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Maryland physician wins Sixth Cliburn Amateurs competition

Cliburn International Competition for Outstanding Amateurs

Other winners Sunday are:

Jury Discretionary Awards: Leslie Myrick, Toronto, Ontario; and David Hibbard, Fort Worth

Press Jury Award: Jane Gibson King, Provo, UT

Audience Award: Christopher Shih

Best Performance of a Work from the Classical Era: Jun Fujimoto, Scarborough, Ontario

Best Performance of a Work from the Romantic Era: Christopher Shih

Best Performance of a Post-Romantic Work: Barry Coutinho

Posted 9:16pm on Sunday, May. 29, 2011

Two doctors and a retired database programmer from Fort Worth took the top three prizes in the Van Cliburn Foundation’s sixth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs on Sunday evening.

The first-prize winner, Christopher Shih, is a gastroenterologist from Ellicott City, Md. He is unusual in having competed in both the Cliburn Amateur and in the more prominent Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, in 1997.

He said after the award ceremony Sunday evening that the Cliburn Amateur was a lower-stress and therefore more pleasant experience.

“The contestants are all people who came here because they love to play,” he said. “My goal was to come, play as well as I could, and enjoy the social experience.”

Asked for his immediate plans, he said he was going to drop the piano completely, perhaps for three years. He won the Paris amateur piano competition three years ago.

Shih was one of the most consistent pianists, starting well if somewhat modestly with a group of arrangements from Bach, maintaining his pace in the semifinals with more varied arrangements from Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Bizet, and ending brilliantly with a masterful performance of Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel.

The second-prize winner, Clark Griffith of Fort Worth, is a retired database programmer who is well-known among local piano buffs — he is active in the DFW Amateur Pianists club. He seemed pleased at taking second prize, along with three subsidiary awards.

“I am completely satisfied,” he said. “I was glad just to be playing in the finals.”

Griffith clearly loves Bach. His four Bach selections, played over three rounds, included his variation on Bach’s Goldberg aria and his arrangement for solo piano of the fugue from Bach’s Sonata No. 3 for violin.

Barry Coutinho, the third-prize winner, is a physician from Pittsburgh who was born in India and trained in London. He was another consistent performer, with precise and flowing performances of Liszt and Ravel in the prelims, superb accounts of Bach, Ravel and Liszt in the semifinals, and brilliant interpretations of Schubert and Ravel in the finals.

Remarkable was his command of Ravel’s notoriously difficult Gaspard de la Nuit and the way he took an inherently vulgar piece, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, and made it playful enough to be fun.

The remainder of the finalists are an accomplished group.

-- Jane Gibson King, a homemaker from Provo, Utah, gave precise, lively performances with some lovely passages and more than a bit of musical good cheer. Highlights included two Scarlatti sonatas and a beautiful Claire de lune.

-- Dominic Piers Smith, a British race-car designer, demonstrated both boldness and subtlety in his superb preliminary performances of Debussy and Rachmaninoff. He seemed a bit down in the semifinals, but he recovered nicely in the finals with more Chopin, Liszt and Tchaikovsky, in which he contrasted dramatic fire with tasteful restraint.

-- Ken Iisaka, an Internet entrepreneur who lives in Mill Valley, Calif., was born in Tokyo and educated in Canada. He was the most outgoing performer. Before his finals performance he told Steve Cumming, the competition emcee, that his program had two related themes: “From heaven to hell on earth” and “From the sublime to the ridiculous.” He then contrasted heavenly Beethoven with less heavenly Alkan and Kapustin. He’s quite a musical showman.

Other winners Sunday:

Jury Discretionary Awards: Leslie Myrick, Toronto; and David Hibbard, Fort Worth.

Press Jury Award: Jane Gibson King, Provo, Utah.

Audience Award: Shih.

Best Performance of a Work from the Classical Era: Jun Fujimoto, Scarborough, Ontario.

Best Performance of a Work from the Romantic Era: Shih

Best Performance of a Post-Romantic Work: Coutinho.

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