After two and a half exhilarating, exhausting weeks of performances — 150 minutes of piano recitals, two concertos, and a piano quintet — Yekwon Sunwoo of South Korea was crowned the gold medal winner of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition on Saturday night at Bass Hall.
American Kenneth Broberg, 23, received the silver medal and and Daniel Hsu, 19, also of the U.S., received the bronze.
Sunwoo, 28, is the first South Korean to win the Cliburn. This year’s competition featured five pianists from the small Asian nation, out of the original 30 competitors. As the gold medal winner, Sunwoo receives a cash award of $50,000, three years of career management and performance attire from Neiman Marcus.
After he played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra on Friday evening, Sunwoo called the performance “refreshing.”
As he spent the day waiting for the awards announcement, Sunwoo went to Sundance Square for lunch and ended up reliving his Friday night performance.
“I went out for lunch at Sundance Square actually right at the time my performance was being played [on the big screen] from last night,” Sunwoo said. “That was kind of strange to have lunch there and see yourself playing.”
Broberg, who also played his final concerto on Friday evening, had all day to wait for the results as well.
“I spent a lot of time in bed watching TV,” Broberg said, adding he was watching cartoons to relax.
Broberg will receive $25,000 as the second-place finisher.
Hsu received the Steve De Groote Memorial Award for the best chamber music performance and the Beverly Taylor Smith Award for the best performance of a new work, the commissioned piece by juror Marc-Andre Hamelin. Hsu won a total of $26,000 in prize money, receiving $15,000 for third place, $6,000 for the chamber award and $5,000 for the new work award.
When asked why he chose to enter the Cliburn competition at 19, Hsu had a simple answer.
“Van Cliburn himself was such a towering figure in music, and so that’s why this competition is so important and that’s why it has been and will remain such an important competition,” Hsu said. “But my entry this time was just because ... for fun and I had the pieces.”
Broberg and Hsu will also receive three years of career management.
Jury chairman Leonard Slatkin, who conducted the final-round concertos, said the jury was looking for pianists they believe could handle a busy concert career.
“It really was about who could sustain the rigors of first prize over the course of the next three years,” Slatkin said. “This is tough. They are going to do 100 concerts a year.”
The three medalists will head to New York next week for press interviews and meetings to discuss the business of being a concert pianist.
Rachel Cheung, Yury Favorin and Georgy Tchaidze, finalists who did not place, will each receive a cash award of $10,000. Cheung was also voted audience favorite, receiving an additional $2,500 prize.
The jury also gave out three discretionary awards of $4,000 each to semifinalists Dasol Kim, Leonardo Pierdomenico and Tony Yike Yang.
During the finals round, which began on Wednesday, each of the six finalists performed a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet and then a concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
The competition began on May 25 with 21 men and nine women from 12 countries and Hong Kong.
“I was very pleased before to see the level of playing that we had over the rounds and having in the final round such different and interesting pianists,” said Cliburn chief executive Jacques Marquis.
As the winners and awards were announced on stage at Bass Hall, the results were broadcast live on a big screen at Sundance Square Plaza and to more than 300 movie theaters across the U.S. as part of a Fathom Events production.
Through social media, the webcast, and its partnership with European broadcast firm Medici.tv, the competition reached more than 4.6 million people in 169 countries.
“That was the vision of the Cliburn in the beginning — sharing excellence with a wide audience,” Marquis said.
Prize winners at the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medal ($50,000) - Yekwon Sunwoo
Silver Medal ($25,000) - Kenneth Broberg
Bronze Medal ($15,000) - Daniel Hsu
Finalists ($10,000) - Rachel Cheung, Yuri Favorin, Georgy Tchaidze
Audience Award ($2,500) - Rachel Cheung
Steven De Groote Memorial Award for the Best Performance of Chamber Music ($6,000) - Daniel Hsu
Beverley Taylor Smith Award for the Best Performance of a New Work ($5,000) - Daniel Hsu
Jury Discretionary Awards ($4,000) - Dasol Kim, Leonardo Pierdomenico and Tony Yike Yang