The one thoroughly negative review from a major outlet about the results of the latest Van Cliburn competition came from Benjamin Ivry in the Wall Street Journal. He basically doubted the sanity and the judgment of the Cliburn jury for picking “Nobuyuki Tsujii, a student-level Japanese performer plainly out of his depth in the most demanding repertoire, and Haochen Zhang, a clearly talented but unfinished musician who just turned 19. Second prize went to Yeol Eum Son, a bland South Korean pianist, and no third prize was awarded.”
He didn’t stop there. He thought the Fort Worth Symphony’s playing was “dispiriting” and “mediocre.” And he wonders why the East Texas Symphony under Per Brevig or Jaap van Zweden and the DSO couldn’t do the honors next time, considering how “rough” the FWSO was. Right, that little scheduling and budget change could happen quite easily.
At any rate, late yesterday, classical music critic Scott Cantrell fired back on the DMN arts blog. It’s not simply a disagreement about taste — in fact, Cantrell indicates he also had his reservations about Tsuji. But Ivry gets a number of facts wrong, and most importantly, Cantrell notes something I’d wondered about, too: Ivry seems to have come to his conclusions based entirely on the video/web feed. He begins by discussing www.cliburn.tv and never really indicates whether he was in Fort Worth or not.
Oh, and whether we like his playing at the Cliburn or not, Tsuji was the first Asian and the first blind pianist to win. Accordingly, his recordings in Japan have shot up the charts.