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Cliburn Competition: It’s a Wrap


by Stephen Becker 8 Jun 2009

As you no doubt know by now, we had a tie at the top at the Cliburn Competition, with Nobuyuki Tsujii of Japan and Haochen Zhang of China sharing the gold medal. For thoughts on the final night of the competition: Olin Chism wraps up the proceedings for Art&Seek here. Meanwhile, Scott Cantrell from The […]

CTA TBD

As you no doubt know by now, we had a tie at the top at the Cliburn Competition, with Nobuyuki Tsujii of Japan and Haochen Zhang of China sharing the gold medal. For thoughts on the final night of the competition:

Olin Chism wraps up the proceedings for Art&Seek here.

Meanwhile, Scott Cantrell from The Dallas Morning News and a small army from Fort Worth Star-Telegram also weighed in from Bass Hall.

If you’d like to hear a little of the action from Sunday’s finals, KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports:


Or you can always just read his story, too:

It was a grueling 3 weeks of competitive music making many likened to both a marathon, and a festival. It ended in lasting applause after winners were named. The announcement held great tension, especially because – for the 2nd time this decade, judges broke from the expected routine. While 3 runners up out of the 6 finalists were mentioned first, Cliburn Foundation President Richard Rodzinski took the microphone when it was time to name the 3rd place winner.

Richard Rodzinski, President Cliburn Foundation: “The 3rd prize is not awarded.”

That could have meant anything. Some in Fort Worth’s packed Bass Hall wondered if higher awards might be withheld. But based on precedent established in 2001, when two players earned gold, many expected the same this time. South Korean Yeol Eum Son, who’s 23, was named the 2nd place silver medalist. Then Haochen Zhang, who turned 19 last Wednesday, was named the gold winner. A few seconds later, 20 year old Nobuyuki Tsujii was named co-gold medalist. Veda Kaplinsky, one of the judges, praised the Japanese pianist.

Yoheved Kaplinsky, Cliburn Competition judge: “I will tell you he did not win because he’s blind. He won based on his playing. We were instructed to judge him exactly the way we judge everyone else. He himself requested he be judged the way everybody else did.”

Kaplinsky said she and others were impressed by anyone who could sit down and play the Chopin Etudes as he did. Kaplinsky called the other gold medalist, Haochen Zhang, a pure, honest pianist who’s all about the music.

Kaplinsky: “Everything flows naturally, good taste, amazing facility and the ability at the age of 19 to withstand the grueling aspects of this competition and to play his best at the very end.”

Zhang’s last piece was Prokofiev’s challenging 2nd concerto. Zhang says this competition was so tough that little from here on out will seem tougher. He’s looking forward to returning to a normal life, knowing it’ll change, because of his medal.

Haoachen Zhang: “Even though I’ll get a lot of attention, I hope I can be myself. And hope 317 this would not do anything to change me negatively. I want to have a good attitude to music. Be always humble before music, before the great masters.”

Zhang says only if you are humble can you improve yourself and continue to learn. Tsujii and Son made similar comments. All are looking forward to the next three years of concerts, the biggest part of their prize. But many critics, some of whom didn’t want to be named, aren’t so eager to hear these winners. Gil French, concert editor for the American Record Guide, was disappointed. He disagreed with the judges. He says they picked the safe players. They were note perfect but lacked that special something.

Gil FrenchSomething that sweeps me away, that changes my pulse and by breathing, hits my heart, and when it’s over I realize I can’t talk, cause I’m choked up.

French says Zhang did that for him, but only once. That’s one critics assessment. The public can decide on their own. The gold medalists perform July 23rd at the Aspen Festival in Colorado.

Bill Zeeble, KERA news.

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