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Southlake Style

The Keys to Glory

Jun 18, 2013 01:25PM ● By tina

Like the Olympics, the Van Cliburn boasts international interest and only takes place every four years.

Van Cliburn Piano Competition Returns to Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall

By Catherine Adcock, Deputy Editor

The results are in, and 26-year-old Ukrainian Vadym Kholodenko took home the top prize — the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medal and Van Cliburn Winner’s Cup, plus $50,000 and three years of management and concert bookings — at this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which ended June 9. Like the Olympics, this competition boasts international interest, worldwide laudations and only takes place every four years. Unlike the Olympics, you never have to travel far to watch the world’s best in classical pianists compete for a chance at glory, acclaim and prizes valued at nearly $1.5 million.

The competition began in 1962 to honor the cultural contributions of a young virtuoso-turned-rockstar classical pianist famous the world over. At the age of 23, Van Cliburn, a Kilgore native who later called Fort Worth home, surprised the world by winning the first annual Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. That year in 1958, during the height of the Cold War, Time magazine called Cliburn “the Texan who conquered Russia” on its cover. The handsome, all-American wonder from Texas began travelling the world to perform for heads of state, dignitaries and celebrities. He appeared on The Tonight Show and eventually garnered a fame that by all accounts rivaled that of contemporary Elvis Presley. For all his talent and all his acclaim, Van Cliburn was perhaps most noted for retaining the down-to-earth goodness and home-ground kindness of a true Texan.

In the fall of the year Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky Competition, Irl Allison, founder of the National Guild of Piano Teachers, announced that he would offer a $10,000 first prize to the winner of a competition named for Cliburn while at a dinner in Fort Worth. For the next three years, North Texas cultural figures, political leaders and locals worked tirelessly to create a world-class competition in a city commonly known as Cowtown. In 1962, American Ralph Votapek won the first event, and since then, the finest young pianists from around the globe have been drawn to Fort Worth to participate in the world’s preeminent piano competition every four years.

Those who participated in the event at Bass Hall were selected through a five-member jury, which travels internationally to hear live performances from more than 130 applicants. From these auditions, 30 of the world’s finest pianists were invited to compete for the Cliburn medals, $175,000 in prizes and awards and three years of commission-free career management valued at more than $1.3 million. The lucky virtuosos enjoyed local hospitality, boarding with families who open up their homes to the guests. The world-renowned event proudly boasts the same charm and hospitality Cliburn was known for. Up until his death this past February, Van Cliburn himself made a tradition of greeting each contestant, attending many of the performances and announcing the winners.

During the first week of June, the semi-finals and finals took place at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, and the entire competition was streamed online from Van Cliburn (In 2009, more than 2 million unique visitors from 157 countries streamed video of the performances right into their homes.) Of the 45-minute solo performances during preliminary rounds, 12 advanced to 60-minute recital semifinal rounds, which included a solo performance and a performance with the world-renowned Brentano String Quartet. The final six pianists performed with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.


Click here for a full list of winners.