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Five Chinese in Van Cliburn Competition finals. Why no Brits or Germans?

Two days after the founder’s funeral, 30 finalists have been announced for the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, to be held May 24-June 9 in Fort Worth, Texas. Three are from mainland China, one from Taiwan and at least one of the US entrants, YouYou Zhang, is of Chinese parentage.

The absence of British, German and Austrian candidates is striking, but may be ascribed to a sharper talent-spotting mechanism. A young UK or German pianist like Benjamin Grosvenor and Alice Sara Ott will be spotted and signed to a record label long before the audition juries at Cliburn report back with their shortlist.

benjamin grosvenor           alice sara ott


The Cliburn is open to pianists aged 18 to 30. Here’s the full rundown.

Luca Buratto, Italy

Age during Competition: 20


Sean Chen, United States

Age during Competition: 24


Alexey Chernov, Russia

Age during Competition: 30


Sara Daneshpour, United States

Age during Competition: 26


Alessandro Deljavan, Italy

Age during Competition: 26


Fei-Fei Dong, China

Age during Competition: 22


François Dumont, France

Age during Competition: 27


Yury Favorin, Russia

Age during Competition: 26


Lindsay Garritson, United States

Age during Competition: 25


Jayson Gillham, Australia

Age during Competition: 26


Giuseppe Greco, Italy

Age during Competition: 23


Ruoyu Huang, China

Age during Competition: 24


Claire Huangci, United States

Age during Competition: 23


Vadym Kholodenko, Ukraine

Age during Competition: 26


Nikolay Khozyainov, Russia

Age during Competition: 20


Marcin Koziak, Poland

Age during Competition: 24


Kuan-Ting Lin, Taiwan

Age during Competition: 21


Steven Lin, United States

Age during Competition: 24


Alex McDonald, United States

Age during Competition: 30


Gustavo Miranda-Bernales, Chile

Age during Competition: 22


Nikita Mndoyants, Russia

Age during Competition: 24


Oleksandr Poliykov, Ukraine

Age during Competition: 25


Beatrice Rana, Italy

Age during Competition: 20


Tomoki Sakata, Japan

Age during Competition: 19


Scipione Sangiovanni, Italy

Age during Competition: 25


Hyung-Min Suh, South Korea

Age during Competition: 23


Alessandro Taverna, Italy

Age during Competition: 29


Jie Yuan, China

Age during Competition: 27


YouYou Zhang, United States

Age during Competition: 29


Eric Zuber, United States

Age during Competition: 28

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  1. Basia Jaworski says:

    And five Italians!

  2. Ninja Anderlohr-Hepp says:

    At least with Claire Huangci there is a pianist, that studies in Germany (Hannover) and was mainly taught over here and even won 2nd prize in the 2011 ARD competition in Munich. She is also being supported by the German foundation Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben – I guess one could say, she is not only starting for the US, but for Germany as well.
    Good luck to all participants!

  3. Tom Deacon says:

    It is impossible to tell whether or not there were candidates from the UK or from Germany. The question is: will the Asian contestants be “represented” by an Asian pianist on the jury? In the Tchaikovsky Competition last year the Asians dominated the finals and yet there was not a single Asian or a single woman, I seem to recall, on the jury.

  4. Emil Archambault says:

    There’s more than one young UK pianist, I believe. So while Grosvenor is not included because he has a
    recording contract, there are still many others.

    By the way, Beatrice Rana is fantastic. She won the Montreal Music Competition in 2010 and has given us a few marvelous concerts recently.

  5. Christophe Huss says:

    As so often, I do not see the point!

    The fact that a young outstanding British or German pianist is spotted earlier because the agencies are there is pure logic (but here also they needed Chopin Competition to spot Wunder and Haskil Comp to notice Helmchen).

    But why do any headline about Chinese? There are much less Asians in that list than in any other competition…
    And what is wrong with that anyway?

