Posts Live from Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Three Magnificent Performers

Posts Live from Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

Three Magnificent Performers

Hello from high in the Texas sky.

On day three of the Cliburn Competition finals, Russia’s Nikita Mndoyants surprised the audience with two original cadenzas in his performance of Mozart’s Concerto No. 20. On day four, Ukrainian Vadym Kholodenko went him one better by performing a cadenza that he composed during his nine-hour flight to Fort Worth. (I’m usually satisfied if I manage to finish the in-flight crossword and get a good nap.) His performance of one of Mozart’s happiest concertos (No. 21) was charming and beautifully nuanced.

It must have seemed like a wonderful dream for Japan’s 19-year-old Tomoki Sakata to perform Van Cliburn’s signature concerto, the Tchaikovsky No. 1 on the Bass Hall stage. Despite being occasionally at odds with the orchestra, it was a fine performance.

American Sean Chen closed the competition (and brought down the house) with the legendary Rachmaninov 3. His splendid performance brought me as close as I will ever get to truly enjoying this gargantuan virtuoso vehicle.

Following a two hour recess, the hall filled again for the awards ceremony. The house lights went dark for a beautifully edited tribute to Van Cliburn on the big screen over the stage. Grainy black and white footage of his 1958 performance at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow was intercut with still shots of his wild ride through stardom and a life of acclaim and personal grace. With no voice-over narration, just Cliburn’s own iconic performance, it was a perfect way to remember this great man, absent at the competition for the first time.

The six competitors were seated with family, close friends and their Fort Worth host “parents” in the first two rows of the hall. The space in front of the stage was filled with press photographers, each trying to anticipate which face would provide a great front-page shot.

Cliburn gold medalist Yadym Kholodenko, left, 26, of Ukraine, silver medalist Beatrice Rana, 20 of Italy and third place winner Sean Chen, 24, of The United States pose after the announcement of the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Sunday at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.. Photo by Carolyn Cruz/The Cliburn 

Sean Chen was awarded the crystal medal. He’s the first American to compete in the finals since Jon Nakamatsu won gold in 1997. (Not 1979. Sorry for the earlier typo.) Sean’s parents must finally be comfortable with his decision to go to Juilliard instead of to Harvard or MIT.

Elegant Beatrice Rana was the silver medalist. We enjoyed listening to her mother say it the Italian way: Bay-ah-TREE-chay. Both were radiantly happy.

When the gold medal went to Russia’s Vadym Kholodenko, the audience erupted with excitement. At the post-awards reception, there was universal agreement that the jury had chosen well

.All six lucky finalists win substantial cash awards ($50,000 to Mr. Kholodenko) and three years of concert tours managed by the Cliburn Organization. Audiences will be thrilled by any one of them.

As we left the hall, we overheard a fine Texas accent proclaim of the winners, “There isn’t a silver dollar’s difference between any of ‘em.” That is really the lesson learned in Fort Worth.


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