Van Cliburn hosts learn names of their guests for competition

05/09/2013 11:22 AM

07/25/2014 10:00 AM

They don’t have to guess who’s coming to dinner anymore.

The host families for the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which begins at Bass Hall on May 24, learned which competitor will be their guest during the three-week event in a ceremony known as “The Reveal Party.”

“It is so interesting. I have loved doing it,” said Maureda Travis, chair of the five-member committee that matches competitors to host families. “We have a form we give host families that ask about things like ‘Do you have children? Do you have animals? What kind, how many? What are the hours that practice can go on?’

“And then we give the competitors a similar form asking them if they are allergic to anything, what kind of food they like, etc. This year, it has been allergies. A lot of competitors are reporting allergies to dogs or cats.”

Host families provide competitors, who hail from 12 countries, with all their needs while in Fort Worth, including room, board, a worthy piano (Steinways loaned through the Cliburn are on their way to 29 of the hosting homes), transportation, moral support and, if needed, a trip to the hospital.

“At the very back is letter for [Texas Health Resources] Harris Methodist Hospital. Should there be an emergency, take this letter with you and they will expedite any care a competitor might need,” said Cliburn board chairwoman Carla Thompson. She also provided the name and cellphone number of a physician who will be on call for the competitors.

The reception, held in a sleek area within the Neiman-Marcus store in Ridgmar Mall, gathered the host families and gave each a packet. In addition to the emergency room letter, each packet held the name and abundant background information on the competitor to whom they had been matched.

The special bonds that so often form between the young pianists competing for the Cliburn gold were evident at this Reveal Party, which included two special reunions: one with a family and a contender from the 2009 Cliburn, and another in which, amazingly, a son will be staying in the same home his father did during the 1977 Cliburn.

“In fact, he’ll be sleeping in the same bed,” said Renie Steves, who hosted Russian pianist Alexander Mndoyants then and will host his son, Nikita, now.

This time, Steves said, the son is not likely to have a human shadow as his father did in the Soviet era.

“We saw a lot of her,” said Steves, who operates the Cuisine Concepts cooking school, referring to the woman everyone assumed was working for the KGB.

For Jon Suder, the 2013 Cliburn offers the welcome return of Italian pianist Alessandro Deljavan, who was his charge during the 2009 Cliburn.

“He’s such a wonderful young man, not at all full of himself,” said Suder, a musician and lawyer who has remained in close touch since 2009.

“And he loves to cook. The first thing we’ll do when he gets here is go to Central Market. Because every day, he cooks. That’s his release.”

In addition to the host families, the contestants were also assigned to “social hosts” — Cliburn volunteers in their 20s and 30s (like the pianists) who are members of a support organization called the 180 Group. These peers will be on hand to help the pianists enjoy age-appropriate fun in their free time. At least to a point.

“When they want to stay out too late, you have to get them back home . . . alone,” admonished Cliburn volunteer coordinator Kay Howell, drawing laughter from the host families, who sipped wine and enjoyed elegant hors d’oeuvres while waiting to learn whom they would be rooting for in this competition.

The 180 Group will also make sure that no one will go home empty-handed. Thompson announced that the organization, which has about 100 members, had raised $18,000, which will be used to award each of the 18 pianists who do not move into the semifinal round (and therefore do not have shot at part of the event’s substantial purse) a $1,000 prize.

But for the host families and the contestants, the experience of bonding during the tension-filled event seems to be its own reward. In addition to the other perks.

“I love listening to them practice,” said oilman Tim Matheus who, with his wife, Susan, will be hosting American pianist Claire Huangci, their third Cliburn competitor. “It just fills up the whole house.”


May 24-June 9

Bass Hall, Fort Worth

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