  6. Malcolm James says:

    The golden age of competitions was from the 1950s to the 1970s when the Tchaikovsky, Warsaw and Leeds competitions launched, amongst others, Argerich, Pollini, Lupu, Perahia, Schiff and Uchida. If you look at the lists of priewinners since then you will find very few 1st and 2nd prizewinners who are of the very top rank. Grosvenor and Ott are doing fine without entering competitions and so are the other future stars. It’s probably the 2nd and 3rd rank pianists who really need these competitions now. This may well be because there is a certain sort of performance which wins competitions, i.e. one which doesn’t upset any of the jury but is just a little bland so that they are the classic compromise candidate, but is not the sort of performance which launches a major career.

  7. Christophe Huss says:

    Totally disagree with Mr James.
    Depends on the competitions, and what they are looking for
    Beatrice Rana is in the list of Van Cliburn competition. She won already Montreal International Music Competition at 18, in 2011. She is a great and true artist whatever happens in Forth Worth.
    The same applies to Nareh Arghamanian, the former winner in Montreal, in 2008 (in 2004 David Fray finished 2nd).

    And not to be to “montrealish” just have a look at Clara Haskil competition. In the last 20 years Steven Osborne,
    Till Fellner, Mihaela Ursuleasa, Martin Helmchen, Adam Laloum. Do you need more?

    May be the significant and clear-sighted competitions have just changed (in 10 years some Montreal winners: Measha Bruegergosman, Angela Meade in vocal; Yosif Ivanov, Benjamin Beilman for violin…)

    By the way Concours Reine Elisabeth (piano 2013) and Van Cliburn are overlapping
    I tried to find the Germans and English participant in the Brussels preselection
    There are none as shown in:

    May be there is just a lack of potential talents in Germany and England at this time… !!!

  8. Jerome Weeks says:

    To Tom Deacon on the issue of the Cliburn jury, here’s the complete list, and as you can see, China has two jurists, there’s one Japanese and three from Israel:

    Maestro John Giordano (United States) will serve as chairman of the jury for his eleventh competition since he assumed the post in 1973. Other jury members include: Dmitri Alexeev (Russia), Michel Beroff (France), Andrea Bonatta (Italy), Richard Dyer (United States), Joseph Kalichstein (Israel), Yoheved Kaplinsky (Israel), Liu Shih Kun (China), Minoru Nojima (Japan), Menahem Pressler (United States), Blanca Uribe (Colombia), Arie Vardi (Israel), and Xian Zhang (China).

  9. Norman, perhaps a more concerning matter is the presence among the 30 chosen competitors of at least 4 current and former students of Yoheved Kaplinsky. Mrs. Kaplinsky is one of the members of the screening committee that selected the 30 Cliburn contestants.

    • 4 Israeli on a jury and 4 of Kaplinsky student, so the winners or finalist ‘ll be from Kaplinsky class. Menahem Pressler’s Israeli citizen in the past. Good yontev, happy Peisach.

  10. Well, if you consider Youyou Zhang Chinese due to her parentage, then you might as well add Sean Chen, Claire Huangci and Steven Lin to the list, bringing the total up to eight.

  11. (The complete info is now on the Cliburn website.) There are 7 current and former Kaplinsky students among the 30 pianists accepted.

  12. To me, the most important part of the Van Cliburn piano competition (and Mr. Cliburn’s legacy to future generations of musicians), is the fact that musicians of all backgrounds have the opportunity to come together and compete in a competition where all that matters is the musical phrase, technique, and artistic maturity of the competitor.

    By focusing on musicians (and their particular nationalities) that choose not to compete in the competition, we are doing both a great disservice to both the founder and also those competitors that have sacrificed so much to make it to this year’s current competition.

  13. Jayson Gillham, recent finalist in the Leeds competition, is actually a dual citizen of the UK and Australia, so us Brits can back him!

    • I agree.

      Jayson has lived in the UK since 2007

      Yesterday (Tuesday) I heard him give a lunchtime recital in the Historic Town Hall in Birmingham

      He was superb!

