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Cliburn Passes Halfway Point of Preliminaries


by Olin Chism 24 May 2009

The Cliburn preliminaries passed the halfway point Sunday afternoon, and the magnitude of the judges’ task became increasingly clear. This is a strong field, and barring some sort of major breakdown among the remaining candidates, some people who should be in the semifinals won’t make it. There are too many good ones. The day’s music-making […]

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The Cliburn preliminaries passed the halfway point Sunday afternoon, and the magnitude of the judges’ task became increasingly clear. This is a strong field, and barring some sort of major breakdown among the remaining candidates, some people who should be in the semifinals won’t make it. There are too many good ones.

The day’s music-making began with a stupendous series of performances by Ning Zhou of China (shown above), who began at an exceptionally high level and stayed there through the last notes. He is a highly musical person, a master not only of technique but of interpretation.

Ravel’s Miroirs, played with great clarity — a characteristic of all his pieces — was highly atmospheric. Liszt’s Vallee d’Obermann was beautiful and again atmospheric. The same composer’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 was spectacular and interesting throughout.

There was one test of Zhou’s cool, and he proved to be as unflappable as Barack Obama. An outburst of loud, persistent coughing in the middle of the Ravel obviously ruined the engineers’ recording of that performance, but Zhou showed no reaction whatever as his music-making moved placidly on.

If he doesn’t make the semifinals, there should be rioting in the streets. An interesting point about him is that his musical training and competition experience have been entirely Chinese until now (he’s still a student at the Shanghai Conservatory). Wouldn’t it be amazing if the direction of flow of students seeking high-level training were to be reversed, from America to China?

There were some good things to come after Zhou left the Bass Hall stage. Michail Lifits of Germany played the competition’s first Mozart, the Sonata in D, K. 311. It was a beautiful performance, very clean and full of life. The Schumann Fantasie in C was a good and sensitive contrast.

Alessandro Deljavan of Italy charmed with a lively Haydn Sonata No. 52 (Haydn has been well serviced in this competition.) Alas, Deljavan’s account of Liszt’s B minor sonata, though professionally played, was really not captivating.

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