Posts Live from Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Three Finalist, Three Concertos

Posts Live from Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

Three Finalist, Three Concertos

Something unique in my concert-going experience happened last night. Cliburn Competition finalist Nikita Mndoyants played his own cadenzas.

A cadenza is a virtuosic solo interlude inserted into a movement of a concerto, an opportunity toreally show off. In the good old days, when pianists were trained to do this, they often improvised elaborate cadenzas on the spot. Composers usually wrote cadenzas for their pieces and those the ones most frequently performed.

Mndoyants has degrees in both piano performance and composition from the Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory. The two cadenzas he wrote and performed last night probably flummoxed people who expected something that sounded like Mozart. Instead, Mndoyants took Mozart’s themes and spun permutations that explored keys and styles that would have surprised (maybe even delighted) young Amadeus. Mndoyants has once again signaled that he is an artist with a clear sense of who he is and will be. His performance of what Mozart wrote was, by the way, impeccably aristocratic.

China’s (and Juilliard’s) Fei-Fei Dong gave a fine performance of the Beethoven Concerto No. 4. She avoided some of the interpretive idiosyncrasies evident in her earlier performances. I found it easier to assess her playing if I avoided looking at the projections of her on the big screen hung over the stage. Her facial expressions seemed to convey that she was living through a big-time teenage crush on one Ludwig van Beethoven. She’s had crushes on Rachmaninov, Mozart and Chopin too.

Conductor Leonard Slatkin and Beatrice Rana, age 20 of Italy, take a bow after they played with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra during final rounds of the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth Saturday, June 8. Photo by Ralph Lauer/ The Cliburn

Beatrice Rana brought down the house with a splendid performance of the same concerto played by Mndoyants two nights earlier, the Prokofiev No.2. Her tempi were a little slower than Mndoyants’ and her reading of the first movement was particularly affecting. She benefited from a tighter performance by the Fort Worth Symphony. The orchestra’s “dress rehearsal” with Mndoyants may have benefited Rana. Her performance was exhilarating.

A few words about that big screen: cameras positioned all over the place, even in removable peep-holes in the stage shell, capture everything. We are treated to real-time views of the soloists’ hands on the keyboard, their faces from every angle, their backs as they muscle up to quadruple forte passages.

At first I thought that this video enhancement would drive me nuts but as the competition has progressed, I’ve learned to both ignore and enjoy it. Having that video view of the pianists’ hands is pretty cool and must be appreciated in particular by those dwelling with the gods.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction: video projection in our massive concert halls may become standard practice. The success of the Metropolitan Opera’s high-definition broadcasts signals a beginning. Those projections may soon appear on huge screens right in the hall where the performance is taking place just like at rock concerts, or maybe on little seat-back screens like the now ubiquitous and fully embraced subtitles. The Cliburn’s screen innovation may catch on as well.

We are off to hear the last three finalists: Kholodenko, Sakata and Chen. Medalists will be announced at 7p.m. I’ve got my favorites, but my heart is pulling for every one of these remarkable young artists.



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