The Cliburn Has a Winner!
The awards ceremony started with a movie, a short film including footage of Van Cliburn’s triumph at the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition and his aftermath as a public figure. It was set not to his performance of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto, but rather of his other performance at that tournament, Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. The music reminded me of what a great interpretation he gave of that work, and the montage of him draping the medals around the necks of the competition medalists over the years reminded me that he is not around to do that this year. The man’s absence hasn’t been felt that much in the day-to-day workings of this tournament, but that’s not amiss, given that Cliburn was never thoroughly involved with the competition that bore his name. The film was a great, understated tribute to Mr. Cliburn’s legacy.
Enough about that. You want to know who won. Here’s the list:
Gold medal: Vadym Kholodenko
Silver medal: Beatrice Rana
Crystal award (that’s what they call third place): Sean Chen
Best performance of chamber music: Vadym Kholodenko
Best performance of new work: Vadym Kholodenko
Jury discretionary awards: Alessandro Deljavan, Claire Huangci, Steven Lin
Audience award: Beatrice Rana
About those jury discretionary awards: In previous years, one of those has gone to the competitor who finished 13th (the best of the pianists eliminated before the semifinals) and another one to the one who finished 7th (the best of the semifinalists eliminated before the finals). The voting system is different this year, so this may have changed, but it would appear that the old way of determining these awards has held fast.
I had Deljavan’s chamber music performance as the best one. My pick for the best performance of the Birichino was a toss-up between Kholodenko and Sean Chen, so I’m cool with that. Master of ceremonies Fred Child (of American Public Media’s Performance Today) did not announce the names of the non-medalists first, a move to keep the suspense in the gold medalist’s identity after the silver medalist had been named. It’s a good idea, but there wasn’t much suspense on my end. When Chen’s name was called as the third place winner, I figured the top two would be Kholodenko and Rana in some order. All the medalists had a significant number of fans in the hall rooting for them. As for our gold medal winner, I wish I were unreservedly in his corner, but since I had reservations about all of the finalists, this is an outcome I can live with. The native of Kiev never pulled me out of my seat the way he did for so many others (and the way other pianists did from time to time), but he has been very good through much of this competition, and he’s as deserving as anyone. Kholodenko is the first Ukrainian pianist to win the top prize at the Van Cliburn, the other Soviet past winners all having hailed from different parts of the USSR. Vitaiu! Oh, and here’s some background on the real-life Ukrainian prince who inspired Mazeppa, the piece that Kholodenko played in the semifinals.
And that’s it. The recent turnover in the Cliburn management raised questions about whether the administrative changes would affect the tournament. I haven’t been privy to all facets of the competition, but speaking as a blogger who attended more than 90% of the concerts in the hall, I can say that this whole affair went off without any major hitches that I could detect. That is a tribute to the staffers and also to Jacques Marquis, who took full control of the Van Cliburn only last November.
I hope to go back through these posts and add video screens of the competitors’ performances, so you can listen to them while reading my words and decide more easily whether I’m dead on or full of crap. You may want to check back with these posts later.
I’d like to extend thanks to the Cliburn staffers and volunteers who made my job easier as I migrated back and forth between Bass Hall and the press room these past 16 days, keeping me supplied with much-needed food, water, and caffeine, not to mention some of the information that I’ve passed along to you. As for the pianists, I now have a bunch of new talents whose careers I’ll be eager to follow in the coming years. Finally, I’d like to thank you, dear readers, for keeping up with my idle musings here and (in some cases) writing in. I do this because I’m passionate, but your passion for classical music and for our city’s cultural treasure is just as important. I hope you were informed, entertained, and/or understood your own reactions to the music better, whether you agreed with me or not. I hope to see you all back here in 2017.
Now, there’s a party going on somewhere. After all this spectating and all this work, I’m ready to join it.