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Top Cliburn executive steps down

Posted 2:13pm on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012

FORT WORTH — Alann Sampson, interim president and CEO of the Van Cliburn Foundation, abruptly resigned this week, the latest in a string of recent departures from the parent of the prestigious Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Cliburn Board chairwoman Carla Thompson said she could not discuss the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Sampson, who joined the Cliburn as a volunteer before the first competition in 1962.

Although the foundation is conducting a search for a permanent chief executive, Sampson had been expected to continue in her role through the next piano competition, which begins May 24 at Bass Hall in downtown Fort Worth.

“I can tell you we’re very sorry she has resigned and we wished that she hadn’t,” Thompson said. “She is an unbelievable person. She had been a tireless ambassador for the Cliburn. She’s given her life to it. She is a huge part of our history and always will be. She’s been around from the beginning, and we wish her the very best.”

Sampson could not be reached for comment.

She will be succeeded on an interim basis by Jacques Marquis, who joined the Cliburn staff last summer. Marquis had been founder and longtime CEO of the Montreal International Music Competition in Canada.

“He’s a great asset to us with Alann stepping down,” Thompson said. “He has 18 years experience, both administratively and on the music side. He’s taken it and he’s running with it.”

The departure comes at an extremely difficult time for the Cliburn, whose iconic namesake is gravely ill with advanced bone cancer.

Sampson was on hand in early September when Cliburn made a surprise appearance at a Bass Hall concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Van Cliburn Competition. Most believed that it was his farewell appearance.

This was Sampson’s second stint as interim director. She served in the post after the 2009 departure of Richard Rodzinski, who had led the foundation for 23 years.

David Worters, an executive with the North Carolina Symphony, was chosen to replace Rodzinski, but he left after only six months, saying he lacked the passion for the job.

Sampson stepped back into the post after Worters left in the summer of 2011.

“I’ve been asked to stay on through the [2013] competition,” Sampson said after she was named to the interim post. “The search will probably begin sometime in 2012. It would be wonderful if a new person would be hired before the competition and we would do it together.”

There was widespread speculation at the time that Worters’ departure was prompted, at least in part, by Sampson’s overinvolvement. Veda Kaplinsky, head of the piano department at the Juilliard School in New York and a Cliburn juror in several competitions, told the Star-Telegram in 2011.

“That could not be further from the truth,” Kaplinsky told the newspaper. She said that from Day One, Worters insisted on Sampson removing herself, and “there was no contact. It wasn’t her. She didn’t do anything to make him fail, or aggravate things.”

Sampson’s departure is sure to raise eyebrows in the international piano community, especially given that the Cliburn competition, which is conducted every four years, is only six months away.

But Thompson and others close to the competition said that Sampson’s resignation would not affect the 14th Cliburn. The application process for the next competition is complete, and screening auditions will begin around the world early next year.

“It’s going to be good. It’s going to work out,” Kaplinsky said. “That’s all I can tell you.”

Thompson said that Sampson’s resignation was not cause for broader concern.

“We’re sorry she left, and we’re grateful for everything she’s done,” Thompson said. “But we’ve got management that is covering all this. There is not a gap. There is no vacancy.

“We’re fine. The number of [contestant] applications are soaring. There is no indication that the competition will be anything but what it’s always been. It’s going to be better than it’s ever been.”

Thompson said she hoped that a permanent replacement for Sampson would be identified by early next year.

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