Arts & Culture

Cliburn competition to leave Fort Worth? Foundation CEO says no way

The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is staying in Fort Worth, even if the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra musicians are still on strike when the competition begins next May.

The Cliburn, which puts on the quadrennial event, emphatically declared that Fort Worth is the competition’s home Monday after rumors were spread on social media that the event might move if the symphony musicians are still on strike.

“Cliburn is Fort Worth, and Fort Worth is the Cliburn,” said Jacques Marquis, president and CEO of the Cliburn. “There is no way we would move the competition from here. That would be ridiculous.”

The rumors that the competition may move started with a Dallas Morning News letter to the editor written by Arlington resident John Geisel, who is a violist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and whose wife is the assistant principal second violinist at the Fort Worth Symphony.

“If Fort Worth cannot field an orchestra, the competition may be moved to another venue (possibly outside of North America to avoid union entanglements), which is unthinkable for the city that is synonymous with Van Cliburn,” Geisel wrote in his letter, which was published Oct. 29.

And then Sunday, a classical music blog called Slipped Disc published a post with the headline “Fort Worth risks losing Van Cliburn.”

“If guarantees cannot be given by January, the Cliburn will (we hear) have to look elsewhere for an orchestra,” blogger Norman Lebrecht wrote. “It won’t lack for offers. And the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will have lost the jewel in its crown.”

FWSO musicians went on strike Sept. 8, and management has canceled concerts through the end of the year.

Earlier this season, Texas Ballet Theater worked out a unique contingency plan with the striking musicians that allowed them to accompany several ballet performances under the name Symphony Musicians of Fort Worth.

The 15th edition of the Cliburn competition is scheduled to take place from May 25 to June 10 at Bass Hall. For the first time, the Fort Worth Symphony is scheduled to play a Mozart concerto with 12 semifinalists and conductor Nicholas McGegan. The orchestra also will play a concerto with six finalists, under the direction of Leonard Slatkin.

Marquis said he hopes symphony management and the union musicians will reach a new contract agreement before the competition. Although Marquis said he is considering backup plans in case the musicians are still on strike, he declined to say what those plans might be since the competition is still seven months away.

However, he emphasized that moving the competition from Fort Worth is not an option.

“My profound desire is to play with the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony,” Marquis said. “It would be super sad to not have the Fort Worth Symphony with us this year. It is really my hope that everything will be solved by then.”

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @STFeatures