Classical Music World: Notes From Cliburn 4

Bass Performance Hall Dome: Cliburn competitors’ view of the Bass Performance Hall when they take the stage. Courtesy photo

Bass Performance Hall exterior: Bass Performance Hall in downtown Fort Worth. Courtesy photo


Musical Director
Los Alamos Concert Association

The Cliburn Competition is blessed with a beautiful venue, the Bass Performance Hall. We had a chance to see the hall from the competitor’s point of view during a tour Saturday morning. 

Built in 1998, the hall is modeled along classic European opera house lines, a somewhat unusual design decision given the international trend toward ultra-modern venues designed to knock the socks off architecture critics and tourists.

Our tour of the backstage area was enlivened by amusing commentary from Alex McDonald, a Cliburn competitor from 2013. Two extra-large green rooms have double doors allowing each to have a Steinway grand slipped inside for pre-performance warm up. Alex informed us that the private “facilities” in those green rooms are much appreciated by competitors as the Cliburn Competition is “a very effective laxative.”  

Bass angels: Two forty-foot angels playing herald trumpets grace the façade of the Bass Performance Hall. Courtesy photo

The Bass is not only lovely to look at and comfortable, but also possessed of excellent acoustics. A Cliburn jury member, Finnish pianist Erik Tawaststjerna, told me at lunch earlier this week that he was originally convinced that the sound in the hall must be electronically enhanced but was assured that it is not. Those big Steinways sound splendid.

After our morning tour, we heard four more semi-finalists play their 60-minute recitals.

Afternoon performances by Yutong Sun of China and Honggi Kim of South Korea, were not likely to propel either gentlemen to the finals. I never imagined that I could actually drift off during a performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, but I did.

Moscow native Yury Favorin’s rendition of the “Hammerklavier” sonata later that evening was so idiosyncratic that I often had difficulty remembering that it was actually composed by Beethoven. He also made the upper register of the Steinway sound harsh and tinny.

Fortunately, the evening came to a close with beautiful playing by another Russian, Georgy Tchaidze. He opened his 60 minutes with a silky-smooth performance of Schumann’s Waldszenen. Those harsh and tinny high notes completely disappeared. Interesting how two pianists can make what is essentially a mechanical percussion instrument sound so different!  His interpretation of Pictures at an Exhibition (one of three scheduled for the semi-finals) not only kept me awake, but brought the audience to its feet. 

We have now heard half of the semi-final recitals and I have my favorites: Daniel Hsu (USA), Dasol Kim (South Korea), and Georgy Tchaidze (Russia). They still have Mozart concertos to play and Mozart can be revealing. And who knows what those jurors are thinking!

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