It is the rise of the South Koreans at this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
Of the 30 competitors who have been selected to participate in the 15th edition of the quadrennial piano competition in Fort Worth, five are from the small Asian nation (scroll through the photos above to see each competitor.). In the 2013 competition, there was only one.
“South Korea is extremely strong in music,” said Cliburn Chief Executive Jacques Marquis. “The education system is done in a way that they are used to performing and are well-trained in any style of piano music like baroque, classical or modern.”
EunAe Lee, one of the South Korean pianists, is already getting advice from past Cliburn competitors. Last week, Lee, 29, said she had dinner with Sean Chen, who placed third in the 2013 competition, to get a few tips on what she should play.
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“He said don’t play something really new because you need to know the pieces really, really well,” said Lee, who is studying at Northwestern University.
The field also includes six competitors from Russia, including the only two returning for a second time from the 2013 competition, Yury Favorin and Nikolay Khozyainov. Favorin did not advance past the first round, while Khozyainov made it to the semifinal round the last time they appeared in Fort Worth.
Two hundred and ninety pianists applied to compete in the Cliburn, submitting 40-minute videos demonstrating their skill and technique. A five-member screening jury then watched about 150 pianists perform live in six cities across the world, whittling the pool down to the 30 competitors who will come to Fort Worth for the competition May 25-June 10.
Where the boys are
There are 21 men and 9 women competing in the 2017 competition, which Marquis says is a similar ratio to the 200 male and 100 female applicants the Cliburn received. Four pianists hail from the United States.
Marquis said the application pool was the largest the competition has ever seen, which he attributes to the foundation increasing its international presence with the amateur and junior competitions and the webcast of the 2013 competition.
“We have been trying to get more attention in Europe and London, in the big markets of classical music,” Marquis said. “It’s important for the Cliburn to reach these international markets, and I think this is the payoff.”
Tony Yike Yang, the youngest Cliburn competitor at age 18, already had a taste of competing in Fort Worth. Yang was a semifinalist in the first Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition in 2015 and now studies at Harvard University and the New England Conservatory.
“I really enjoyed following the 2013 competition, and now that I’m qualified, because of my age, I figured why not give it a shot,” Yang said.
Yang said he was grateful to be selected and isn’t intimidated to be competing against pianists more than a decade older than he is. (The average age of the Cliburn competitors is 25.3 years old.)
“Because I have years ahead of me, I feel like it’s a great honor just to be able to share the stage with so many talented pianists,” Yang said.
Lee, who auditioned for the screening jury in Fort Worth last month, said she was surprised to have an audience for the audition but is excited to play for Fort Worth crowds who are classical-music fans.
“I want people who appreciate it, or feel something in their heart, or forget other things when they listen to me play,” Lee said. “That’s my goal in this competition.”
Meet the 2017 Cliburn competitors
Martin James Bartlett, 20, United Kingdom
Sergey Belyavskiy, 23, Russia
Alina Bercu, 27, Romania
Kenneth Broberg, 23, United States
Luigi Carroccia, 25, Italy
Han Chen, 25, Taiwan
Rachel Cheung, 25, Hong Kong
Yury Favorin, 30, Russia
Madoka Fukami, 28, Japan
Mehdi Ghazi, 28, Canada and Algeria
Caterina Grewe, 29, Germany
Daniel Hsu, 19, United States
Alyosha Jurinic, 28, Croatia
Nikolay Khozyainov, 24, Russia
Dasol Kim, 28, South Korea
Honggi Kim, 25, South Korea
Su Yeon Kim, 23, South Korea
Julia Kociuban, 25, Poland
Rachel Kudo, 30, United States
EunAe Lee, 29, South Korea
Ilya Maximov, 30, Russia
Sun-A Park, 29, United States
Leonardo Pierdomenico, 24, Italy
Philipp Scheucher, 24, Austria
Ilya Shmukler, 22, Rusia
Yutong Sun, 21, China
Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, South Korea
Georgy Tchaidze, 29, Russia
Tristan Teo, 20, Canada
Tony Yike Yang, 18, Canada
15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
- May 25-June 10
- Bass Hall, Fort Worth
- Subscriptions ($600-$3,000) are on sale now. Single tickets go on sale March 31.
- For scheduling, ticket and other information, visit www.cliburn.org.
Cliburn competitors by the numbers
290: Pianists who submitted applications
141: Pianists who auditioned live for a screening jury
30: Pianists who made it into the competition
21: Men competing
9: Women competing
18: Age of the youngest competitor
30: Age of the oldest competitor
16: Number of nations represented
6: Competitors from Russia
5: From South Korea
4: From the United States
3: From Canada
2: From Italy
1: From Algeria (dual citizenship with Canada)
1: From Austria
1: From China
1: From Croatia
1: From Germany
1: From Hong Kong
1: From Japan
1: From Poland
1: From Romania
1: From Taiwan
1: From the United Kingdom