Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Cliburn is upon us now!

Screening Auditions 15 January – 24 February

Is it a coincidence that the screening auditions for this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (the lucky 13th edition of the world’s most hyped up concours) begin as the world witnesses on television the screening auditions of American Idol 8? Both are talent contests which promise heaven and earth for whoever wins (and the runners-up), but are they the recipe for a successful lifelong career of performing?

Nay-sayers will claim that the last winner of VC to have a stellar career was Radu Lupu, and that was way back in 1966. The others have come and gone, and in the cases of Steven de Groote (1977) and Alexei Sultanov (1989) lost to this world forever. The truth is that whoever wins will bask in the limelight for 4 years, make some recordings, and hopefully get on a worldwide (rather than merely American) circuit of concerts, before joining academia and becoming forgotten as everyone clamours for the next winner.

155 hopefuls will join the fray, auditioning in 6 cities in Asia, Europe and the States, in the quest of becoming one of the 35 or 36 who gets to play in Fort Worth, Texas in May and June. Who are they and what are their chances?

A quick scan of the 155 reveals the usual suspects who fill the pages of the Alink-Argerich Foundation’s list of competition winners. Some have won 1st prizes worldwide:

Evgeni Bozhanov (Sviatoslav Richter Competition, Moscow)
Dong Hyek Lim (Marguerite Long, Paris)
Spencer Myer (UNISA, Pretoria)
Vassily Primakov (Gina Bachauer, Salt Lake City)
Stephen Beus (Gina Bachauer, Salt Lake City)
Hoang Pham (Lev Vlassenko, Brisbane)
Chun Wang (Villa-Lobos, Sao Paulo)
Ilya Rashkovskiy (Hong Kong)
Wenyu Shen (Rachmaninoff, Pasadena)

At least five were former 1st prizewinners of the Hilton Head International Piano Competition (South Carolina): Konstantin Soukevetski, Di Wu, Dmitri Levkovich, Ran Dank and Eric Zuber, surely a stepping stone to bigger things. Three were among the finalists in the 2008 Sydney International Piano Competition: Tatiana Kolesova (2nd prize), Ran Dank (3rd prize) and Eric Zuber (6th). There are several runners-up in major competitions: Wenyu Shen (Queen Elisabeth 2003, Hong Kong 2005), Ching Yun Hu (Arthur Rubinstein 2007), Zhang Zuo (Shenzhen 2007), just to name a few. Even one, Dong Hyek Lim, has an ongoing contract with EMI Classics. Fort Worth seems to be the true Holy Grail of all these competitors.

Fingers will fly and gazillions of notes will be heard as virtuoso fodder takes centrestage. (That's Sergei, left, beating a quick retreat from the keyboard. Whoever thought his Op.36 be used as a jury torture implement?) These warhorses are among the most popular:

RACHMANINOV Sonata No.2 (14 performances, 5 to be heard in Shanghai alone.)
STRAVINSKY Three Movements from Petrushka (12)
RAVEL Gaspard de la nuit (9)
RAVEL La Valse (7)
BRAHMS Paganini Variations (6)
LISZT Reminiscences de Don Juan (6)
LISZT Sonata in B minor (6)
LISZT Dante Sonata (5)
PROKOFIEV Sonata No.7 (5)

Big surprise: There will be only ONE performance of Balakirev’s Islamey, by the aptly named Timur Scherbakov.

Korean brothers and rivals Dong Min Lim (seated, left) and Dong Hyek Lim (standing) will both perform in New York, playing exactly the same pieces: Schubert’s Impromptus D.899 and Ravel’s La Valse. Both were awarded ex-aequo 3rd prizes at the 2005 Chopin International Piano Competition. Talk about being unimaginative.

The blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, semi-finalist at the 2005 Chopin, performs a Scarlatti sonata and Chopin’s 12 Etudes Op.10 in Fort Worth. Certainly newsworthy stuff but will he be getting sympathy votes?

Returning after a hiatus of 8 years: Vassily Primakov (semi-finalist in 2001) and Yunjie Chen (quarter-finalist 2001). So it pays to start competing early.

Second bite of the cherry. 6 pianists will be vying for a return to Fort Worth having qualified in 2005: Esther Park, Ilya Rashkovskiy, Soyeon Lee, Stephen Beus, Di Wu and Ang Li.

The sink or swim programme is offered by Tanya Gabrielian in New York, featuring just one work: Rachmaninov’s rarely-played 45-minute long First Sonata.

There are four Korean pianists with similar names: Sooyeon Ham, Soyeon Kim (both playing in Hannover), Kyu Yeon Kim and Soyeon Lee (both New York). From China: Chi Wu and Di Wu. Hope the judges do not mix these Oriental lasses up.

Whatever happened to the Brits? Only one pianist from the United Kingdom is taking part: Ron Abramski. So much for the land that gave us John Ogdon, John Lill, Ian Hobson and Peter Donohoe.

Best Names: Vladimir Farkov (left) and Eduard Kunz, both playing in St Petersburg. Wonder what their piano duo will be called?

For more information, and to read the official Van Cliburn Competition blog, check out:


luisa said...

hi Tou Liang!

I'm curious - did you attend any of the Shanghai auditions? If you did, what was your opinion?

did anyone bomb? was anyone really outstanding?


Chang Tou Liang said...

Sorry, I did not get a chance to visit Shanghai. Seems like neither did the Forth Worth Telegram reporter. The Cliburn blog does not mention about the performances too - a pity. Let's hope they have auditions in Singapore in future editions.

luisa said...

I know! I actually work here in Fort Worth for the Cliburn. I think the blogger (the chairman) is refraining from performance commentary to appear unbiased.

I wish there was someone who could give the inside scoop.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is having so many budget problems that they couldn't afford to send someone this year.

Chang Tou Liang said...

Send me the next time, or whenever the auditions come around to Asia!
Although I won't be in Fort Worth, I will certainly keep abreast of its rounds via the internet. I will however be reviewing all the Competition documentary DVDs (from 1981-2005). All the best with running the Competition!

pianofan said...

Hello! I live in the Ft Worth area, too. The former classical music critic for the Ft Worth Star-Telegram, Wayne Lee Gay, is sorely missed at times like these. Four years ago, he did a wonderful job, covering the auditions as he travelled with Cliburn jury. I believe he still lives in the area and wish the Star-Tel would hire him freelance to cover this Cliburn.

Maybe we should be pumping Luisa (one of the comment writers) for some of the inside skinny on this year's Cliburn.

I didn't notice some of the funny last names of competitors until you pointed it out - pretty funny.

I love your blog and have bookmarked it - will be checking in a lot during the competition.