Yekwon Sunwoo considers himself a late bloomer when it comes to the piano.
Unlike several pianists in the Cliburn competition who began learning the instrument shortly after they began to walk, Sunwoo didn’t take it up until he was 8 years old.
Sunwoo has two older sisters who were studying piano and as the youngest, he said, his mom didn’t really let him do any extracurricular activities aside from playing outside.
“I was a little jealous of my sisters that they could do something I couldn’t do, so I told my mom I wanted to learn it too,” Sunwoo said.
When he entered a piano academy in South Korea, Sunwoo felt he wasn’t as advanced as the other kids but fell in love with piano as he listened to others play.
“I was a really shy person so I couldn’t ask the person or the teacher what that piece was. So I would go look for the music and then tried to learn it by myself,” Sunwoo said. “I was just captivated by the piano repertoire.”
During the semifinals as he played his Mozart concerto, Sunwoo honored his late teacher, Seymour Lipkin, by performing a cadenza that Lipkin wrote. He had asked permission years earlier to play the cadenza and said he was glad he was able to play it during the competition.
“People seemed to enjoy it,” Sunwoo said after the performance. “I’m not sure about the jury members but the audience members enjoyed it and that matters a lot.”
The jury apparently also enjoyed it as well — Sunwoo advanced to the finals. He will play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor on Friday evening.
And if he wins or places in the top three, Sunwoo said he hopes it will lead to a long career as a concert pianist.
“It will open many different doors to have a concert career, so hopefully, I will get a prize,” he said.
As Georgy Tchaidze prepared for the Cliburn competition, he couldn’t find a cadenza for the Mozart concerto that he liked.
So the Russian pianist decided to write his own, finishing the composition here in Fort Worth before the semifinals.
“I don’t like most cadenzas, including Beethoven’s and I don’t like my own as well, but at least I tried to write it,” Tchaidze said. “I actually polished it here in Fort Worth. I had this idea but I needed to write it down and finish all the details.”
For the finals, Tchaidze will perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major on Saturday, a piece that he says he loves.
“It’s such an explosion of life and I think [a piece] has to be for the final round,” Tchaidze said.
His wife, Nadia, is following Tchaidze’s performances from their home in Berlin, where she is caring for their 9-month old son, Leo. And even though she’s also a pianist, she is not giving Tchaidze any advice.
“I banned all comments,” Tchaidze said. “Even good comments can hurt so we’re just talking about life.”
Although both of Tchaidze’s parents also play the piano and he married a pianist, he does not want Leo to play the piano.
“There are so many professions in this world besides music, so why not try something different?” Tchaidze said.
FIFTEENTH VAN CLIBURN INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION
May 25-June 10
Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Final round: June 7-10. Six competitors will play a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet and a concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. $150-$260 round subscription; $45-$180 per concert.
Awards presentation: 7 p.m. June 10. $30-$40.
The entire competition is on a live webcast hosted by pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, at Cliburn2017.medici.tv. Content also is available on demand.
Also, the last three competitors and awards ceremony will be shown in a large screen Saturday on Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth. The webcast starts at 2:45 p.m., and the awards ceremony is at 7 p.m.
The final round will be broadcast in movie theaters around the country, but not in the immediate Fort Worth area. For information and tickets, visit www.FathomEvents.com.
Final round, phase 3
7:30 p.m. (Final concerto)
Yury Favorin, 30, Russia
Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16
8:15 p.m. (Final concerto)
Kenneth Broberg, 23, United States
Rachmaninoff, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43
9:15 p.m. (Final concerto)
Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, South Korea
Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor