Classical Music World: Notes From Cliburn 8

Artistic Director
Los Alamos Concert Association

Los Alamos Concert Association Board member and friend Dorothy Amsden asked me what happens to the competitors in the Cliburn Competition who are eliminated at the end of each round. “Do they remain for the rest of the competition or do they return home, tail between the legs, poor things?” she wondered.

While there must certainly be some tremendous disappointment, these pianists are not neophytes. Most have been through multiple competitions and are likely braced for not just the possibility, but the likelihood of rejection.

During our concert-free day after the semi-finals, we attended a dinner at the Fort Worth Zoo, an event for Cliburn guests and volunteers that included surprise appearances by an owl, an alligator, a large lizard and a tropical porcupine. There were also a number of eliminated competitors in attendance with their host families. They clearly enjoyed enthusiastic feedback from fans and attention from the press. They looked relaxed.

The next day, five competitors, all of whom were eliminated before the semi-finals, played a noon recital and seemed happy to be there.

I’m sure some competitors have left Fort Worth, but why? All undoubtedly cleared, long ago, their calendars through the end of this week on the off chance that they might make the finals. They are doted on by their adoring host families and certainly deserve a little vacation.

In addition, no competitor leaves Fort Worth empty handed. All who do not advance after the preliminary round receive $1,000 cash awards. Those not advancing after the quarter finals leave with $2,500 and semi-finalists not advancing go home with $5,000. Cash for struggling artists can provide considerable pain relief!

Many of you will remember a wonderful performance in Los Alamos last spring by clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu, the only American (so far!) to win a Cliburn gold medal. Ten years ago, Nakamatsu was asked to speak to the losers of the other big Cliburn Competition, the competition for amateur pianists. Anyone who has ever lost a competition, bombed a job interview, lost a big game or blown a big test should hear what he has to say. Please watch the video of this talk now and then insist that your children and grandchildren watch it as well. The video quality isn’t the best but the message is priceless and will make you feel so good! Here is the link to YouTube: