Thursday, 22 January 2009


Director: Robert Elfstrom
Presenter: André Watts (“Live”) / John Giordano (Documentary)
Conductor: Leon Fleisher

What happened: The Russians boycott the competition, so American pianists make up five of the six finalists. Never again.


Also ran: Panayis Lyras (USA), Santiago Rodriguez (USA), Jeffrey Kahane (USA), Christopher O’Riley (USA), Daming Zhu (China), Barry Douglas (Ireland), Kathryn Selby (Australia).

Narrative techniques:
The programme combines a “live” telecast of the prize-giving ceremony with a documentary of the competition delivered in three parts. Ends with a short solo recital by André Michel Schub.

Montage: None

Best quote:
1. “Behind the soft spoken exterior does in fact lurk a maniacal competitor,” Jeffrey Kahane describes himself.
2. “I think I’ve lost about 8 pounds since I’ve been here. I’ve seen my face change from no lines to quite a few lines. My forehands are sore. I noticed I’m getting extra calluses in my fingers. And this will be my last, winner or not win.” Santiago Rodriguez (left) on the competition experience.

Worst quote:
1. “I always call my wife after I play. She’s always dying. She’s always sitting by the telephone telling me she couldn’t sleep or eat, which is not true. She eats very well and sleeps very well,” Santiago Rodriguez again.

John Giordano says: "For those who were not selected, remember this is a subjective decision by eleven fallible people.”

Best moments:

1. Santiago Rodriguez in conversation and at work (the ending to Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka, for example), surely the most dramatic of all pianists. Just look at the intensity in his eyes.

2. André Michel Schub’s sweaty final recital of Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau and two Liszt Paganini Etudes.

3. The young Kathryn Selby bonding with her host family’s daughter.

Cringeworthy moments:
The infamous hat scene without the hats.

1. The six finalists trying on Texas ten-gallon hats with the help of Van Cliburn himself. Finally some woman says, “Can we have something convincing pleeeeeease?”

2. Van Cliburn and André Watts trying to make small talk in front of a “live” TV audience before winner André Michel Schub performs. After the performance, 1977 winner Steven de Groote joins Schub, Watts and John Giordano, and it begins to look like a convention of piano geeks.
3. John Giordano mis-pronounces Panayis Lyras' name, to his quiet consternation.

Van Cliburn appears for: 10 minutes 6 seconds, including a stirring 3 minute monologue on love, devotion and sacrifice for the sake of music.

Extras: None.

Aftermath: Barry Douglas, conferred a Jury Discretionary award, will return in 4 years, and the rest is history.

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