Pierre van der Westhuizen of the International Piano Competition lives, works and plays (the piano) in Shaker.
By Jen Proe
Who: Pierre van der Westhuizen (pronounced fun der VEST-hi-zen).
Where: Lives in the Lomond neighborhood; works at the Tower East building in the Warrensville/Van Aken district.
Business: President and CEO of the Cleveland International Piano Competition.
Professional Mission: To bring to Cleveland the world’s best emerging pianists to compete, to celebrate their artistic excellence, to promote their careers, to inspire our community, and to further Northeast Ohio’s international friendships through music.
Personal Background: I grew up in the small town of Heidelberg, South Africa. Prior to moving here in 2011, I was on the music faculty at Heidelberg University in Germany. My wife Sophie and I also perform as a piano duo, and we started a piano concerto competition and keyboard festival at Heidelberg, Germany. And of course there is a Heidelberg University here in Ohio, so it seems like it was all meant to be.
I met Sophie when we were students at Northwest University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. On the first day of classes, I spotted her through the practice window and asked her professor if there were any duets we could play together. We have been together as a team ever since! We have three children: Jean-Pierre is five and attending kindergarten at Lomond; Emma is three, and baby Ian is six months old.
My wife teaches piano lessons out of our home, so our children think anyone who comes to the house can play the piano. Jean-Pierre has been playing for a few years, and Emma has just started. We’ll give Ian a bit more time.
What I Love About My Work: I love that the Cleveland Piano Competition is all about celebrating the art of piano. We’re one of the top three or four competitions in the world. It just sets the gold standard and serves as an inspiration for kids all over the world.
My goal is to get people from Cleveland excited about not just piano music, but music of all kinds, to engage people on an ongoing basis. As part of the last competition we presented “Play Me, I’m Yours” where we placed 25 public pianos throughout University Circle and invited people to play them. On the side of each piano was our logo and a QR code with a performance schedule to get people excited about the competition.
Where else in the country can you get 12 days of exquisite piano playing by some of the world’s best pianists day after day? Fans tune in from all over the world. To immerse yourself in that is such an incredible experience.
On Working and Living in Shaker Heights: What attracted us to Shaker is the way it was designed. It has more of a small town feel even though we are right next to the city and very much connected to all of the artistic and cultural vibrancy of Cleveland.
We recently relocated our offices to the Tower East building when our lease came up. I am very excited about Shaker’s new vision of work/live/play. You feel so much more connected to your community when you live and work here.
I’m definitely more of the European mindset of everything being within walking distance. And the neighborhood is phenomenal! I can walk to work, we can walk to the bakery at Lucy’s Sweet Surrender, to the butcher at the Fresh Market, or hop on the train to the Farmers Market at Shaker Square. We feel very privileged to be able to do that.
Contact: For a schedule of upcoming concerts and events, visit clevelandpiano.org.