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Mobile, Ala. (September 16, 2003)


MOBILE - The University of South Alabama will soon host several of the world's finest piano prodigies for a special concert promoting awareness and prevention of birth defects. The concert will feature three winning performers from the 2003 International Competition for Young Pianists in Memory of Vladimir Horowitz.

The performance will take place at USA's Laidlaw Performing Arts Center at 3 p.m., Oct. 11, and is sponsored by the University of South Alabama Children's and Women's Hospital, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and the Alabama Birth Defects Surveillance and Prevention Program. There is no admission charge, but seating must be reserved by calling 460-7366.

"This is a remarkable opportunity for our community to enjoy amazing performances by these gifted children," said University of South Alabama President Gordon Moulton. "Their dedication to their art and their dedication to birth defects awareness is inspiring."

"Caring for hurting children is at the heart of our mission," said Dr. Becky DeVillier, chief operating officer at USA Children's and Women's Hospital. "We are proud to have played a role in bringing these uniquely talented children to Mobile, and admire their desire to support other, less fortunate children."

The pairing of piano prodigies and birth defects awareness was the brainchild of medical geneticist Dr. Wladimir Wertelecki, professor and chairman of the department of medical genetics at USA. Wertelecki is also director of the Alabama Birth Defects Surveillance and Prevention Program and the Ukrainian-American Birth Defects Program, and Horowitz was a native of Ukraine.

"The event is a celebration," Wertelecki said. "We will celebrate the musical skills and dedication of these children inspired by Horowitz and we will celebrate the efforts underway to prevent birth defects."

According to Wertelecki, birth defects are the leading cause of infant deaths in the United States and Ukraine. But there is hope. "Scientific advances show that birth defects can be prevented, as demonstrated by folic acid supplements causing the reduction of spina bifida by 80 percent," Wertelecki said, adding that the Ukrainian-American Birth Defects Program would not exist without the support of the entire Alabama congressional delegation.

The Alabama Birth Defects Surveillance and Prevention Program based at USA links several state agencies and jointly enhances early intervention programs. "We have equipped genetic nurses in Montgomery and Dothan with digital cameras, laptops and technology that accepts clinical and photo data," Wertelecki said. "These nurses go to newborn nurseries and our medical geneticists can dialog online with medical care providers."

"We share the conviction that children have the human right to be born free from birth defects and disabilities we know how to prevent. In fact, more than 20 Alabama hospitals are participating voluntarily in birth defects surveillance, probably a unique feature in the United States and an index of the trust and dedication of many.

"Wertelecki is also using the Internet to raise worldwide awareness of birth defects. He created the International Birth Defects Information System, or IBIS (, as a worldwide information source.

"The IBIS offers access to information in many languages, including Ukrainian. It is virtually the only source of its kind, and facilitates telemedicine consultations," Wertelecki said. "Few Alabamians know about it because, fortunately, most people have children free from birth defects. This is why we celebrate with the concert and while celebrating we feel an obligation to help others less fortunate."

Vladimir Horowitz was born on Oct. 1, 1903, in Kiev, Ukraine, and was accepted to the Kiev Conservatory at the age of 12. The 1920s established him in the United States. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, his family and that of his father-in-law, renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini, left for America. Six years later, Horowitz became an American citizen.

Though he retired from giving concerts in 1953, his final recording, made in 1989, earned him a Grammy (his 15th) for best solo classical album. He continued playing up until his death in 1989 at the age of 86.

The Horowitz competition began in 1995 as a tribute to Horowitz, who was recognized that year by UNESCO and, in part, to develop cultural links between Ukraine and other countries by promoting Ukrainian and world classical piano music. Competitions have since taken place in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002 and this year. More than 450 young pianists from 26 countries have participated.

The most recent competition took place this spring in Kiev and was open to young pianists of all nationalities born between April 17, 1968 and April 17, 1994. Competitors are divided into three age categories: Senior Age Group, Intermediate Age Group and Junior Age Group.

Entrance requirements include submission of an approximately one-hour videotaped performance by the pianist of music chosen by the Horowitz organization.

The best performers are invited to play in Kiev at the final competition, where an international jury selects the top six winners in each age group.

More than 80 pianists from 17 countries competed this year, with 18 participants from Australia, Belarus, China, Japan, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine chosen as winners.

The competition's slogan - "We Champion the Prevention of Birth Defects" - recalls the 1986 Chernobyl power plant reactor meltdown that devastated Ukraine with clouds of radioactive dust, and reflects the decision to dedicate the competition to children with developmental disorders.

"We find that music is an international language and that children who are prodigies are wonderful ambassadors of good will," Wertelecki said. Pianists scheduled to play at USA are Oleksandr Chugay of Ukraine (Silver Medalist in the Intermediate Age Group), Rachel Wai Cheung of China (Gold Medalist of the Junior Age Group) and Tsimur Shcharbakou of Belarus (Silver Medalist of the Senior Age Group).

Cities on the Horowitz tour this year include New York, Atlanta, Paris, Geneva, Kiev and Moscow. "Having Mobile on the tour is an incredible coup," said Dr. Greg Gruner, chair of the music department at USA. "The University of South Alabama is honored to serve as the location, and the Laidlaw Performing Arts Center is a perfect venue for such an event."

Visit or call (251) 460-7366 for more information.
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University of South Alabama - Mobile Alabama 36688-0002 / 1 (251) 460-6101
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Last date changed: July 30, 2004 1:58 PM