Friday, 23 January 2009

9th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition DVD (1993)

Director: Peter Rosen
Presenter: Reynolds Price
Conductor: Jerzy Semkow

What happened: Lots of loud and emphatic playing, which gets recorded on Philips Classics for the first and last time.

Who won: SIMONE PEDRONI (Italy)

Also ran: Valery Kuleshov (Russia), Christopher Taylor (USA), Johan Schmidt (Belgium), Armen Babakhanian (Armenia), Fabio Bidini (Italy), Frederic Chiu (USA), HaeSun Paik (Korea), Shirley Pan (Canada)

Narrative techniques:

1. A quote heavy script, one that probes the philosophical, metaphorical and rhetorical, aided and abetted by Reynolds Price’s (left) dreary and often incoherent narration. “What is the meaning of a life in music?... blah blah blah...”

2. Highly dramatic performances from the pianists, far overshadowing their human interest stories.

Montage: Morton Gould’s specially commissioned work Ghost Waltzes, performed by the 12 semi-finalists.

Best quotes:
1. “I love music and would love to meet another lover. I don’t want to meet another player.” Menahem Pressler of the Beaux Arts Trio, jury member.

2. “I have a particularly exotic fruit or pomegranate to compare with all the others,” said Christopher Taylor (3rd prize), pianist who performed Messiaen and Boulez amongst other things.

3. “But it is really the worst foot which is the more interesting foot, because the best foot is the same with everybody, and there are many feet like these,” Russell Sherman, piano pedagogue on standing out in a competition.

4. “Who on earth in his right mind would choose to test his body and his mind in a forum where there were so many opportunities for disappointment?” pondered Reynolds Price for the umpteenth time.

Worst quote:
“So I picked the really easy first preliminary programme, because that’s all I thought I will be playing,” followed by lots of sniggering from the mega-plus-sized Shirley Pan, who is totally surprised at making the semi-finals.

John Giordano says: Nothing. Phew!

Best moments:

1. Morton Gould introducing his Ghost Waltzes to the pianists and the television audience. At one point, he describes the music careening to the point of “losing one’s marbles, and the performer should do the same.”
2. Russell Sherman giving HaeSun Paik pointers on Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli.
3. Lots of intense playing, pianism as a bloodsport evidenced in Alexander Korsantiya’s Baba Yaga’s Hut, Fabio Bidini’s Busoni Chopin Variations, Armen Babakhanian’s Babadganian Poem, Frederic Chiu’s Prokofiev Sixth Sonata and Valery Kuleshov’s Horowitz Carmen Variations.

Cringeworthy moments:
1. Piano playing is all one big orgasm; extreme facial grimacing from Hiroshi Arimori and Sergei Tarasov.

2. Really scary hairy: Tie between Shirley Pan’s nerdish laughter and Armen Babakhanian’s eyebrows (left).
3. Valery Kuleshov’s good luck charm: a blue-topped smerf.

Van Cliburn appears for: 3 minutes 18 seconds, including the usual 1958 Moscow footage.

Extras: None

Aftermath: Frederic Chiu, eliminated at the semi-finals stage, becomes the star of the competition à la Pogorelich Warsaw 1980. Chiu, Kuleshov and Taylor all get to perform in Singapore in the 21st century.

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