The final round format has changed this year so that instead of the competitors playing their classical concerto first and then their showpiece concerto afterward, some of them are playing Rachmaninov or Prokofiev before they’re playing Mozart or Beethoven. The format is giving the audience a chance to hear at least one of those showpieces each night, but I wonder what effect it’ll have on those competitors (specifically Dong, Kholodenko, and Mndoyants) who are leading off with them instead of with their classical concerto. Will it disadvantage them? Will it work to their advantage? This bears watching.

I’m not sure what happened with Sakata when he played Mozart’s Concerto No. 20. It wasn’t a bad performance. It was clean, it was tasteful. It was also flat and boring, and even though he made a bit of a comeback, playing the third movement with increased energy and point, it was a forgettable performance. For once the guy sounds like a teenage concert pianist. I don’t think he helped himself with this outing.

Chen, on the other hand, had the wherewithal to take Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto in both hands and run with it, making a brash statement with the work. The native of Oak Park, Calif., doesn’t have the prettiest tone, and his “Emperor” could have used a bit more, uh, majesty, but he still had a solid handle on the piece’s structure and played with character. I’ll take that and a few rough patches over a blandly correct performance any time.


Kholodenko gave the performance of the night with Prokofiev’s Third Concerto. Scrunching low over the keys and occasionally bouncing up and down on the bench while he played, the Ukrainian generally played well but kicked into another gear during the best parts of his performance, swamping the orchestra during the more demonstrative parts of the second movement as well as the third movement’s big climax. He hadn’t played any Prokofiev so far in this tourney, but it was no surprise that he took to the Russian composer’s milieu. For this powerhouse turn, the crowd erupted into the loudest applause we’ve heard so far in this final round.

I found myself dissatisfied with Maestro Slatkin’s contribution in the Prokofiev, though. The manic parts of the opening movement stayed sane, and the soaring passages of the third stayed on the ground. The conductor is certainly savvy enough to know that this show is about the pianists and not him, but he seems to have been too reticent these past two days. There are many possible reasons for this, but ticket-buyers seeing his name on the bill have a right to expect him to do something special with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Perhaps this is simply a matter of him never having conducted FWSO before, nor having conducted at a competition of this nature before. And he’s still developing a rapport with these soloists, too. All these things can be improved upon during his second go-around with the contestants. I don’t think the concerto performances at this competition have reached their ceiling yet.