The Cliburn July 9th, 2017

June 9, 2017. Yekwon Sunwoo from South Korea performs with conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra on Friday evening in the Final Round of The Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Ralph Lauer)

Last month I was lucky enough to travel to Fort Worth, Texas for the final round of the Cliburn Piano Competition. My sister Pat lives there, and has been involved with the Cliburn as a volunteer and supporter for many years. She generously bought tickets for us to attend four evening recitals featuring the six finalists in performances of chamber music with the Brentano String Quartet and concerti with the Fort Worth Symphony. We heard piano quintets by Dvorak, Brahms, and Franck, and concerti by Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev.

At this level of competition, and at this stage in the competition, technical mastery is a given. All the competitors play brilliantly, and none is discernibly “better” than another; to my mind, success is likely to be determined by the competitor’s attitude towards and rapport with the other performers, and their demonstrated level of confidence. Looked at this way, it was not difficult to predict that Yekwon Sunwoo of South Korea might win, and I look forward to hearing more about this remarkable young pianist. Runner-up Kenneth Broberg and bronze medallist Daniel Hsu (both Americans) were equally impressive and deserving. Hsu, notably, also received the prizes for best performance of the commissioned piece, as well as for best performance of chamber music… And I’ve just discovered–my god!–that he played the Chaconne in the quarter-final round, which I missed!

The Cliburn, under the leadership of CEO Jacques Marquis since 2013, has evolved into a highly accessible, two-and-a-half-week “festival” of performances, discussions and experiences around the competition itself, most of which are free of charge. And all the competition recitals are broadcast for free on a big screen in the recital hall at the McDavid studio, adjacent to Bass Hall, so one could, in theory, attend the entire competition and series of events without paying anything. We took in so many symposiums, master classes, and free informal lunchtime recitals (with competitors who had been eliminated from the competition) that I joked that ‘Cliburning” was a full-time job! And I loved every minute. Hats off to the jovial Marquis, who I’m sure deserves much of the credit for this.




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