Cliburn to launch international Junior Competition

Posted 3:32pm on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014

The Cliburn, that brand name behind one of the world’s most prestigious piano events, is launching a competition for teens.

The first Cliburn International Junior Competition and Festival, designed to attract 24 top pianists ages 13-17 from around the world, is scheduled for June 21-28, 2015.

“Pianists are getting younger and better. At this age, they are already so good and amazing,” said Jacques Marquis, president and CEO of the Van Cliburn Foundation. “I’m expecting to have a fantastic level of playing.”

As with the famed Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, young pianists will audition to get into the event, then advance through several rounds of juried competition in Fort Worth, culminating in performances with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for the finalists. The orchestra will be conducted by Mei-Ann Chen, who directs the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and has been a frequent guest conductor of the FWSO.

Performances, which are open to the public, will take place in Ed Landreth Auditorium and PepsiCo Recital Hall at TCU. Tickets go on sale early next year.

The junior competition will have four rounds, one more than the main Cliburn Competition:

• Preliminary round: Each of 24 pianists performs a 20-minute recital to include a virtuoso-level etude and one movement of a classical sonata.

• Quarterfinal round: Twelve quarterfinalists perform 30-minute recitals to include a Bach prelude and fugue and a Romantic work.

• Semifinal round: Six semifinalists perform one movement from an orchestral concerto, with an assigned piano accompanist playing the orchestra’s part, and a 40-minute recital that must include a modern work.

• Final round: Three finalists each perform a complete concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony.

Jon Nakamatsu, gold medalist of the 1997 Cliburn Competition, will serve as jury chairman; other jurors have not been announced. A screening jury will choose the 24 competitors through 15- to 20-minute video auditions. The field will be announced March 20, 2015.

The first-prize winner will receive $10,000; second prize, $5,000; and third prize, $2,500. Unlike the main competition, there is no formal career management for prize winners or finalists afterward. But the Cliburn will offer advice. “And I’d like them to come back and play in the schools, in Sundance Square,” Marquis said.

All 24 pianists get the benefit of performance experience and some media and webcast exposure; the competition will be shown live on the Cliburn’s website.

“We will go a bit further in our mandate,” said Marquis, who will mark his first anniversary at the helm of the Cliburn in March. “We’ll do seminars to talk about what the real life of a piano career is today. And at this age, you have to enjoy sharing the piano.”

To that end, pianists will get opportunities to play chamber music with other invited musicians, and will likely play free recitals around Fort Worth.

The Cliburn emphasizes that the event will be as much a festival as a competition. The pianists will be housed at TCU rather than with host families (as they are during the main competition) so they can get to know one another.

Branding to youngsters

Another aim is furthering the Cliburn name, Marquis said.

“You know kids; they like branding. We’re going to brand the Cliburn for them also,” he said. “Every four years is a long time to talk about the Cliburn internationally in all the schools, with the teachers.”

Now the Cliburn has two chances to do that in every four-year cycle.

The main Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is open to pianists ages 18-30. Now the Cliburn, which also runs a contest for outstanding amateurs over age 35, can present serious pianists from middle school to retirement age.

It may be the only competition to offer professional, junior and amateur competitions.

“In that, I think we’re pretty unique,” Marquis said.

The Cliburn is the only major competition — including the Tchaikovsky in Moscow and the Queen Elisabeth in Belgium — to offer a junior version.

The new competition helps fill out the Cliburn’s four-year calendar. Now the sequence will be: main competition, off year, junior competition, amateur competition. The new event prompts a schedule change for the next amateur contest, which will now take place in summer 2016 instead of 2015.

Some of the youngest competitors have done well in the main Cliburn Competition. In 2005, Joyce Yang took home the silver at age 19 and has since enjoyed a successful concert and recording career. The 2009 co-gold medalist Haochen Zhang turned 19 during the competition. Last year’s silver medalist, Beatrice Rana, was 20.

“Vadym [Kholodenko, last year’s gold medalist] was already playing the Prokofiev Third when he was 15,” Marquis said. “We are scouting the world’s best young pianists.”

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