Junior Cliburn winners take a bow in Texas
F&A 9 June 2019
Australian pianist Shaun Hern Lee, 16, took first prize on Saturday in the final round of the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition following 12 days of eliminations and associated activities in Dallas, Texas. His winnings totaled $15,000 plus $2,000 for financing his studies in music. Second prize, worth $10,000, went to Eva Gevorgyan, 15, of Russia and Armenia. Third place was taken by JiWon Yang , 17, of South Korea with a purse of $5,000.
This was the second edition of the junior competition, known popularly as the Cliburn for kids. Youngsters 13-17 years of age were eligible and 229 applicants came forward, of whom 24 were selected. Twenty of the participants were of Asian ancestry.
Jury members include established professionals such as Alessio Bax (chairman), Philippe Bianconi and Valery Kuleshov.
Jacques Marquis, president and CEO of the Cliburn Foundation, spoke to me prior to the competition and made it clear what the Junior Competition is not. “The mandate is not about launching careers. It’s about life,” he said. “We have very different objectives for these young players. We are offering a festival atmosphere and we want to give them an entrance to the next step of their journey.”
Marquis sees an upsurge of talent from early stages of development. “I think players are getting really good younger and younger.”
Participants were brought to Dallas, often chaperoned and coached by parents or teachers, to work their way through the preliminary, quarterfinal and semifinal eliminations, culminating in the selection of the three finalists to perform full concertos with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on June 8 under conductor Ruth Reinhardt.
Artistic workshops filled the day. In sync with teens’ lifestyle, the optional workshops covered a wide spectrum of issues for students facing today’s piano career choices including the use of social media. Participants were offered master classes, private lessons, seminars on conducting, advice on how to practice, basic stagecraft, how to handle question-and-answer sessions, analysis of what a piano career truly involves, personal branding and how to make positive use of social media. “We will open a lot of windows,” said Marquis. “It will be useful for students with aspirations to become professional musicians.”
The lineup of participants this year reflects the growing presence of Asian talent, perhaps providing a preview of where professional piano activity will be coming from in the near future. “We have been seeing this trend for some time,” says Marquis. China is driving its own piano craze, with estimates of serious students ranging from 20 million to 60 million. Marquis settles for 40 million and attributes the emergence of Asian talent to strict discipline in Asian families compared to lesser ambitions in Western cultures.
Do they all want to become Lang Langs or Yuja Wangs? Marquis thinks not. “They want to share their music with larger audiences,” he says. “I am really impressed.”
The underlying objective of the Junior edition is to be viewed as the “champion of classical music worldwide” and to keep the Cliburn profile active internationally during the four-year hiatus between the primary competitions. “Four years is a long time today,” he says.
The Cliburn world has taken on a strategic business flavor reflecting Marquis’ training and experience. Besides being a pianist, he is a graduate in business administration and brings financial and fund-raising expertise to bear at the Foundation level. His rhetoric is laced with such terms as “personal branding” for the youngsters and “strategic advancement” for the Cliburn organisation. The businesslike structure seems well-suited to this very artistic enterprise.
Another version of this article appears in the current International Piano magazine.
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