CRITIC BENJAMIN IVRY has blistered the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
[Nothing in recent memory has been as shocking as this year's top prizes, which ignored the most musically mature and sensitive pianist competing in the finals, Chinese-born Di Wu, but gave gold medals to Nobuyuki Tsujii, a student-level Japanese performer plainly out of his depth . . . 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 . . . .
Many articles have focused on the fact that Mr. Tsujii was born blind and learns music by ear. But only results count, and his June 6 performance of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto . . . was a disaster. Soloists who cannot see a conductor's cues should not be playing concertos in public, out of simple respect for the composers involved. . . .
Mr. Tsujii was highly uneven . . . .
. . . .
Watching real talents fall by the wayside in such competition (Australia's Andrea Lam, another example, was stopped in the semifinals) is part of what happens when musicmaking is turned into a public contest for career advancement. . . . As if systematically, those performers with the most insight into the composers they played were accorded the least advancement . . . . How else can we explain Ms. Wu's deeply poetic renditions of Ravel's "Miroirs" . . . and "Gaspard de la Nuit . . . being overlooked?
[T]hese Ravel works were turned into miniballets by Ms. Wu, who combined assured, contained strength with high drama. . . .
. . . . [B]ecause no third prize was awarded by the Cliburn jury, Ms. Wu, 24, was not given the opportunity to record a CD sponsored by the competition. Yet visitors to Ms. Wu's own Web site (www.diwupiano.com) can already purchase a privately made CD of her playing Debussy, Liszt and Brahms with dazzling mastery.
(Benjamin Ivry, "What Was the Jury Thinking?" Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2009)
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Unca D replies:
Ms. Son was better than Mr. Ivry credits.
Ms. Wu was indeed dazzling in the late rounds.
I was initially taken by Mr. Zhang's flash, but cooled to him in the finals.
My picks at the end of the semifinal round were Ms. Son, Mr. Zhang, Ms. Wu (all of whom made the finals), and Ms. Lam (who did not but should have).
I listened to a few final performances online. My retrospective favorite is the talented Ms. Lam, though I'm also biased by my high regard for her as a human being. Her post-performance interview in the semifinals exhibited the most admirable and sincere good cheer, grace, and gratitude. Somehow she has come through the endless practices and bloody competition with spirit and character intact.
But what else would one expect from a graduate of the Methodist Ladies College School in Australia?