The Cliburn Report 10: Luftpuase

The Brentano String Quartet

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June for 88.1 KDHX. Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

Well, the twelve semifinalists have been chosen. Starting on June 1st, each will play one solo recital and one performance of a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet. The Cliburn folks have thoughtfully provided a complete schedule of the semifinal round along with a list of what each of the semifinalists will play.

Meanwhile, it seems that I missed a couple of important blogs in my last roundup. Allow me to correct that error now.

For some reason, I completely overlooked the Cliburn’s own competition blog. Since it’s a more or less official outlet, I have the sense (skimming a number of the posts) that “never is heard a discouraging word”, but even so it offers an interesting perspective. More of the posts are by Mike Winter, but there are also some contributions from “visiting German journalist” Christoph Hiller.

TheaterJones, meanwhile, provides coverage that goes beyond Gregory Isaacs’s reviews of the recitals. Contributor Jan Farrington has been providing the blog equivalent of sports “color commentary” with backstage interviews, a look at the skilled Steinway piano technician team, and even an amusing look at competitors’ hair. You can see their complete Cliburn coverage here.

The Cliburn Report 9: It’s getting very near the end

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June. Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

Alessandro Taverna

The preliminary round of the competition is just drawing to a close  but it’s already apparent what some of the prizes will be. As reported today in the Waco Tribune, the Cliburn gold medalist will play a concert with the Waco Symphony on April 10, 2014. It’s just part of the gold medalist package, which includes three years of tours, recordings, and concert management.

Gregory Isaacs’s coverage for TheatreJones continues. His favorites from the first, second, and third Wednesday sessions were:

Alessandro Deljavan

Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News singled out only one contestant for uniform praise in his morning, afternoon, and evening reviews: Alessandro Deljavan. Mr. Cantrell described him as “the rare contestant who actually seems to enjoy himself.” All the others got notices that were, at best, mixed.

The Cliburn Report 8: Here, There, and Everywhere

Jade Simmons

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June.  Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

I’m a bit late with this one, but I have an excuse: I had to write up and record a review of the tour of Anything Goes that’s playing the Fox Theatre locally. That’s the disadvantage of being both a music and theatre critic.

Anyway, I’ve been concentrating on mainstream media outlets so far, but I don’t want to give you the impression that the blogosphere isn’t paying attention to the competition as well. Here are a couple of recent examples:

Chang Tou Liang’s Pianomania blog has been covering the competition at least as assiduously as mainstream critics Scott Cantreel and Gregory Isaacs (see below). It’s interesting to compare their picks with his.

I have mentioned the fine job pianist Jade Simmons has been doing as host of the Cliburn live webcast. Her Emerge Already! blog is worth a look (and listen—it includes audio blog entries).

Giuseppe Greco
Photo: Ralph Lauer

Back on the mainstream media beat, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram continues its daily photo coverage of the competition, including both performance and backstage pictures from day 6 (May 28th).

Gregory Isaacs’s coverage for TheatreJones continues. His favorites from the first, second, and third Tuesday sessions were:

Oleksandr Poliykov
Photo: Ralph Lauer

Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News singled out the following contestants in his morning, afternoon, and evening reviews:

The Cliburn Report 7: Da Capo

Claire Huangci

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June. Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

No matter where you stand on the question of the validity of piano competitions in general and The Cliburn in particular, you must admit that the folks behind the Fort Worth-based competition/festival are always looking for ways to improve it and raise public awareness of it (not necessarily the same thing).

This time around, for example, they have doubled the length of the preliminary round by allowing each contestant to perform two 45-minute recitals instead of one as they used to do. It’s more work for the pianists and (especially) the jury, but it does give every performer a second chance.

François Dumont

For an example of the importance of that second chance, one needs look no farther than Claire Huangci (23, USA), who opened the Phase II preliminary session Monday afternoon. As Gregory Isaacs notes in his TheaterJones review:

Her performance of excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty, in a virtuoso arrangement by the Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev, has surely caused the judges to reconsider her. Marquis said that the second recital might make up for an off day in the first round. In this case, it allowed Huangci to have a spectacular day after a good one. Also, it helped to make up for her falling, by luck of the draw, into the dreaded first position in the competition.

As it happens Ms. Huangci’s Sleeping Beauty suite was one of the few performances I’ve been able to catch on the Cliburn’s live webcast, and I heartily second Mr. Isaac’s comments.

Alex McDonald

Meanwhile, wall-to-wall coverage by Mr. Isaacs and Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News continues. In addition to Ms. Huangci, Mr. Isaacs’s favorites from the first, second, and third Monday sessions were:

Mr. Cantrell’s morning, afternoon, and evening reviews singled out:

By way of contrast, he named Mr. Favorin “most annoying player so far.”

And so it goes.

The Cliburn Report 6: First movement coda

Jayson Gillham

Photo: Ralph Lauer

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June.  Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

As some of you may know, this is the first edition of the Cliburn in which the thirty semi-finalists are given a literal second chance to show their abilities as soloists. Previously, the field was cut from thirty to twelve after only one round of recitals. This year, each contestant gets to perform two forth-minute programs, beginning today. That’s a classic good news/bad news scenario, as Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Tim Madigan observes. “For all the positives,” he writes, “the new format has brought scheduling challenges and intensified the already grueling nature of the preliminary round. In past competitions, with just one recital per competitor, the preliminaries started to feel like a slog for the media and audience members committed to sitting for every note.”

The Star-Telegram also has a photo gallery of day three for your perusal.

Alexey Chernov

Photo: Ralph Lauer

Mr. Madigan also has a nicely balanced article on what winning the Cliburn does—and doesn’t—mean to a young pianist’s career. It’s well worth a read.

Dallas Morning News music critic Scott Cantrell continues his coverage of the competition with reviews of the Sunday evening recitals as well as the morning and afternoon performances at the paper’s arts blog.

The pianists he singles out for special praise this time are Jayson Gillham (26, Australia-U.K.), Alexey Chernov (30, Russia; “the most riveting contestant so far”), and Sara Daneshpour (26, U.S., who “gets the prize so far for the most ravishing playing”).

Sara Daneshpour

Photo: Ralph Lauer

Gregory Isaacs of the Music Critics Association of North America continues his more detailed coverage of the first, second and third rounds on Sunday at the TheaterJones site. He shares Mr. Cantrell’s enthusiasm for Jayson Gillham, Alexey Chernov, and Sara Daneshpour, but has positive things to say about many of the others as well.

Phase two of the preliminary round began Monday, May 27, at 3 PM central. You can view the entire series live at cliburn.org, hosted with great charm by pianist Jade Simmons.

The Cliburn Report 5: Morning, Noon, and Night in Fort Worth

Nikolay Khozyaninov

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June. Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

Note-for-note coverage of Phase 1 of the preliminary round continues with Dallas Morning News music critic Scott Cantrell’s reviews of the Saturday afternoon and Saturday night recitals at the paper’s arts blog. None of his reviews are unqualified raves although his comments on Russia’s Nikolay Khozyaninov (age 20) include praise for his “pretty amazing performance of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.” He also singled out Italy’s Alessandro Taverna (age 29) for the way he “managed to find some surprises in that Cliburn cliché, the Three Movements from Stravinsky’s Petrushka.”

Lindsay Garritson

Meanwhile, my fellow member of the Music Critics Association of North America, Gregory Isaacs, continues his coverage of the first, second and third rounds on Saturday at the TheaterJones site. He has something positive to say about nearly everyone, but his favorites so far are Ukraine’s Oleksandr Poliykov (age 25; Mr. Isaacs loved his Pictures at an Exhibition); Taiwan’s Kuan-Ting Lin (21), who did well by Liszt; American Lindsay Garritson (25) whose performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 earned a standing ovation; Nikolay Khozyaninov (he loved the pianist’s Ravel as much as Mr. Cantrell did); and Italy’s Alessandro Deljavan (27) whose outrageous stage persona (he grimaces and hums along, a la Glenn Gould) nevertheless appears to come with good musical judgment. “Weird facial expressions matter not a whit,” notes Mr. Isaacs, “and he received a standing ovation.”

The Cliburn Report 4: Morning Mood

Beatrice Rana

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June. Meanwhile I’m picking the best of the current press coverage for you dining and dancing pleasure.]

If you missed the first day of the Cliburn’s seven-day marathon of preliminary round recitals, never fear; the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a huge photo gallery of the contestants in action, along with an article by Tim Madigan describing some contestant and audience reactions to opening day. Mr. Madigan isn’t doing any handicapping yet, but he did describe 20-year-old Italian pianist Beatrice Rana’s recital as “a highlight of the first day, particularly her exquisite sonata composed by Muzio Clementi…The piece featured slow, pianissimo passages requiring a delicate touch, interspersed with fast music that allowed Rana to showcase her speed and dexterity at the keyboard.”

Nikita Mndoyants

Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News, on the other hand, is doing mini-reviews of each recital. His Friday report is less enthusiastic about Ms. Rana than Mr. Madigan’s (although it’s still mostly positive). His praise of Russia’s Nikita Mndoyants and Italy’s Luca Buratto mostly mirror my own impressions from the webcast (although I’m less bothered by Mr. Buratto’s presentation eccentricities than he is). His blog coverage of this morning’s concert singles out Taiwan’s Kuan-Ting Lin as “one of the most impressive performers so far, sensitive to melodic shape and harmonic nuance,” although he also has praise for the Ukranian Oleksandr Poliykov.

My fellow Music Critics Assocaition of North America member Gregory Isaacs is also doing wall-to-wall Cliburn coverage at the TheaterJones site. The link will be updated as he adds more reviews, so it’s worth a bookmark.

Finally, those of you wishing to escape the hype around the Cliburn (and competitions in general) might want to check out Brad Hill’s curmudgeonly (but thought provoking) article at Huffington Post. You may or may not agree with all of it, but I think you’ll have to admit he makes some telling points.

The Cliburn Report 3: Trial by Jury

[I will be covering the final round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June. Meanwhile I’m picking highlights of the current press coverage for your dining and dancing pleasure.]

This is the second in the grueling seven-day marathon that is the preliminary round of the Cliburn competition. Each of the thirty contestants will perform two 45-minute recitals in front of a live audience in the 2,056-seat Bass Performance Hall, located in the city’s Modern Art Museum on Commerce Street, and for a world-wide audience via the Cliburn Foundation’s professionally-produced live webcast at cliburn.org.

The concerts start at 11:00 AM and run, with two 90-minute intermissions, until after 10 PM each day. It’s a killer schedule that reminds me of nothing so much as the old “continuous vaudeville” shows of a century ago.

For those of you who might not be familiar with the term (i.e. pretty much anyone who hasn’t made a study of the Vaudeville era), “continuous vaudeville” was an arrangement devised by producer Benjamin Franklin Keith in the early years of the 20th century whereby vaudeville theatres were kept open for twelve hours per day, with entertainment being offered continuously. The same bill of acts would cycle three of four times, with audience members coming and going at will. As Rick Easton notes in his on-line vaudeville history site, “[t]he continuous provided the illusion of a constant and thriving business, eliminating what Keith saw as ‘hesitancy’ on the part of patrons to enter the theatre until they were ‘reassured by numbers.’” It was a great deal for Keith; less so for his acts, who had time to do little else than perform and (maybe) sleep.

The Cliburn’s schedule may not be as punishing to performers as Keith’s was, but it seems to me that it must be every bit as hard on a group that’s equally as critical to the competition: the judges. They’re obliged to not just listen to almost eight hours of recitals per day but to listen attentively as well—a daunting task, to say the least. In his backstage look at the 1989 Cliburn, The Ivory Trade, Joseph Horowitz neatly summarizes the hazards of such a schedule: “Impressions, sharp at first, blur and refocus intermittently. The mind wanders. The ears tire.”

John Giordano

And yet listen they must, and with care. When the preliminary round is over, they’ll have to vote to advance twelve of the thirty contestants to the semifinals. If they take their jobs seriously (as I presume they must) they have to make sure that no nuance of any performance is missed. They need to feel confident that their twelve choices are, in fact, the best of the bunch.

I don’t envy them that task. Listening to some of the live webcast last night, I was struck by the stunningly high level of pianism on display. If asked to pick a “best” among the few I heard, I’d be hard pressed to do it with any degree of assurance. The members of this jury—headed by Fort Worth Symphony director emeritus John Giordano—have their work cut out for them.

Next Page →