Our Woman at the Cliburn: He Was Robbed

Cliburn Winners107

June 11, 2017

Author’s Note: Like so many of you, I watched the June 10 Cliburn finals online. (My daughter was graduating from high school on June 10. I can’t imagine why the school district didn’t plan around the Cliburn.)

God save the child whose piano lesson followed little Georgy Tchaidze’s. Georgy has his own. And he was robbed.

Certainly, all six finalists in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition play well, and the jury’s job is an unenviable one. On the other hand, the jury’s choice of Gold Medalist seems puzzling.

Saturday, June 10, after the usual lengthy and—for the competitors—torturous introductory remarks, Cliburn Jury Chairman Leonard Slatkin announced the results of the three-week competition. South Korean Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, took the Gold Medal, and American Kenneth Broberg, 23, received the Silver Medal. Daniel Hsu, 19, also an American, received the Bronze Medal, the Steven De Groote Memorial Award for the Best Performance of Chamber Music, and the Beverley Taylor Smith Award for the Best Performance of a New Work. 

Sunwoo, who has degrees from Curtis and Juilliard, performed the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3 in Friday evening’s final round. Although he turned in impressive and highly lyrical performances in the Mozart and chamber rounds, his Rachmaninoff was technically admirable but harsh in tone. Disappointing in the extreme.

Broberg, on the other hand, displayed consistent attention to musical detail. In the Mozart No. 25, the Dvořák Quintet in A major, and the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Broberg never lost track of why he was playing: He loves music, and he wants the audience to love it, too.

Bronze Medalist Hsu is a charmer. (To get an idea of his ability to delight an audience, take a look at the live stream of his concerto round.) He plays well, no doubt, and with maturity. His tone in the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1, however, often became jarring.

So where does the aforementioned Georgy Tchaidze come in? Regrettably, this year’s Cliburn, the 29-year-old Russian finalist didn’t come in at all. Making the finals in the three-week competition is, of course, in itself a significant achievement. But his June 10 performance of Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3 was truly stellar. Prokofiev’s thrill ride of a concerto requires stamina, chops, and the ability to shift character in a single bound. Tchaidze had them all, and his concerto performance was thirty minutes of musical bliss; even online, Tchaidze blew everyone else out of the water. With or without the Cliburn, Tchaidze will continue building a solid career.

Georgy Tchaidze 035

This and That:

  • When watching physically emotive performers, the trick is to look away. How does the music sound without the visual cues?
  • It is noticeable that the three medalists played warhorses: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Tchaikovsky 1, and Rach 3.
  • Hong Kong’s Rachel Cheung, 25, received the Audience Award. She is talented and delightful, and is another finalist who looks to have a successful career.
  • The John Giordano Jury Chairman Discretionary Award went to South Korea’s Dasol Kim, 28, and the Raymond E. Buck Jury Discretionary Award to Italy’s Leonardo Pierdomenico, 24. An additional Jury Discretionary Award went to Canada’s Tony Yike Yang, 18.

For information on the goodies that accompany each award, visit cliburn.org.