5 Things to Know About The Van Cliburn — Part of the World’s Greatest Piano Competition

EEvery four years, more than 10 million viewers around the world tune in to a Fort Worth contest to see who will win a hundred thousand dollars — and more. It’s a different kind of sporting event – the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, back after a year of COVID delay with bigger fire (and bigger prizes) than ever.

To celebrate its 60th anniversary, 30 of the world’s most elite pianists traveled to Texas to celebrate the highest caliber of musical creation. To help make the two-week affair a little less daunting and more accessible for those who aren’t into the world of classical music, here are some tips for better understanding and navigating this. prestigious international piano competition, with the quarter-finals set to end this Monday, June 6, and the semi-finals from Wednesday, June 8 through Sunday, June 12 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

Tribute to a piano legend

The competition pays tribute to the Texan pianist Van Cliburn, who helped ease tensions during the Cold War by winning the first Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, which took place in Moscow at the height of Soviet and American tensions. Created to honor the transcendent spirit of this piano pioneer, “the Cliburn represents the quintessence of human effort towards the highest artistic and communicative command”, former competitor Amy Yang said. “Furthermore, for me, the opportunity to meet and speak with Van Cliburn himself, to hear from colleagues and to be supported by the gracious and massive network of supporters in 2009 formed a lasting memory. “

Yekwon Sunwoo was a gold medalist at the 15th Cliburn competition in 2017.

The Cliburn competition traditionally takes place every four years. The last one was in 2017 and COVID has pushed the 16th edition back a year until this summer.

Big prize

Competitors vie for some of the biggest prizes in classical music with $100,000 for gold, $50,000 for silver and $25,000 for bronze. It’s a 94% increase of the 2017 awards, which awarded $50,000 for gold, $25,000 for silver and $15,000 for bronze.

Equally important, these monetary rewards come with nearly priceless career management packages that include three years of concert bookings, artistic mentorship, media training, commercial recording releases and professional promotion.

In addition to the three medalists, pianists can also earn discretionary awards for performing certain pieces and monetary bonuses for reaching the final or semi-final. The public also plays a role. anyone can vote online to determine the winner of the $2,500 Carla and Kelly Thompson People’s Choice Award.

Cliburn’s four towers push pianists to the limit

The Cliburn takes place in four rounds: preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals. After each round is completed, the judging panel votes to advance a number of pianists, ultimately narrowing the field to six finalists who perform with the Fort Worth Symphony to determine the final medalists.

Candidate pianists choose what they play, except for a new solo piece written for the competition by juror Stephen Hough, which must be performed in the preliminary round.

One vote per jury

Nine respected pianists made up of the best performers and teachers at the time of each Van Cliburn Competition vote to determine who advances. Prohibited from discussing performances among themselves, these expert jurors use secret ballots to select which pianists they believe should advance to the next round.

The jurors are looking for “if you play music like your life depends on it,” Yang says. “To step onto this stage, you must embody the courage and inviolable right to face and speak your own quintessential truth.”

Preliminary round of Cliburn on June 3, 2022.
Jurors hang out before the next round of performances in the preliminary round of the sixteenth Cliburn International Piano Competition (Photo by Richard Rodriguez)

Listen with your heart

When listening to 30 world-class pianists in succession, the question arises of how to truly distinguish them from each other.

“Each competitor is at the highest level of technical achievement, which means judges listen to more subjective things such as interpretation, color – the variety of sounds a pianist produces – and charisma,” notes Jennifer Hayghea 1993 Cliburn competitor who is now an associate professor of piano at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Although paying attention to the intricacies of sound and time can help audiences, Hayghe suggests a different strategy. “As an audience member, I like to listen with my heart, to see which performances are the most moving,” she says.

The Cliburn contest is broadcast until June 18 on his website. Tickets to shows in Fort Worth are available here.