  14. there’re 9 current and former Kaplinsky students, actually.

  15. imagine VHorowitz , G Ghoul, or Myra hess, Schnabel in a ..competition
    that would take mu c h IMAGINATION’ ;;they would’nt paticipate in the first place…1

    the apt description of this activity u n w o r t h y of music, ‘Du holde Kunst”….
    Bela Bartok’s words ” Competitions are for horses”

    Chopin turns in his grave every time the vulgar happenings in Warsaw occur….

  16. Rosalind says:

    How does it work if you are on the jury and teach or have taught competitors in the competition? Do the rules say you are not allowed to give a mark to these candidates? Presumably there are some safeguards built in?

  17. jim sillan says:

    “it only begins with notes”

  18. As a related point of interest perhaps, I read an interview with Fanny Waterman in a UK magazine (Yorkshire Life I think – sadly the complete article isn’t on the internet site) and she was quite clear that her Asian pupils were more committed and worked harder than her UK ones. She said that her Asian pupils never missed lessons whereas with her UK pupils she was regularly getting calls from their parents with various excuses (e.g. swimming galas / lessons) as to why they had to miss lessons.

    So, on average (with obvious very talented exceptions), are the British young pianists as committed as they need to be ? Fanny suggests not.

    • Fanny W knows lots about competitions….
      After returning from her and the first Leeds, a colleague of mine told who had studied with a juror was told by him in A p r i l 1963 not to waste his time there as “the boy from Leeds has been chosen”

      Just one of many piquant revelations of
      ‘how’ it works’…… for the ‘chosen’ an v e r y few.

      Another famous colleague of mine was called by the father of a finalist the night before the Finals in an American event and offered many thousands of dollars if he would vote for his son.

      For many years the State Dept. did not send acandidates to famous contests in Europe knpowing that in that particular year an American had no chance…..
      well, all part of the Western ‘system’, heh???

  19. Mr. Lebrecht, please investigate this.

    Did the Cliburn Competition have any procedure in operation when Mrs. Kaplinsky’s many students were being heard during the screening round? (She was one of five jury members for the screening.) Why was Mrs. Kaplinsky invited to judge a competition in which so many of her students would compete?

  20. One would have to be extremely naive to think that Kaplinsky having 8 or 9 candidates in the Cliburn is pure coincidence. It is not. It has been happening for a while in a number of competitions.
    These competitions have become “family businesses” and will soon loose credibility, if they haven’t already.

    As for UK and Germany pianists, there are none for the same reason there are no Brits or Germans in the jury. Teachers come with students, it is that easy.

    There are some hard-working and extremely talented young pianists in Europe, who simply do not have access to this type of competitions because of the way the system has changed over years. It’s not that Koreans and Chinese work harder, it’s just a lot of them so the selection base is obviously larger.
    I sometimes wonder what Beethoven would think of this.

    • to Mr. Bean :
      The Asians are experiencing a sort of 19th Century European/North American era: industrial and cultural revolution where piano playing, piano instrument making and the construction of concert halls, opera houses and conservatories most similar, even that 19th century invention, contests a similar phenomenon.
      Since 40 years students from Asia have flocked to non-Asian conservatories, today comprising the overwhelming majorities in the students studying piano and string instruments in Europe and North America. With the exception of Finland,, Venezuela , most non-Asian ‘advanced’ countries ( North America-Europe) have diminished their support and resulting interest in classical Western music.Classical music is a minor part of Western society.
      Characteristic that the preeminent and favoured Steinway piano , now Steinway Musical instruments has 3 Asian cities on its international calling car, .Bösendorfer a small part of Yamaha, Bechstein kept alive by Korean Samick….All of these Western illustrious firms alive due to Asia !
      Beethoven wouldn’t care a farthing over such competions …….It’s business, for the jurors, and managements and the hopefuls most of whom are disappointed by the whole affairs.

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