I’m also the soccer guy on this website, as our regular readers know, so I heard about the incredible last few minutes of USA’s 2-1 victory over Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier in Kingston, with our guys blowing the lead in the 89th minute only to snatch back the win at the very end. The Van Cliburn Competition is always held the year before the World Cup soccer tournament, so there’s always qualifying matches going on across the world while we’re holding our own competition here. Regarding the competitors’ nations, Japan has already qualified for the tournament, thanks to a draw last Tuesday with Australia that clinched their spot. China, on the other hand, was eliminated early last year. Italy is pretty much where we’d expect, leading its qualifying group in the European confederation, though last night’s draw with Czech Republic gives a surprisingly strong Bulgaria team hopes of catching the Azzurri for the automatic qualifying spot. Russia lost to a Portugal team desperate for a win yesterday, making their group a three-way dogfight with Portugal and overachieving Israel. And Ukraine has joined a similar fray with England and Montenegro, picking up a vital win over the latter yesterday.
Here in the press room, Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News just yelled at the documentary film crew to stop filming him. Apparently, he and Christopher Wilkinson (the screenwriter of Ali and Nixon, who’s directing the documentary) had a falling out earlier today. Cantrell walked out on an interview, apparently feeling that Wilkinson was unfairly grilling him over the negative tenor of his reviews of the competitors. Later on in the evening, Cantrell blogged that he had received an apology from Jacques Marquis. Interesting development.
The orchestra’s seating chart was changed for today’s performance. Maestro Slatkin performed the first two days with the cellos and basses grouped at stage left (the right side of the stage, from the audience’s point of view) and the second violins sitting adjacent to the first violins, but today he had the second violins occupying stage left, as is usually the case with FWSO. Where the orchestra players sit actually does matter, because it affects the balance of the sound. As the conductor explained in a press conference this morning (which I missed fulfilling my film critic duties at the Weekly), he switched the seating in the first place because he thought the orchestra would sound better. (Rumors continue to circulate that he switched just as an “I’m in charge now” gesture, which would be just silly if it were true.) Anyway, he was persuaded to change back to the orchestra’s regular seating for the competition’s last two days.
Whether it was the seating or some other factor that I might have referred to yesterday, the FWSO had an extra spring in its step this evening. Mndoyants played Mozart’s 20th Piano Concerto, the same one Sakata played last night, and gave an altogether livelier performance than the Japanese competitor. He set us critics abuzz with his choice of cadenzas, as we struggled to find out who composed his harmonically shifting but not un-Mozartean cadenza. Maybe you’ve guessed: It was the pianist himself who wrote it. Ballsy of him to break that out in a major competition, but he brought it and the rest of the concerto off quite well. Kholodenko’s apparently going to perform his own cadenza as well when he performs Mozart tomorrow.
Dong played Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto for her final performance here, and though she was very good in the piece’s more animated passages (especially the cadenza in the first movement) and her tone was attractive throughout the piece, the thing didn’t hold together. This pianist has faded in the concerto round, and whenever that happens, you have to ask if fatigue is setting in. That’s always a consideration in this famously grueling competition. Then again, maybe choosing a concerto better suited to her than the Rachmaninov would have benefited her. Shame she hasn’t been able to equal her fantastic performances from earlier.
Yesterday I alluded to fans having the right to expect something special when Leonard Slatkin takes the podium. Well, we got it in the performance of Prokofiev’s Second Concerto, this time with Rana as the soloist. The orchestra was much crisper than it was for Mndoyants on Thursday. The soloist was pretty crisp herself. All in all, it was a very crispy performance. Rana played with her customary care, but this time it didn’t prevent her from playing the piece with the necessary flair and power. Maybe the native of Apulia (the province of Italy in the heel of the “boot”) doesn’t have Prokofiev in her genetic makeup the way Mndoyants does, but she still played it magnificently. She also reaped the benefit of an FWSO that sounded frightening for the first time in this competition. This performance was the first one that made me think, “We have our winner here,” but there’s still one more day of concertos to go. What do the maestro and the competitors have in store for us tomorrow? We’ll find out.