Last day of this competition! As always happens, the press room at the Cliburn is now filled to capacity. (In the first round, it was just a few diehards like me.) Three different Japanese journalists are seated around me at the table as I type these words. We’re all eating barbecue, yet this corner of Texas feels like quite the global center regardless.
A few miscellaneous links to get us going: From today’s New York Times there’s an article on the neuroscience of music. Here’s Steven Lin performing through a 6.5 earthquake at last year’s Sendai International Music Competition in Japan.
The crowd firmly in his corner, Kholodenko wound up his Cliburn with Mozart’s 21st Piano Concerto, a piece that’s sometimes called the “Elvira Madigan” Concerto after a gloppy 1967 Swedish romantic movie that made prominent use of the concerto’s second movement. The Ukrainian went out with a terrific performance, keeping the second movement from drooping and playing the rest with both beauty, lightness, and attention to structural detail. He played his own cadenza in the first movement, a contrapuntal Brahmsian affair that made use of the movement’s themes. I liked it quite a bit. This performer has come on strong in the final round, maybe stronger than all the others, but the judges are supposed to pick winners based on overall performance, so we’ll so how well he fares.
Sakata played Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. (The composer actually wrote a second piano concerto, but it’s played much less frequently.) Unfortunately, the kid majorly fluffed the piano’s grand statement of the work’s famous opening theme, but he did recover in time to play some scary octave passages in the back half of the first movement. Sakata played the rest of the concerto with technical security, intelligence, focus, and the proper feeling. Behind him, the orchestra continued to play with greater depth and power than they showed in the final round’s first two days. A strong performance, but how much will that botched opening hurt him?
The audience loved Sean Chen’s version of Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto. I was somewhat less enthralled, though it may be that I’m just gassed here at the very end of this competition. Chen certainly brought the technical and emotional fireworks during the piece’s big emotional high points, especially the end. I found him much less interesting in the work’s quieter, reflective passages and in its connective parts as well. The piece would have stood up better dramatically with more attention to these. Also, FWSO was generally too subdued, although the orchestra offered much clearer textures than it did on Thursday for Dong in the same piece, and came up big on the impassioned parts of the Rachmaninov as well. Overall, I thought this was an above-average rendition of the concerto, though the crowd begged to differ.
So we’re done now with the performances. Running the numbers, I’ve heard 75 hours’ worth of music in the past 16 days. And I don’t have a clear favorite at this point. Of the six remaining finalists, I’ve found things to like in all their performances, but nobody has been entirely consistent, and the cumulative format of the judging is set up to reward consistency. Chen and Kholodenko didn’t impress me in the first round but improved as the competition went on. Rana and Mndoyants underwhelmed me with their semifinal recitals. Dong Fei-Fei faded in the concerto performances, while Sakata had that one flat concerto as well. If I judged them by just their best single performances (Chen’s semifinal recital, Dong’s Liszt or Chopin, Kholodenko’s Liszt, Mndoyants’ Beethoven and Chopin, Rana’s Prokofiev, and Sakata’s first-round recitals), I’d still have a hard time singling somebody out. How do we pick someone out, and what allowances do we make for the lack of support given to the soloists by Slatkin and FWSO during the first half of the concerto round? I don’t know. I’m prepared for anyone to win the top prize in this thing. It’s anybody’s ball game. I’ll be back later in the evening with a list of winners.