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Classical Music World: Notes From Cliburn 5

on June 5, 2017 - 10:34am

South Korean Yekwan Sunwoo impressed with a beautiful performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6 in the Cliburn semi-final round. Courtesy photo

Canadian Tony Yike Yang, 18, is the youngest Cliburn competitor. Courtesy photo

Italian competitor Leonardo Pierdomenico acknowledges a standing ovation after his performance with the Fort Worth Symphony under the direction of Nicholas McGehan. Courtesy photo

LACA Artistic Director

The audience during the Cliburn Competition has been admirably silent. We have all been made repeatedly aware that the performances are being recorded so each of the competitors will have a beautifully produced CD of their performances to use as a marketing tool. Imagine my panic when I felt the ominous beginnings of a throat tickle that I knew would soon erupt into a full-blown coughing fit. Fortunately, my seat is on the aisle and close to an exit so I fled.

Of course, the ushers would not readmit me to the hall but I knew that the web cast of the competition was being screened free of charge across the street in the Van Cliburn Recital Hall. I got there just as South Korean Yekwon Sunwoo was launching into a splendid performance of Prokofiev’s 6th Sonata. There were about 30 people watching on a huge screen including a couple of families with small children.

How wonderful that I didn’t have to pace around in the lobby! Sunwoo’s recital performance particularly of the Prokofiev, definitely puts him on my list of possible finalists. It was clean, thoughtful and technically brilliant.

This could not be said of the competitor who preceded him. Tony Yike Yang of Canada is, at 18, the youngest competitor and should have waited a few years before attempting the Cliburn. He has yet to understand that music isn’t just a sequence of sonic effects and that faster and louder are not always better. Yang has formidable technical skills. I hope that some teacher will help him expunge a number of habits that interfere with turning all those notes on the page into real music.

We still have four competitors to hear in their 60-minute recitals, but the concerto portion of this semi-final round began last night. Two pianists in this part of the round were new to us and two we knew from their earlier recitals.

An entire evening of Mozart felt cleansing after eight hours of “competition music”, music chosen by the competitors to demonstrate their technical chops. The Fort Worth Symphony under Nicholas McGegan accompanied each of the four competitors in a Mozart concerto chosen from an approved list of eight.

First up was Italian Leonardo Pierdomenico who won my heart (and kept it) with a stylistically flawless and moving account of Concerto No.20. His quiet, unassuming demeanor (and excellent posture!) at the keyboard was a blessed relief after hours of watching pianists hunched and sweating during their labors. I look forward to hearing his recital on the last day of this round.

The other three competitors also played admirably, but if I had to rank them I’d give second place to American Daniel Hsu (Concerto No. 21) with South Korean Dasol Kim (Concerto No. 20 again) close behind. American Kenneth Broberg played well but the concerto he chose (No. 25) may have put him at a slight disadvantage being much less familiar. He did evoke a little chuckle from the audience with a clever little quote from The Magic Flute during a cadenza, Papageno’s “Ein Mӓdchen oder Weibchen.” It is the sort of thing Mozart himself would have done.