I couldn’t tear myself from my big Mac, savoring a big serving of tantalizing musical artistry via Medici TV. The sparing LIVE performances that I’d ingested through the opening days of the celebrated Fort Worth-based Cliburn event, had been other worldly, though a few pyrotechnically efficient players, had, for me, not risen beyond note-perfect playing.
Of course, such an aesthetic judgment is deeply personal and subjective–even validated by Cliburn Jury Chairman, Leonard Slatkin in a pre-recorded message to competitors that’s been aired publicly during intermissions, or at a weighty interval of jury tabulation that produced a quarterfinals roster. The original list of 30 Preliminary entrants had been whittled down to 20–a number that will shrink at the Semi-Finals juncture, and further dwindle down when Finals competitors are announced. (The Cliburn event runs from May 25 through June 10)
This year Anderson and Roe, two creative, powerhouse pianists, known far and wide for their duo collaboration, have added a touch of class to the competition–interspersing in depth comments that reveal their Juilliard-based immersion in music history, theory, and performance. What a pleasure to have two education-spreading messiahs at the helm, enriching the listening experience. In the visual universe, multi-cam views of the keyboard provide an eye-catching view of the performers’ hands, wrists, and arms in varied choreographies.
Do I dare go out on a limb and cherry pick a few of my favorite competitors to date, with an avowed disclaimer that I may not have heard ALL 20 who made the cut from the Preliminary round. (In short, I’ve been revisiting Preliminary Recitals and the most recent round contenders at the quarterfinals level)
For me, a handful of players have possessed unique gifts of artistry and communication that were transformative during their ENTIRE recitals. (A reminder that logging onto the Cliburn Competition site, will produce recent and past performance videos of all competitors)
MY SHORT LIST may expand as the competition unfolds:
Yuri Favorin: A Bravissimo for today’s recital!
What I posted on Facebook about Favorin in the afterglow of this evening’s remarkable performance was probably an understatement:
“…Russian pianist, Yuri Favorin, played beyond words to describe in today’s Cliburn quarterfinals. It’s going to be tough to outshine this uniquely gifted pianist.. Without doubt, he produced a jaw-dropping performance of challenging program offerings. And talk about the BREATH.. he had total mastery–breathing through tough transitions– from impassioned, bravura passages, to tender, lyrical sections. A good example for all of us who are eternal students of the piano, or any other musical instrument. And to add kudos to his artistry/accomplishments, he was appointed to the Moscow Conservatory faculty at the tender age of 29. He’s now turned 30, perhaps the Millenium’s new 20.”
A Facebook Friend corroborated Favorin’s “MATURITY” as unique among the crop of competitors, to which I wholeheartedly agreed.
My bubbling enthusiasm could not be contained in a follow-up post:
“The Rachmaninoff/Corelli Variations were just amazing.. I’m still hearing the Variations right now as Favorin permeated my very being through his abundantly communicative playing.. and structurally, he was right there, with threads going through all the variations. This fellow has enormous dimension and depth.” (synonym: MATURITY)
Quite a captivating surprise: The artistry of 20-year old pianist, Martin James Bartlett. His playing from Scarlatti to Prokofiev, had a fresh, spontaneous energy, yet grounded in thoughtful musicianship. He possesses immense tonal variety and projection. Definitely a big DISCOVERY in this competition, and one that will be talked about to its very conclusion. Keep an eye on this young man!
Yekwon Sunwoo, age 28
Sunwoo’s most recent performance at the Cliburn 2017 can be located at the website.
Here’s a flashback to his Cliburn 2013 Preliminary Recital: It’s sheer musical poetry wedded to impeccable technique:
A Very sensitive and lyrical pianist followed Yuri Favorin:
YuTong Sun (age 21)
His Chopin canvas was particularly beautiful
Not to overlook competitors, such as Daniel Hsu, age 19, and Alyosha Jurinic
28 years old, who have risen above collections of fast paced notes, to “sing” poetically from phrase to phrase. Their talents and gifts are treasured regardless of the flow of rounds and results.
Peaks in performances, as well, can be intermixed with occasional valleys of technical imperfection, making it often humanly impossible to please every jury member. Interpretations being be varied and controversial add another ingredient of complexity in assessment.
A convergence of musical talent is by no means the equivalent of a sports event where points are deducted for fouls, or spills on the ice. Note errors of course, are a reality in all endeavors, but an efficient note-wise performance will not necessarily produce expressive or memorable playing. Therefore, selecting a so-called “winner” in a musical universe, can appear to be an oxymoron.
Many commentators, like the sagacious pianist, Seymour Bernstein, assert that it’s basically unfair and unjust to place musicians in a COMPETITIVE environment on any terms. And there’s additional doubt harbored about the wide age range of participants in numerous concours–where a 19-year old’s performance, for example, is juxtaposed with that of a 30-year old.
Finally, while many pianists, teachers, and others may hold differing opinions about placing pianists on a stage of comparison, we can at least collectively wish that all “entrants” will enjoy an ongoing journey of musical growth, development and enrichment as their lives unfold.