The Cliburn Competition June 15 Report | And Then There Were Six

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The Sixteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition “The Cliburn” has now entered its final week. The original 72 competitors accepted for a screening audition were reduced to 30 who went through a Preliminary, Quarterfinal and Semifinal Round. And then there were six. Each of the six remaining competitors will play two concertos with the Ft. Worth Symphony and the winners will be announced on Saturday.

A broadcast of the first set of June 15 performances

The six pianists in the finals are Dmytro Choni, 28 (Ukraine), Anna Geniushene, 31 (Russia), Uladzislau Khandohi, 20 (Belarus), Yunchan Lim, 18 (South Korea), Ilya Shukler, 27 (Russia), and Clayton Stephenson, 23 (United States). In last night’s first Final Round concert at Bass Performance Hall, Yunchan Lim led off with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op. 37. It was a finely-articulated performance but ultimately lightweight and lacking passion or drama.

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Yunchan Lim performs a concert with Jury Chairman and Conductor Marin Alsop and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (Photo by Ralph Lauer)

Next came Russian pianist Ilya Shmukler in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor Op. 30. Three of the finalists have chosen this concerto so there will be two more renderings of it on Friday. As is well-known, this is a monster of a piece with probably more notes and more technical demands than any other concerto in the standard repertoire. Shmukler showed impressive command of the technical issues but was somewhat cautious in the big moments.

Ilya Shmukler from Russia performs a concert with Jury Chairman and Conductor Marin Alsop and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (Photo by Ralph Lauer)

Finally, we heard the American Clayton Stephenson play the Gershwin Piano Concerto with easy mastery of the jazz elements. The Gershwin is an odd choice to include in an international piano competition as it lacks the formidable challenges of many of the concertos from the romantic period and the early Twentieth century. But Stephenson will show what he can do with Rachmaninov No. 3 on Friday night.

Clayton Stephenson performs a concert with Jury Chairman and Conductor Marin Alsop and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (Photo by Ralph Lauer)

Marin Alsop is the conductor for all performances in this final week at the Cliburn and last night she was an ideal accompanist attending to matters of balance and coordination with total assurance. She is also Chair of one of the most formidable juries that could have been put together. Among the members are Stephen Hough, who also wrote a required piece for all competitors, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Alessio Bax, Anne-Marie McDermott, Orli Shaham, Lilya Zilberstein, Rico Gulda, Wu Han and Andreas Haefliger.

The next Final Round concert takes place tonight (Wednesday) with Khandohi playing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Geniushene in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and Choni in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

To watch a live broadcast of all Cliburn Competition performances, click here.
To see the Cliburn Competition’s full finalist performance schedule, click here.

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About Author

Former conductor and broadcaster, Paul E. Robinson, is the author of four books on conductors, Digital Editor for Classical Voice America, and a regular contributor to La Scena Musicale.

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