We arrived Saturday, but the competition really began over a year ago when pianists from around the world submitted exhaustive written applications to the Cliburn Organization. Screening auditions in Hong Kong, Moscow, Hannover, Milan, New York and Fort Worth eliminated all but 30 of the original 167 applicants.
The 24 men and six women invited to compete in Fort Worth come from the United States, Italy, Russia, China, Ukraine, Australia, France, Poland, Taiwan, Chile, Japan and South Korea.
The preliminary round took place last week. Each of the competitors played two 45-minute recitals with repertoire of their own choosing. While still in Los Alamos, I was able to watch bits and pieces of that round streaming live on the Cliburn’s website. (You can do that too, as the competition progresses.) That wasn’t nearly enough to get a complete sense of the field, but enough to know that the level of playing is very high indeed. These are impressive artists, each with major career potential.
The judges announced the names of the 12 semifinalists on Thursday. Russia tops the list with four semifinalists. The US and Italy are each represented by two, with one each from Japan, Ukraine, China, and Australia. The youngest pianist is 19 and the oldest squeaks in under the age limit at 30.
In the semifinals this week, each competitor will play a 60-minute recital — any pieces that they think will show them to best advantage — and a piano quintet by Schumann, Dvorak, Brahms or Cesar Franck.
A piano quintet isn’t a piece for 5 pianos, but a long, multi-movement work for piano and string quartet. The quartet chosen to play with the competitors this year is the Brentano, a splendid ensemble that we need to consider for the Los Alamos Concert Association Concert Series sometime soon.
Each competitor has a single rehearsal with the Brentano prior to performing. The performance is, then, a great way to assess the pianist’s ability to communicate and blend with collaborators.
I’ll tell you more about the competitors as the semis unfold, but of the six that we heard yesterday, I’m currently smitten with one of the Russians, Nikita Mndoyants. My fickle heart may change, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to announce my current favorite.
If you would like to watch the live feed from the competition or want to read about the competitors, go to www.cliburn.org.