Final Round

Dr. Jose MendezDr. Jose Mendez

North Western University

Described as "an artist with a polished sound and tremendous constructive power" and hailed by the Hoja del Lunes de Madrid, as "the Spanish pianist of his generation," Jose Ramon Mendez is one of the most exciting Spanish pianists of today.

Recent performances include Chopin's first piano concerto with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra and Manuel de Falla's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" with the Nittany Valley Symphony, as well as numerous solo and chamber music performances in the United States, Europe, and Asia. His playing has been featured on WQXR's "Performance Today" and on Classical KMFA. He has been a guest performer at many music festivals, including Caramoor Festival, Barge Music Series, Festival Internacional de Piano de las Islas Canarias, Music at Penns Woods, Amalfi Coast International Music Festival, "Tocando el Cielo," Musica en Compostela, the Stony Brook International Piano Festival, and the Santander International Music Festival to name a few. As a chamber musician, Mendez has collaborated with such distinguished artists as Karl Leister, Itzhak Perlman, Michael Tree, Pascual Martinez-Nieto, and Pinchas Zukerman.

Mendez received his first music instruction from his father and by the age of seven was already performing on Spanish television and radio stations. He made his solo debut at the age of eleven at the Oviedo Philharmonic Society in Oviedo, Spain, the youngest performer ever to do so in the history of the society. He first gained international recognition when he performed Liszt's first piano concerto under the direction of Sergiu Commissiona at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Since then, he has concertized extensively in his native Spain, the United States, Italy, England, Portugal, Holland, and Japan to great acclaim. With his poetry, intellect, and masterful technique, he has been praised by critics and celebrated by audiences around the world.

At the age of 18, Mendez's success brought him to the United States, where he began his studies at Manhattan School of Music in New York City. He completed his Bachelors and Masters Degrees in piano performance with renowned pedagogue Solomon Mikowsky and went on to finish his Doctorate of Musical Arts under the tutelage of Byron Janis and Miyoko Lotto. During his stay in New York, he won top prizes in many international competitions, including Pilar Bayona International Piano Competition, Hilton Head Island International Piano Competition, Frederick Chopin Competition in New York, and Hermanos Guerrero International Piano Competition, among others.

Mendez's professional teaching career began in 1996, when he was invited to teach master classes at the Gijon School of Music. Since then, he has given master classes in numerous cities in Spain, including Lugo, Aviles, Valencia, Gijon, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, as well as in the United States at top music schools such as Oberlin Conservatory, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, and Columbus State University. Mendez also taught as assistant teacher to Miyoko Lotto at the Perlman Music Program, a program for gifted young musicians founded by the world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. Currently in the summers, he is the Artistic Director and on the faculty of the Gijon International Piano Festival in Gijon, Spain, as well as frequently being invited to perform and teach at various festivals.

For more information, visit his website

Dr. Carol LeoneDr. Carol Leone

Southern Methodist University

An SMU Meadows music faculty member since 1996, Carol Leone is nationally recognized as an artist-teacher of piano. Dr. Leone has performed and taught throughout the United States, Europe and Asia and has been a prizewinner in piano competitions such as the National Beethoven Sonata Competition, the Missouri Southern International Piano Competition and the International Masters Piano Competition. Her performances have been lauded as “revelatory” (, possessing “great pizzazz … luminous in tone and nimble fingerwork … ” (Dallas Morning News) and providing “every nuance with clarity and charm … ” (Peninsula Review).

Her professional training included study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where she received a Certificate and was a student of the Polish pianist Mieczysław Horszowski. Leone was also a student of Guido Agosti in Rome and holds the prestigious Honors Diploma from the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy.

Leone has recorded for MSR Classics, the Augusta Read Thomas Label, Gasparo Records and Crystal Records. Her solo CD Change of Keys was awarded two Silver Medals in the 2016 Global Music Awards. She performs regularly with the Grammy-nominated contemporary music ensemble Voices of Change as well as at universities and music conferences throughout the US.

Leone is also active in national and international keyboard festivals and conferences as a teacher, lecturer and adjudicator. She has been named Texas Music Teachers Association’s Collegiate Teacher of the Year and was one of 10 teachers selected nationwide to serve as Mobil Ambassador to the 9th Van Cliburn Competition. She has served on the piano faculty of numerous summer programs, including the Bösendorfer International Piano Academy in Vienna, the Cliburn Piano Institute, the International Fine Arts Institute in Moscow, the International Piano Master Class in Bojano, Italy and the Tong-Il Han International Music Festival in South Korea. Her students have been top prizewinners in international competitions such as the Virginia Waring, the Bradshaw and Buono, the Chopin Foundation Scholarship Program and the Center for Musical Excellence International Young Artist Awards.

Leone has presented at the Music Teachers National Association Conference, the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, the Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference, and the European Piano Teachers Association Conference (Czech Republic), among others. Her articles on performance topics have appeared in American Music Teacher, Clavier Companion, Piano Today, Keyboard Companion, The Texas Music Teacher, and the Piano Professional (UK).Considered the world’s leading artist-teacher on ergonomic piano keyboards to promote a pianist’s wellness, she has been invited to write on the topic by several of the world’s leading piano journals.

Dr. Leone is chair of the Department of Piano Studies at SMU.

Mr. Steven SpoonerDr. Steven Spooner

Peabody Institute

At the very forefront of American pianists, critics and audiences have unanimously hailed the distinctive and compelling performances of pianist Steven Spooner. “A pianist in the tradition that many believe died with the likes of Horowitz, Arrau, Bolet, Cziffra, and Wild. His talent, to my ears, is easily the equal of most major pianists of today and far superior to a large number of those “most exciting and dynamic pianists of their generation” (Fanfare). “Such a breadth and variety of difficult pieces made me wonder at first if this recording was a hoax. But, no, Steven Spooner is the real deal, a pianist of apparently limitless raw technique that’s almost note perfect.”(American Record Guide). Steven has been engaged at many of the world’s most prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Great Hall of the Liszt Academy (Budapest), Salle Cortot (Paris), and Shanghai Concert Hall, among many others as soloist with orchestra and recitalist. During the past seasons he has daringly reinvented the solo recital by allowing audiences to vote on the spot for one of several programs and like golden-age pianists, his concerts often feature his own compositions and virtuoso transcriptions.

Steven is a prizewinner at all seven international piano competitions he entered and top prizewinner at the Hilton Head International Piano Competition and First Prize and recipient of the Niekamp Career Grant as most outstanding pianist in French music at the Paris Conservatory. In 2008, he was awarded the Ivory Classics Foundation Prize that enabled him to study Liszt with the legendary virtuoso, Earl Wild. Following this, Steven underwent a period of serious self-study and emerged as one of the most comprehensively equipped pianists of our time embracing a gargantuan repertoire of solo works and concerti by a host of diverse composers.

Steven has released more than 30 recordings on Naxos, A Life of Music, and other record labels including a monumental project of 16 albums honoring his heroes called Dedications. His latest 10-volume recording project, Aspects of Liszt, exploring the many facets of the Liszt repertoire, will be released in 2022.

Steven Spooner is Professor of Piano at the Peabody Institute, and he has studied at the Tbilisi Conservatory, Moscow Conservatory, and Indiana University.

Spooner has served on the faculty of many of the most prestigious summer festivals and is increasingly in demand for his insightful masterclasses at leading conservatories across the globe.  He is Artistic Director of the Chicago International Competition and Festival and often serves on juries of international competitions. A dedicated and caring teacher of students from around the world, he has formed winners of multiple prizes at important international competitions. Steven Spooner is a Steinway Artist. Further info:

Preliminary Judges

Dr. Igor ResnianskiDr. Igor Resniaski

West Chester University

Formally trained in Russia and the USA Steinway Artist, Igor Resnianski, is a prize winner of numerous international piano competitions including the First Prize in New Orleans International Piano Competition, the Silver Medal in World Piano Competition, Bronze Medal in Nena Wideman International Piano Competition, Fifth Prize in the First China International Piano Competition, and the Second Prize In All-Russia Piano Competition Sodrujestvo. He extensively performed in Russia, USA, South America, China, Hong Kong, etc. His performances were televised and broadcasted in Russia and the USA including the PBS/WHYY Y-Arts television channel. Named 2016-2020 Top Teacher by Steinway and Sons and 2012 Teacher of the Year for the state of Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Music Teaches Association, Dr. Resnianski teaches master-classes in the USA and abroad judges local, state, national, and international piano competitions. His students were winners of many local, state, national, and international piano contests. They appeared with many orchestras including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Fort Worth Symphony. Since 2014 Dr. Resnianski is a director of the annual New Orleans Piano Institute. Dr. Resnianski is an Assistant Professor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania and also teaches at the Nelly Berman School of Music in Haverford PA.


