Alessandro Deljavan, Bohzanov pianist, classissima,, piano competitions, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube, you tube video, you, yout tube,

Alessandro Deljavan is a Cliburn winner for me!

DeljavanOver at the Piano World forums, it’s the morning after selection of Cliburn Competition finalists, and many are aghast that a dynamic, soulful, and risk-taking pianist was overlooked.

Here’s what one poster said: “Competition winners are typically the reliable pianists somewhere in the middle when it comes to interpretation–those who don’t go out on a limb or offend the majority’s idea of good interpretation. Deljavan doesn’t fit this profile.” (He also included Claire Huangci in this category–to which I’m in agreement)

When I heard Alessandro Deljavan render the Schumann Fantasie, it felt as though he was the composer playing it. The pure fire, in the moment excitement, incredible virtuosity, left me breathless. It reminded me of hearing Gilels in Carnegie Hall when I was a kid. I nearly fell over the balcony in my unconstrained, impassioned embrace of such awe-inspiring artistry.

So very rarely does a pianist come along and rivet a listener to his every phrase. Too many are on the sidelines giving a “respectable” reading.

Flash forward to the competition ARENA in the Olympiad framing, and we have the judges penalizing the ones who may have a few note slip-ups, and go outside the M.M. (Metronome markings) These referees are fixated on petty details and not attuned to what counts.. COMMUNICATION!!!

Oh, and don’t forget to deduct points for FACE-MAKING! I must confess, to working on my Beethoven Pianos blog yesterday while listening to Alessandro–no image this time, and his playing soared well beyond any camera angle rendered at RING-side.

I can’t fathom in my wildest imagination why Deljavan was cut–sorry to be blunt—but I know he WILL move on to a great career regardless–same for Claire Huangci because they CONNECT with listeners and bring emotional depth to the competition, defying the NORM….

It’s been further emphasized that too many Gold winners at Cliburn have not progressed to major careers, so maybe this is a good omen for Alessandro and Claire (They join the Cliburn reject circle along with Evgeni Bozhanov who is thankfully out of the competition loop, serenading appreciative audiences world-wide)


Now for a serving of Deljavan who is uncannily a celebrated CHEF, cooking for everyone on the Cliburn set. You gotta love him.

Incidentally, if anything is predictable in this competition cosmos, I’ll hedge my bets that Alessandro will land the AUDIENCE FAVORITE award (so I’m off to cast my vote!)

An off the cuff interview with Alessandro


Official Website: Alessandro Deljavan

Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano competitions, Seymour Bernstein, shirley smith, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Van Cliburn piano competition

Seymour Bernstein’s riveting statement about the piano competition environment and what changes are needed


“Are all of you listening to one spectacular young pianist after another? (Cliburn Competition in progress)

“Why should they have to be placed in the position of competing against one another, and facing the possibility of being rejected by a jury? It would be just absurd if a jury was chosen to decide who is the greatest impressionist painter-Monet, Cézanne, or Degas, to mention only three painters? These performers have profound messages to share with the world.

“What sort of a system has created a scenario akin to gladiators in ancient Rome who had to fight-to-the-death for survival and, in the process, give
the public a thrill? Are we to accept the fact that only one or two among these phenomenally gifted performers are going to receive major engagements, plus a pile of money? How will the others be rewarded for the inspiration they have afforded us? The well-adjusted among them will recover quickly from rejection and continue to relate to music as life itself. Others will return to the familiar rat race of trying to find engagements.

“I say down with the contest format! Let’s replace it with a showcase of the world’s greatest talents who symbolize the highest form of human achievement. Take the large sum of money allotted to winners and divide it among the performers as a token of their participation. Are you prepared to carry this message wherever you can by writing to the directors of contests and to music publications? I am. This will be a major project this summer.”



Seymour Bernstein, pianist/teacher/author/composer

Do we Need Piano Competitions?

Star Telegram, questions jury ties to competitors at Cliburn Competition, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, piano competitions, Teh 14th International Van Cliburn Piano Competition, Van Cliburn, word press

Piano “Competitions”–Do we need them?

The word “competition” in the realm of music-making doesn’t work for me. Those who serve the poetry of music and view technique, not as athletically driven, but as a means to a higher artistic end can be offended by glitzy, media-hyped productions that show young Asian, American, Russian, etc. flowers of youth posing for thumbnail video sketches like Olympic hopefuls.

