (known in her younger days as Savelina Kancheva), Petia Kassarova and Joy Tedford.

Trio Bourgas “grew out of the sand grains on this mesmerising bay [of Bourgas],” say the members of the trio. They were same-year students at the local music school and performed together winning numerous awards. They continued to play music together after graduating, continuing at the National Music Academy in Sofia.

During later independent, professional development, they lost touch. Petia and Joy moved to America, while Sally remained on the Old Continent. Eventually they caught up, in 2016 in their native city, and longed to perform together again.

Their programme note says: “When love for music is the foundation stone of a friendship, this friendship lasts forever, because those who have played music together have irrevocably entwined their souls. And that is why the three ‘seaside girls,’ [as they refer to themselves light-heartedly], will perform at the first of a series of European and American concerts.”

Encore! Sally at a Blüthner piano.

Their Wimbledon concert will represent a “stroll along an ancient seaside. As we walk, we listen to the songs of the waves. They sing of the centuries-old history of this land. A land enriched by diverse and rich cultures since approximately the sixth century BC. First Thracian, then Persian, later Byzantine, and by the eighth century AD Bulgarian communities called this land home.”

Joy Tedford (violin), who lives in Texas, said: “It’s been a long journey from where we started so many years ago to where we are now. It’s been a long and winding road… just like Beatles song says. The Beatles were the favourite band for Sally and me when we were growing up.

“Life took each one of us on a wild journey, but we are back again. What a blessing to be able to make music again with my dear friends Sally and Petia. We have so many memories together. We have shared truly emotional and special moments in the past and to have the opportunity to do what we love again together is very special.

“How have we grown as musicians during those years apart? What do we have to bring to the table now? What wisdom, insight and depth do we have to share with each other? Those are questions I can’t wait to experience the answers to. The programme we have selected for this concert is unique. It represents part of who we are. The depth of life! The philosophy of it, the pain, the tough questions, the melancholy, but also the joy, the love, the passion and the memory of our roots which we can never forget as we finish our concert with a Bulgarian composer.

“It will be an emotional experience for all of us and being able to share this with our audience will make this concert truly memorable.”

From New York, Petia Kassarova (cello) added: “Meeting with my dear friends Joy and Sally after all these years, sharing the love of the music and the prospect of performing in this beautiful church, makes me very happy and excited. I am looking forward to experiencing the happiness of our reunion and the creativity of our collaboration.”

The three musicians conferred for a month or more to select the most appropriate works for the event. Because they had waited so long to get together again, they took minute care over the programme and the order of the pieces. The first half of the concert will be of a philosophical nature, the second more relaxing. It will begin with Mozart and Saint-Saens, then move to Rachmaninov, Dvořák and the Argentine ‘nuevo tango’ maestro Astor Piazzola. The finale will be an extract from the Thracian Dances symphonic suite by the blind Bulgarian composer Petko Staynov (1896-1977), adapted for piano trio. The suite has been described by the Union of Bulgarian Composers as “emblematic of Bulgarian music.”

In this imaginary stroll along the Black Sea shore, reads the note, “soon we find ourselves at the Bay of Bourgas. Today the city of Bourgas evinces a rich cultural tradition and is a birthplace to many illustrious poets, musicians and artists. Bourgas is a favourite venue for musical festivals in the summer.”

Established in 1960, A Hanna & Sons Pianos is a second-generation, family-run piano showroom and workshop at 94 Kingston Road SW19. The owner, Fadi Hanna, learnt his trade working for 15 years with his father who established the business in 1960 in Lebanon.

In 1987 Fadi moved to London to complete a piano tuning and restoration course and piano technology course and three years later established his shop in Wimbledon, and among other assignments began tuning pianos at local schools. In 1992 his brother Chucri joined him in London to look after the technical and tuning side of the business.

The Hanna brothers have been involved in local cultural life from the beginning, and at one time, Fadi was treasurer of Merton Arts Council. Some years back, Fadi tried to involve local schools in competitions, but the response was patchy, “so I left the idea behind.  When Sally came in last year and we started talking about it, the notion was reborn. We want to have a first-class event, and we chose the name Wimbledon for the competition as it is distinct and known all over the world for its association with tennis.”

Sally composed classical-style music as a child, and “nowadays I rarely improvise” but she does write verse as she sees music and poetry as complementary. After she moved to the UK she focused on solo and chamber performance and taught at the Tchaikovsky Music Academy London, Blüthner Piano Centre and A Hanna & Sons studio.

She is a devotee of Beethoven (notably the third and fifth piano concertos which make her feel “as if water flows into me when I stand at the edge of the sea”) and Rachmaninov (especially the second piano concerto), and many others including Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert and Liszt.

Among Bulgarian composers, she admires Vesselin Stoyanov (1902-1969), noted for his large-scale instrumental pieces, Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978), and for his beautiful preludes Svetoslav Obretenov (1909-55).

Sally is writing a book which will offer students a novel method of learning the fundamentals: scales and arpeggios. She said: “While students find it relatively easy to learn a single scale, they can find it boring to memorise up to nine scales. They are getting ‘lost in the woods’ and start mixing up the keys and the fingering for each scale. That means that in the next lesson we have to start again from the beginning.  I have devised a way of helping people practise the whole way through.”

Mr Hanna’s range includes Yamaha, Cavendish, Steinbach, Ritmüller, Bentley, Steinhöven and Kayserburg pianos.

He admits that in the era of electronic gadgets, it can be a struggle to educate children and families about the piano, yet the piano is central to the musical world – for instance, from the piano, other instruments are tuned. Manufacturers are worried about the future because of the advent of the digital piano.

A musical cup of coffee at Hanna Pianos.

He warned of false economy – “if people are buying something cheap from the mass market and children are starting to identify that with piano, I cannot even call it piano – if you want to let a child learn about the spirit of the piano, you need to buy quality. First buy him or her something better, not the other way around in which case they are not going to continue their studies on something that has nothing in common with a piano, is not close to the magic of the piano.”

He deplored that “people are buying expensive mobile phones and computers, yet some want to acquire a piano for £50, and that means you are helping your child to give up. When you are buying a car, you go for the best car, so you should go for high quality sound in a piano, and something that will last for 150 years, for the next five generations – your children, grand-children and great grandchildren.  If you are worried about the cost, you can hire a decent piano for six months or a year.”

Mr Hanna reiterated: “We want to encourage kids to take up the piano. The best students are studying music and the best of all are studying the keyboard and therefore co-ordinating both sides of the brain. Research has shown that such scholars tend to achieve excellent results all round in their studies.”

For more information on the competition, visit:


Tickets for Music for the Soul are available from:


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