Monday, 9 March 2009

Who's In and Who's Out at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

Who’s In and Who’s Out
at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition 2009

Strange as it may seem, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition has announced the names of the 30 finalists (who play it out at Fort Worth, Texas in the summer) almost on the same day that American Idol revealed its final 13 singers. The parallels between the two talent contests have not gone unnoticed; both are multi-million buck extravangazas with worldwide coverage, showcasing art (piano playing and singing) as a reality show of sorts. If only the young people in America paid more attention to classical music…

For some reason, there are only 30 names compared with the 35 that competed in 2005. That’s an improvement in a way that qualifying for the semi-finals becomes less of a lottery, and there will be fewer “duds”. At the 1st and 2nd rounds of the Sydney Competition of 2007, I was left wondering how some of the pianists actually made the final cut.

Here are the pianists:

Stephen BEUS, United States, 27
Evgeni BOZHANOV, Bulgaria, 25
Yue CHU, China, 25
Ran DANK, Israel, 27
Alessandro DELJAVAN, Italy, 22
Yoonjung HAN, Korea, 24
Kyu Yeon KIM, Korea, 23
Naomi KUDO, United States, 22
Natacha KUDRITSKAYA, Ukraine, 25
Eduard KUNZ, Russia, 28
Andrea LAM, Australia, 27
Soyeon LEE, Korea, 29
Ang LI, Canada, 24
Michail LIFITS, Germany, 26
Spencer MYER, United States, 30
Ilya RASHKOVSKIY, Russia, 24
Mayumi SAKAMOTO, Japan, 26
Yeol Eum SON, Korea, 23
Victor STANISLAVSKY, Israel, 26
Chetan TIERRA, United States, 25
Nobuyuki TSUJII, Japan, 20
Mariangela VACATELLO, Italy, 27
Vassilis VARVARESOS, Greece, 26
Lukas VONDRACEK, Czech Republic, 22
Di WU, China, 24
Amy J. YANG, China, 25
Feng ZHANG, China, 23
Haochen ZHANG, China, 19
Ning ZHOU, China, 21
Zhang ZUO, China, 20

Lots of familiar names, and some new ones too. Returning to the scene of battle are 5 pianists from 2005, including Ilya Rashkovskiy (left, Russia) – who has won 1st Prize at the Hong Kong IPC (2005) and 4th Prize at the Queen Elisabeth IPC (2006) in the interim - Di Wu (China), Soyeon Lee (Korea), Ang Li (Canada) and Stephen Beus (USA). All five did not make the semifinals the last time round, so experience would be a factor here. Unfortunately, there will be no happy returns for two 2001 finalists Vassily Primakov (Russia) and Yunjie Chen (China).

Again, Asian names comprise 16 finalists, 11 of whom are women. Watch out for the prodigious Zhang Zuo (left, China) of the Eastman School, who was a student of Dan Zhaoyi (Yundi Li’s teacher in Shenzhen) and duo partner of Singaporean violinist Jonathan Ong. I am also thrilled that two of my namesakes have made it: Feng Zhang (China) and Haozhen Zhang (China). I heard the former at the 2007 Sydney Competition; he had given splendid performances of Liszt’s Feux follets, Alkan’s Le festin d’Esope and two Schubert-Godowsky song transcriptions, but was desperately unlucky not to make the quarter finals. The former, a student of Gary Graffman, was the winner of the China International Piano Competition in Xiamen in 2007.

Two other pianists who shined in Sydney are in: Ran Dank (Israel) and semifinalist Mariangela Vacatello (Italy) which means we will probably get to hear more Schoenberg and Shostakovich in Fort Worth. Two notable Australians missed the cut – the stylish Hoang Pham and David Fung – but Ozzie Andrea Lam (left) is in. Whoever said that there were no Australian women pianists?

There are fewer Russians than expected at this year’s VC. Besides Ilya Rashkovskiy, there’s only Eduard Kunz. At the Piano-e-Competition in Minnesota, he’s known as Eduard Kunts. Will he make up his mind what his name actually is, or which passport he is going to use? Natacha Kudritskaya hails from the Ukraine, while Michail Lifits (Germany) came from Uzbekistan. Probably the Slavs to beat are Evgeni Bozhanov (Bulgaria), recent winner of the 2008 Casagrande Competition and the 2008 Sviatoslav Richter Competition (Moscow), which has no upper age limit, and the prodigious Lukas Vondracek (left, Czech Republic). Steinway-Meister Walter Haass heard Vondracek in a performance of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting in Western Australia and reckons he’s the real thing.

There are 4 Americans in the running: former Mormon missionary Stephen Beus (left, Winner of the 2006 Gina Bachauer IPC, whom some reckon to resemble Van Cliburn in stature, but whose photo looks a bit more like David Buechner), Spencer Myer (whom I heard and liked at Leeds 2006), Californian Chetan Tierra and DC-born Naomi Kudo. Kudoes all for flying the Stars and Stripes high. Can we hope for at least one American semi-finalist this year?

American Idol 8 has Scott McIntyre, its first ever blind singer. So Van Cliburn should not be denied as well, with the qualification of blind pianist Noboyuki Tsujii (left) of Japan. He is a certain shoo-in for the Jury Discretionary Award, Audience Favourite Award, Most DVDs Sold Award, and most Standing Ovations Award. No doubt about it.

What about the high-flying Korean Lim brothers: Dong Hyek and Dong Min? Apparently, both were no shows at the New York auditions. After clinching finals placings at the Queen Elisabeth, Tchaikovsky, and Chopin Competitions, and having an exclusive EMI Classics contract, anything less than finishing joint Crystal Award winners at Van Cliburn would be a total and utter come down. So, a smart move, lads!
Don't forget to check out the official Van Cliburn website for more updates:


Kwon Cheo Yong said...

Apparently, they intended not to join the competition at all. Dong Hyek once said he just put his name there, in his Korean Fan community...

Chang Tou Liang said...

That's a real shame. Their audition spots could have been reserved for other pianists, hopefuls who might get a chance to compete. Instead they are denied by people who were not serious in the first place. Thumbs down...