Some young entrants at multiple concours here and abroad, might consider a personal trainer, wardrobe adviser, PR person, and face-making coach to help them advance to the winners circle.

A cute smile, tilt of the head, or even tongue twisting maneuver might side-step going through the hoops, recital after recital, in pursuit of the GOLD.

A good media profile, culled months if not years before the BIG EVENT might land an aspirant a budding career. (as long as it’s technology bundled)

In this age of mp3s, quickie uploads, you tube playing flashes, blogs, vlogs, logs—pods, pads, and anything new on the horizon that will outdate the former, young pianistic talents have to adapt to changin’ media channels.

The good news, if one favorably views the NEW WORLD we live in, is that our current generation of gifted pianists are WITH IT, having a generous grounding in computers, originating in Kindergarten.

Hence, their websites are streamlined and hyper-linked to guarantee maximum exposure.

But back to competitions.

In the era of Van Cliburn, dating to his win in 1958, the environment was DIFFERENT. It was a resoundingly POLITICAL era.. Not to say that “Vanya” didn’t deserve to claim the Gold at the prestigious Tschaikovsky Competition in Moscow circa 1958, but the COLD WAR was raging and a thaw was a welcome, DRAMATIC, if not world-changing event. (And Cliburn rode the crest)

Cliburn Moscow

The tall rangy, sandy-haired TEXAN was at the right place during an opportune historical moment that bestowed an unheard of ticker tape parade for a musician in Lower Manhattan!!!!! (Who would believe??)

The Gold RCA generated Vinyl RECORD of Van and Kiril Kondrashin collaborating in Tschaikovsky’s Bb minor concerto earned the young pianist a life-long following and solid, financially secure life.

Would it be the same today for Van or any other first place winner of a high profile International Competition? It doesn’t necessarily follow. Too many current Cliburn entrants to the current 14th International convergence, have racked up victories all over the world, yet they’re still in feverish pursuit of another big PRIZE that might have enduring value. (throw in an appearance on ELLEN to assist!)

In that vein, consider the so-called prodigies, some of whom have won the undeserving, premature attention of ELLEN DEGENERES as they savor 15 minutes of fame at the instigation of pushy parents. In truth, some of these preemies need to stay home and practice for at least 10 to 15 years before banging their way to final cadences on the public stage. Maybe some day they’ll make it in the competitive arena!


Murray Perahia, my personal musical hero, and poet of the piano, avoided the prodigy loop for early recognition, and did the LEEDS Competition in the UK back a few decades. His win sparked a great, enduring career, but times were qualitatively different then. Young talented musicians picked and carefully chose a PRESTIGIOUS competition to enter and didn’t have to run around to scads of them. They hoped ONE victory would CAPTURE enough attention to stop their FRENZIED pursuit.

Consider as well the judges at these competitions: Many have taught a truckload of entrants or are linked by the next generation to teachers who might have taught mentors of these newbies, and by further association to piano-playing pedagogues in the OLD COUNTRY.

Veda Kaplinksy, Chair of the Juilliard Piano Department and a frequent jurist, excuses herself from voting for her own students at the Cliburn Competition and Lord know where else? But how could she realistically manage to keep track of the complex lineage of professorial forebears without doing a current genealogy search on the WEB.

Seymour Bernstein, pianist, teacher, author, has now become so incensed about the competition milieu and its impure environment that he sent out an all points bulletin registering his discontent with the whole atmosphere that pits pianists as rivals, while he expressed outrage that one of his favored entrants, Sara Daneshpour, was not a chosen semi-finalist. (her website:

With Seymour’s permission, I’ve memorialized his riveting statement, “NO COMPETITIONS”

Dear friends,
I have concluded something that I wish to share with everyone on my mailing list: the Cliburn Competition has revealed the greatest young performers among us. Of course there are other qualified performers who were not chosen for non-musical reasons: either they haven’t won a major competition, or they never performed with a major orchestra, to mention only two reasons.

This is my conclusion: The word “competition” must be eliminated. The Cliburn Competition is rich enough to expose these phenomenal young artists to the world for one reason only: they ought to be heard as models of human achievement on the highest level, and they ought not to have to compete with one another.

The worst aspect of competitions is the assumption that jury members are qualified to judge who is the best among the competitors. This is impossible given each person’s varied tastes. I, myself have adjudicated at major competitions where a pupil of mine was among the competitors. While I was not allowed to vote for that pupil, my colleagues knew that I taught that contestant simply by reading the bios of the competitors. Some jury members will want to support me and my pupil, while others, compelled to uphold fairness at all cost, may vote against my pupil.

