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The Van Cliburn: Web Coverage, Olympics-Style


by Anne Bothwell 21 May 2009

The 13th Cliburn International Piano Competition begins this Friday in Fort Worth. Held once every four years, the contest ranks as the world’s most prestigious of its kind. For the first time for any major arts event like this, long- distance fans can experience it as never before. That’s because each performance, right down to rehearsals, will now go live on the web.

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Watch live coverage of the Van Cliburn Competition beginning May 22.

And check the Art&Seek blog daily for coverage from veteran music critic Olin Chism, who’s missed only one Van Cliburn competition — ever.

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The 13th Cliburn International Piano Competition begins this Friday in Fort Worth. Held once every four years, the contest ranks as the world’s most prestigious of its kind. It gives young pianists a chance at up to $20,000 plus a worldwide concert career. For the first time for any major arts event like this, long- distance fans can experience it as never before. That’s because each performance, right down to rehearsals, will now go live on the web.

Bill Zeeble: Cliburn officials say they’re always open to something new in attempts to reach more – and younger – classical music fans. In 2001, the competition offered music streaming online. Four years later, it added video streaming. This time, the Cliburn plans live audio and video streaming of every performance and more, 11 hours a day, for the competition’s full 17 days. To pull it off, lead engineer John Johns has basically built a TV studio, for the duration.

John Johns:  I don’t know of anything that’s been done like this before. There’s been a lot of big webcasts, like the Olympics, that were on the air on multiple channels, and things like that, but this to me is the biggest web-only event that I know of that’s not affiliated with a broadcast.

Zeeble: Johns is relying on 40 to 50 people, not the thousands involved for the Olympics. Cliburn Foundation President Richard Rodzinski sits at his computer to demonstrate. He types in Cliburn.tv, and clicks on what’s loaded there for now, a 2001 performance of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto, with co-golpicphpd medalist, Olga Kern.

Richard Rodzinski, President, Cliburn Foundation (right): That’s where you’ll have all the little buttons that will take you to the biographies, schedule information, everything, And then you just click on the the big screen and [APPLAUSE] that’s it.

Zeeble: Once the competition starts, Rodzinski says there’ll be even more than live performances. He’s especially excited about webcam access to all rehearsals, whether that’s the pianist with the Takacs string quartet, or finalists working with the Fort Worth Symphony. Not even the paying fans in the hall get this behind – the – scenes access.

Rodzinski:
It’s like having web cams all throughout the theater and kind of looking in on what’s happening back stage putting this thing together. People love to know what’s happening backstage. They love to go to rehearsals because that’s where so much is put together in a way that demystifies the experience.

Zeeble: Rodzinski says the Cliburn can pull off this expensive proposition in part because remote-controlled cameras will already be in place for the crew, creating the contest documentary. Buddy Bray, with the Cliburn Foundation, has written notes that’ll scroll along the bottom of the computer screen.

Buddy Bray, Artistic Director of Special Projects, Cliburn Foundation: I had to intuit this because it’s really not been done much in the industry before. I think what they like the best is a road map.  “Now we’ll have a different theme, this is the second theme and it’s announced first by the strings and it’s taken up by the piano,” and things like that.

Zeeble: Bray says if you don’t want those written notes, just don’t click them on. There will also be produced interviews with pianists before and after performances, and a live host every day. Longtime composer Anne Demarest can’t wait. At 89, she says she doesn’t travel anymore beyond her small town of Arvada, Colorado, nearly a thousand miles from Fort Worth.

Anne Demarest: I’ll be here and I’m not coming up for air. I might come up for air occasionally, but I’ll be sitting here in front of this monitor watching. I still have many years ahead of me, but I’ll spend them as much as I can involved in music and now it’s brought right to my doorstep.

Zeeble: Whether it’s the Cliburn’s first blind contestant ever, or returning players from the last competition, Demarest plans to hear them all.

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