The weather in Fort Worth has been one of many very pleasant surprises during the Cliburn Competition. The oppressive heat and humidity one expects at this time of year have been blessedly absent.
The Bass Performance Hall, however, maintains the arctic chill typical of every interior space in the city. No wonder the Cliburn’s back stage “mom” keeps a heating pad on hand, reportedly clutched like a teddy bear by the competitors before each performance.
The youngest Cliburn competitor, Tomoki Sakata (19), opened day two of the finals with a graceful and assured account of Mozart’s Concerto No. 20 in D minor. Sakata has not generated much buzz in the audience, but the judges clearly see great potential in his no-frills demeanor and elegant playing. He will be the only finalist performing Van Cliburn’s signature concerto, the Tchaikovsky No.1.
Sean Chen, the first American to make the finals since John Nakamatsu won gold in 1979, gave a magisterial account of the first movement of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. The second and third movements were, in turn, placidly lovely and playful. The performance was a pleasure to hear from beginning to end.
We have enjoyed visiting with Chen’s childhood teacher, Edward Francis. He introduced us to Sean over dessert at a party thrown for official guests at the Fort Worth Zoo. Sean is a very open and appealing young guy, qualities that are of a piece with his style at the piano.
After dessert they excused themselves because Sean wanted to see the zoo animals before dark. Edward Francis should take great pride in the part he has played in this young man’s life.
Vadym Kholodenko of Ukraine (oldest of the finalists at 26) closed the evening with a riveting account of the Prokofiev Concerto No. 3.
As in his semifinal performance of the Liszt Transcendental Etudes, his mind-bending technical gifts were on ample display. But this concerto allowed plenty of room and sonic variety for his more subtle gifts to emerge. This young man has a future. If encores were allowed, the audience would have demanded one.
Up next: Nikita Mndoyants (Russia) playing Mozart, Fei-Fei Dong (China) playing Beethoven and Beatrice Rana (Italy) will finish the evening with Prokofiev.