Dr. Andrew BrownellDr. Andrew Brownell

University of Texas at Austin

Described by Musical Opinion as “potentially one of the most significant pianists of his generation”, Andrew Brownell won 2nd Prize at the 2006 Leeds Competition and 2nd Prize ex aequo at the 2002 International J.S. Bach Competition (Leipzig). Since winning 1st Prize at the 2005 J.N. Hummel Competition (Bratislava), he has achieved widespread recognition as “one of the foremost Hummel interpreters of our time” (Hudobný Život). 

Brownell’s performances have been seen and heard on BBC radio and television, Classic FM, NPR, CBC, ORF, and RBB KulturRadio. He has been soloist with orchestras such as the Hallé, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and Calgary Philharmonic.

An enthusiastic collaborative artist, Andrew Brownell has appeared in concertwith principals of orchestras such as the Philharmonia, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and Vienna Philharmonic. His teachers have included Nancy Weems, John Perry, and Joan Havill.

Dr. Kyra Xuerong ZhaoDr. Kyra Xuerong Zhao

New England Conservatory

Despite her youth, (Kyra) Xuerong Zhao has already staked her claim as an internationally renowned performing artist. Her performances draw wide attention for their combination of technique, power, and lyricism held together by an undeniable sense of music. Ms. Zhao has received praise from famous critics and musicians alike, including legendary artist, Martha Argerich. 

An active concert pianist, Ms. Zhao has performed as a soloist in many acclaimed concert halls and artistic centers around the world, including her debut solo recital in New York City’s Carnegie Hall presented by Columbia Promotions alongside the New York Eastern Chamber Orchestra. Other highlights include performing in Lincoln Center, Seiji Ozawa Hall, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood, Natick Center for the Arts, Steinway Concert Halls of New York and Beijing, Horvitz Auditorium in Florida, Benaroya Hall in Seattle, the German and Polish Consulates of New York, Sprague Hall at Yale University, the Algonquin Club in Boston, the Tsai Performance Center in Boston, and the National Concert Halls of Beijing and Guangzhou. She has been invited to be a guest artist at the Music & More Festival, the Atlantic Music Festival, the Mannes Year-Long Festival, and the Lancaster International Piano Festival, among others. In 2018, she was designated a Young Steinway Artist by the Steinway Society of San Juan, Puerto Rico, an honor she greatly treasures. 

Ms. Zhao has collaborated with some of the finest orchestras. Her concerto appearances include New York Claremont Chamber Symphony, Boston Orchestra Appassionata, Boston University Tanglewood Wind Ensembles, and Yale Symphony Orchestra. 

Her dazzling performances in world and international competitions from an early age to the present reveal the persistence of Ms. Zhao’s talent. Her list of prestigious awards includes top prizes at: “the 14th International Chopin Piano Competition” in Rome; “Five Towns International Piano Competition” in New York; Winner of the Mannes College School of Music Concerto Competition (after which she performed the Concerto No.2 in f minor, by Fryderyk Chopin); Bronze Medalist and Special Recognition for the “Best Performance of Chopin” at the “Third Seattle International Piano Competition”; and Grand Prize Winner at “The Richmond International Piano Competition” in Boston. Following her success at “the 14th International Chopin Piano Competition” in Rome, a DVD of her live recital concert was released by Tiantin Arts Publishing House in China. 

As an educator, Ms. Zhao is passionate about teaching. She believes strongly in developing the next generation of young musicians and feels it is essential for students, regardless of age or level, to get pleasure from their musical training and that discipline must be combined with enjoyment and motivation. Ms. Zhao has worked as a teaching assistant both at Yale University School of Music and Boston University College of Fine Arts. She is currently a piano faculty member at New England Conservatory’s Preparatory School and School of Continuing Education. She is also on the faculty at Powers Music School. Besides teaching, her work with students involves lecturing, masterclasses, judging competitions, and mentoring her own students to prepare them for the rigors of a career in music. 

Ms. Zhao holds a BM and MM in Piano Performance from Mannes College of Music, an Artist Diploma in Piano from Yale University School of Music, and a D.M.A in Piano Performance from Boston University.