Christopher Richardson.

For many years, the Waring International Piano Competition has brought competitors from all around the world to showcase their concert piano skills in the Coachella Valley every two years.

The competition looks a little different now in 2022—yet the mission remains the same.

Now named the Palm Springs International Piano Competition (PSIPC), the event’s most recent iteration wrapped in late April. With the name change comes a new desire to expand—and that includes a special performance by three-time competition winner Christopher Richardson. He’ll be performing Music Potpourri, an evening of classical piano, jazz and more, at the CVRep Playhouse on Thursday, Aug. 4.

During a recent phone interview with PSIPC board president Joe Giarrusso, he talked about the history of the competition.

“It started almost 20 years ago, and Virginia Waring, Fred Waring’s wife, was one of the consummate piano performers in the world,” said Giarrusso, who a classical music composer and pianist himself. “They lived in the desert, and met with Peggy Cravens, who’s the (chairman of the board) now of the Palm Springs International Piano Competition. They decided to, every other year, have a piano competition in the valley. One year is for the youngsters, very young, up to 17, and then 18 to 30 is the next (competition in two years). This competition has been going on since then, and brings a lot of people from all around the world into the valley.”

The McCallum Theatre hosted the final competition using the Waring name in April. Giarrusso explained why they decided to change the name.

“We want to get more youth involved,” Giarrusso said. “We decided, because of the name that Palm Springs has, that we would change it. Because Fred Waring’s gone, it would probably be the branding of Palm Springs that would have more of a draw. It was purely a branding reason that the board decided unanimously to change the name to the PSIPC.”

The competition itself is rather rigorous.

“There’s five days of strictly performing and competing, no charge,” he said. “Even though the competitors are playing the same piece, the people who come in to watch enjoy classical music, and they’re watching these wonderful children and wonderful adults play. The final night of the solos, there’s a $35 (admission) charge for the actual competition, and that night, the judges vote on first prize, second prize and third prize. Also, during those five days, one pianist is playing the part that the whole orchestra would play, and it’s a concerto, so they’ve got the competitor playing the piano part, one pianist playing the orchestra part, and then they compete and have the three finalists. The final night is the concerto with a full orchestra and the three competitors playing a concerto.”

Giarrusso credited much of the competition’s success to executive director Ann Greer.

“She just keeps on top of how to get kids interested, and puts the name out two years ahead of the competition itself,” said Giarrusso. “We go into the publications so kids who are trying to do competitions will know, ‘Oh, there’s Palm Springs; oh, there’s Cleveland.’ Doing that keeps our name in front of the competitors. Even this year, the competition was phenomenal, where the winner won not just the solo, but he also won the concerto at the McCallum Theatre concerto finals.”

Giarrusso promised that Christopher Richardson would “dazzle” the audience on Aug. 4. He’s a three-time Waring winner: He was the second-place Concerto winner in the 2022 senior division; he won the Waring Bayless Performance Prize in 2015; and he was the second-place Concerto winner in the 2011 junior division. This concert will offer a taste of the events to come under the PSIPC umbrella, Giarrusso said.

“I was president of CVRep for seven years, so I met with the new executive director, and I said, ‘We’d like to be a part of your Theatre Thursday series,’ so we’re doing a joint thing,” said Giarrusso. “We’re also going to do more education, and Ann is going to lead the education division. We’re hoping to close something in November that is going to be the big announcement of PSIPC with more than just classical piano. We’re going to hopefully have a jazz singer and pianist, as well as somebody who does Broadway.

“In December, I’m doing a concert of my music with piano, cello, French horn and violin. … Our big thing, which made the Waring very popular, is this thing called ‘Three Pianos Six Hands.’ We’ve done that for a number of years, filling the McCallum Theatre, and it’s just so much fun, because you’ve got these three performers playing three pianos. It’s a really exciting event that’s going to be in March. What we’re trying to do is broaden the scope of music—but still the emphasis is the competition, because that’s what we do every two years.”

Palm Springs International Piano Competition Presents Christopher Richardson at 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 4, at the CVRep Playhouse, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Cathedral City. Tickets are $35. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit CVRep.org.

Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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