3 Arlington families host Cliburn competitors

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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As history was being made on the stage of the Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, three Arlington families played a major role in helping stage the prestigious event.

For the first time in the Cliburn’s history three of the competitors — Alexey Chernov, Scipione Sangiovanni and Giuseppe Greco — stayed at homes in Arlington.

John and Peggy Pokrifcsak , Kelly and Mary Tom Curnutt and Cindy Will turned their homes, and their hearts, over to these artists as they practiced on one-of-a-kind Steinways for hours each day.

“It is quite impossible not to feel at home here,” said Sangiovanni, who stayed in a separate guest house on the Curnutts’ property where he could practice 24 hours a day and not disturb anyone.

The young Italian said “here you can really find another family and find the love and friendship of other people so it helps a lot.”

And while only Chernov made it to the semifinals, for the host families having these acclaimed competitors create something beautiful in their midst, has left them with memories that will last a lifetime. The piano competition ends Sunday.

“One night his playing brought tears to my eyes, and I went out and hugged him and told him what an honor it is to have them here,” said Peggy Pokrifcsak, who turned over the second level of their home to Chernov and his wife, Elena, during the visit.

“It is the thrill of a lifetime. We feel so blessed,” she said.

Proper acoustics

Previously, only one Arlington family, Joe and Doris Manci, had hosted a Cliburn competitor.

The Pokrifcsak, who are well known for their interest in the arts and had met Van Cliburn on several occasions, were asked if they would be a host home. They recommended Cindy Will and through mutual friends, the Curnutts were identified as a potential host family.

They were all interviewed and approved by the host home committee. Besides being deemed willing and able to take on the responsibilities, one of the requirements was that there their home have proper acoustics.

“As the host family, we are responsible for their housing, transportation to and from all the events and the host homes each have an $80,000 Van Cliburn edition of a Steinway piano delivered to the house,” said Mary Tom Curnutt.

“During our visit driving home from the airport, Scipione’s analogy that the Van Cliburn is the Olympics of the music world reminded me — and made it real — what a big deal this is for their life and career,” she said.

Hot dog lessons

Curnutt laughingly said that while her family appreciates classical music, that no one in her family even plays the piano. “We are the most musically challenged family ever,” she said.

Although Sangiovanni is on his third visit to the U.S. — he traveled to Cleveland two years ago and in 2006 was in Miami — this is his first visit to Texas.

Curnutt said her parents, Tom and Diane Cravens, and sister Kyndal Nicol, all pitched in to help take Sangiovanni to required functions — that is when he wasn’t focused on practicing.

For a break, they planned outings to the University of Texas at Arlington’s College Park area and a Texas Rangers baseball game.

Will opened up her home to Greco and his father, Antonio, who are from a small coastal village in Southern Italy. It was their first visit to the United States.

Will prepared several home-cooked meals, staying with basic meat and potato dishes. At a party they attended, she was amused when the Grecos were confused about hot dogs and she showed them the traditional way of putting the frank in a bun with all the toppings.

After seeing their interest when they happened to catch a Whataburger commercial on TV, she took them to the local hamburger chain to experience one of the burgers firsthand.

For Will, whose husband Dale died only a few months ago, having the fun-loving Grecos around has been an uplifting experience for her. The pianist did a private recital on Memorial Day.

“With the two of them here, it’s just like family,” Will said. “He and his father both have a fantastic personality, and we have laughed so much and had a great time.”

At the Pokrifcsak home, Elena Chernov asked if she could use the kitchen to prepare a meal for her husband and their hosts. Peggy Pokrifcsak was fascinated with her preparation of potatoes to make blini.

The foursome also went to Abeulo’s ; the food was a hit with the Russians.

The two women later enjoyed a shopping outing at Macy’s where Chernov purchased cosmetics and handkerchiefs for her husband.

All three families say they would very definitely be interested in being a host home in the future and are honored to raise the profile of Arlington in the international music scene.

And the competitors said they would like to return.

“This is a wonderful place to live because it is a very rich area from a cultural point of view,” Sangiovanni said.

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