[The founders] believed that the coming generation of performers needed to be able to both speak about and play their music convincingly in order to deepen the audience experience and, ultimately, build audiences for classical music.


PianoArts presented its first competition in 1999 to identify, showcase, and guide young pianists at a turning point in their artistic lives. But the seeds for the organization were planted in 1994, when a group of professional musicians met to discuss changing audiences for classical music and the preparation of young musicians for these audiences. They believed that the coming generation must be able to both speak about and play their music convincingly in order to deepen the musical experience and, ultimately, build audiences for classical music. They were concerned about the lack of collaboration between pianists and orchestral musicians and believed that performing professionals are responsible for helping young musicians prepare for music careers.

These seven visionaries –– Sue Medford, then director of education for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Gretta Assaly, founder and director of Children’s Theatre School, Inc.; Audrey Baird, then director of Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Group Sales and Audience Relations; Lee Dougherty, pianist and vocalist, and now founded and artistic director of the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota; Stefanie Jacob, pianist, Prometheus Trio pianist and faculty at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music faculty; Judit Jaimes, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee now retired professor of piano; and Wilanna Kalkhof, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra pianist, created a competition that has since been instrumental in the growth of amazing young talent. When conductor and pianist Andrews Sill joined the group in 1997, plans for the first national competition began to take shape.

The flagship program of PianoArts is the biennial North American Piano Competition for all pianists, ages 16-20, living or studying in North America. Throughout the competition week, ten competitors, selected as PianoArtists, will rehearse, perform with, and get to know professionals from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Prior to competing, the ten PianoArtists also have sessions on stage direction, speaking about music, and how to rehearse with the conductor.

As an outgrowth of the North American competition, year-round programs that enrich the experiences for the PianoArtists and the community have been added. Currently, PianoArts offers:

  • A music festival concurrent with the competition
  • Fellowships for PianoArts North American competition winners that prepare them to teach and perform for diverse audiences, and develop skills in advocacy and leadership
  • Music education programs for children, grades three through twelve that include Student-to-Student, Music Explorers, Youth Concerts
  • Family neighborhood concerts
  • The Wisconsin Youth Piano Competition, a collaboration with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, open to pianists ages 10-16
  • PianoArts Signature Events, an annual concert series performed by distinguished, internationally acclaimed pianists