Cliburn host families matched with their competitors
Rebecca Stern is hosting one of the competitors in the upcoming 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition because her living room is not big enough to hold an opera company.
“I adore piano music. There are two things that I enjoy when I listen to music at home: solo piano music and opera,” said Stern, a violinist and former full-time player with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. “And I can’t fit an opera in the house.”
Stern and her husband, geologist Stephen Nold, were among the families who gathered at the NM Cafe at Neiman Marcus on Thursday to learn which competitor they would be hosting during the Van Cliburn, which runs May 25 through June 10 at Bass Hall. The event is known as “the reveal party.”
In addition to providing room, board, transportation and general, familial support, Stern might be doing something with her pianist that no host has done before — performing with him. Stern, who was a full-time player with the symphony for 17 years, still plays occasionally with the orchestra. And she will be part of the ensemble when the competitors play their concertos in the finals.
Stern and Nold, who are participating as a host family for the first time, seemed happy to learn that they would be hosting 30-year-old Russian pianist Illya Maximov, even though he is not Italian.
“It’s hard to get an Italian,” said Chris Hull, an orthopedic surgeon who has hosted Cliburn competitors at three previous competitions. “They are so loving and [easygoing].”
But Hull and his wife, Karen, are delighted with the non-Italian they were assigned, because it is Russian pianist Yury Favorin, 30, the same pianist they hosted at the 2013 Van Cliburn.
“We were not going to host this time,” said Hull. “But when we saw Yury’s picture in the paper, we knew we had to do it again. He is such a wonderful kid and is lots of fun to be with.”
The host families are, obviously, music lovers. And many of them are also musicians who bond with their three-week guests on that level.
But emergency room physician Karim Jamal is excited about his competitor because he expects them to bond over hockey.
“I went to Canada as a refugee when I was 6 years old,” said Jamal, who was born in Uganda.
His competitor, 28-year-old Mehdi Ghazi, is an Algerian who also claims Canada as his home.
“What he will appreciate is that I will have a big-screen TV with hockey on it,” said Jamal, who is serving as a host for the first time.
When asked why he chose to take on the responsibility of looking after a Cliburn competitor, Jamal provided an answer that echoed sentiments expressed by several hosts.
“I’ve always loved classical music and I love this city. And I know how important the Cliburn has been to this city. So I wanted to be part of it,” he said.
In addition to being assigned to a host family, each competitor will also have a pair of “social hosts,” who are usually closer to the competitors’ ages (they range from 18 to 30) and are charged with helping the visitors have some age-appropriate fun while they are not rehearsing or competing.
“These competitors come from thousands of miles away, so we try to provide them with some support that will make them feel more at home,” said Jim Murphy who, with his wife, Kate, will be trying to make Martin James Bartlett, 20, of Britain and Kenneth Broberg, 23, of the United States, more at ease during the competition. “Usually that just means being there to support them when they perform. But it can also mean something like taking them to Starbucks at 2 a.m.”
The only question left hanging at the event, which featured a busy bar and lavish hors d’oeuvres, in the upscale retail setting was: Why announce these pairings in this way? Why not just send an email to the host family telling them to clean out the guest room and make room for the practice piano that the Cliburn provides for most host homes?
Cliburn president and CEO Jacques Marquis had an emphatic answer for that.
“It gets the involvement and the excitement going,” Marquis said with a smile, as he pointed to the chattering, buzzing crowd.
Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
- May 25-June 10
- Bass Hall, Fort Worth
- For information, scheduling and tickets, visit Cliburn.org.