In addition, I have known jury members to support a competitor who studies with a close colleague. Finally, jury members are not beyond the possibility of falling prey to sexual attraction. Considering the human factor, visual attractiveness may override objective listening.

Considering these factors, let’s vote for abolishing all competitions. Let’s have these performers share their artistry with us for no other purpose than to inspire us with their accomplishments, thereby spreading the essence of the divine art of music to a world sorely in need of it. Let’s all write to the competition board and suggest this for future Webcasts.



My comment: While I agree with Seymour’s assertions, my underlying thesis is that our culture should properly nourish and sustain musicians, and not force them into competitive environments.

Many Juilliard grads, for example, when researched a decade after their graduation could not make a living at what they loved, cherished, and nurtured since childhood. (Competitions, notwithstanding)

In conclusion, until we get off the instant message, mp3 driven train, abandoning LIVE concerts, and drinking the KOOL AID served up by sound byte-ing advertisers, (the not so hidden persuaders) we’ll always have aspiring pianists taking an alternate route, far afield form their first love, just to put bread on the table.

And what a loss to a society that should embrace those who have something SPIRITUAL to offer in a world plagued by violence and all the rest we should abhor.


Seymour Bernstein speaks even louder about Piano Competitions and the need for CHANGE:

Star Telegram, questions jury ties to competitors at Cliburn Competition

Memories of Van Cliburn

The 14th International Van Cliburn Competition

click ON DEMAND LINK to hear performances of all entrants

1958 Tschaikovsky Piano Competition, Moscow, piano, piano competitions, Tschaikovsky, Tschaikovsky Piano concerto in Bb minor, Van Cliburn, word press,, you tube, you tube video, you, yout tube,

Rekindling memories of Van Cliburn, the Cold War, Kirill Kondrashin, etc

Cliburn Moscow

A friend sent me a link to her favorite performance of Tschaikovsky’s Bb minor, WARHORSE concerto– the one with the big splash CHORD opener.

Pianists dream of conquering these sonorities without a falter, but not necessarily in their lifetime.

For me the easiest way to reach to the stars on this one, was to sit at our family’s sallow, 1950s yellow dinette table and pretend I was Van Cliburn. Shaping my small hands to the imagined size of the sonorities, I played along with Kirill Kondrashin’s RCA Victor recording.

A feted hero of the Cold War, breaking the ice with my sizzling Moscow performance, I had the audience in my palms, riveted to my sweeping, sculpted phrases and shimmering passage work. And in the absence of a cultural or musical divide, I was offered a RED carpet of love and goodwill, drowned in flowers, bravos– my name, “Vanya” cut through deafening applause.

To Americans, I was just TEXAS-bred “VAN,” taller than most, and with a shock of red hair. My appearance singled me out in a crowd. I had the look of an Adonis athlete with my towering height and big, powerful hands.

Were I a basketball player, I’d be hoisted up on the shoulders of my teammates, in Spartan victory.

But with my ice breaker, even in the hockey arena, I’d be regaled when I returned to the states– showered with ticker tape along Lower Broadway.

Those were the days when take cover drills and mass hysteria were par for the course. Second-graders would squeeze themselves under tiny chairs, wondering what happened– or even worse, what MIGHT happen.

While they were immunized against polio, the threat of an impending World War III left them unprotected and vulnerable.

Flash forward to the Millennium:

Van Cliburn is a legend in his own time–a tireless advocate for the arts, a builder from the ground up of his Van Cliburn Foundation that sponsors an International Piano Competition. He’s been a life-long piano ambassador, spreading LOVE and good will at every turn.

We owe him a debt of gratitude.

I recently learned that Van, now 78, has advanced bone cancer, and like so many of his admirers around the world, I pray for him.

The best tribute I can bestow that’s at my fingertips, decades past my Bronx era table-top tapping, is to replay Van’s historic Moscow performance. So here it is:

And a snatch from a 1962 rendering, back in Moscow– third movement–(gorgeous, GORGEOUS!!)

NYT Cliburn page 1

P.S. I heard Cliburn revisit this concerto at Lewisohn Stadium. My mother took me, and we sat pretty high up in the great outdoors. The opening chords and Cliburn’s movements were unsynchronized, but I recall that evening as a breathtaking musical experience!