Van Cliburn

An army of more than 1,000 volunteers makes the Cliburn go around

Go inside the Cliburn's exclusive gold and platinum lounge

Those who have a subscription to the full Cliburn competition can relax, snack, and watch the competition on a big screen.
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Those who have a subscription to the full Cliburn competition can relax, snack, and watch the competition on a big screen.

Tina Gorski was 12 years old the first time she volunteered for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition — the very first Cliburn, in 1962.

The Cold War was on, and Van Cliburn had won the first Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1958. Gorski remembers getting involved because her neighbors hosted two Russian pianists.

“It was very exciting for the Cliburn to have Russians here competing,” she said last week from Maddox-Muse Hall, where she is volunteering for the Cliburn again this year, her 15th time. “It was a tribute to Van and the goodwill his music was creating.”

Gorski, who is overseeing the platinum/gold room for VIP subscribers this year, is one of more than 1,000 volunteers who do just about everything at the Cliburn and Bass Hall. Their names and jobs take up seven pages of this year’s thick program guidebook.

Volunteers for the hall number about 500. The folks who choose families to host the competitors for the competition, May 25-June 10? Cliburn volunteers, who also do everything from calligraphy to staffing the gift shop to acting as house moms for the competitors backstage.

The Cliburn volunteers alone number 510 this year, said Kay Howell, a Cliburn staff member who is manager of underwriting, special events and volunteers. Only 16 people are paid staff members of the Cliburn administration.

“Volunteers are crucial,” said Howell. “It’s an amazing group of phenomenal people.”

In some cases, volunteering at the Cliburn is a family affair. Gorski’s mother hosted a competitor from Rio de Janeiro, and the Gorski family also has hosted competitors. Gorski’s sister, Anna Melissa Philpot, also is volunteering this year.

In other cases, it’s a chance for longtime friends to get together, listen to great music and help the community.

Maureda Travis and Adelaide Leavens have worked together for three competitions, and are involved in the housing committee, which screens and chooses host families for the 30 competitors.

The screening includes a home visit, where volunteers go over dates of the competition, orientation and other events, make sure the pianist will have a bedroom and a private bathroom, and see that the home has room for the grand piano provided by Steinway & Sons to each host family.

Many factors go into the choices. For example, some competitors are allergic to pets, or prefer to practice late at night. Some don’t want to stay at a home with children, and others may smoke, although Travis said those are fewer each year.

“Sometimes we don’t know how it will work out, but it all does,” Leavens said. “We rarely deal with problems” during the competition, and those are usually things like a quick tuxedo alteration, she said.

In the beginning, said Gorski, the volunteers were a necessity.

“Now people have given their time, their heart and soul to the whole thing,” she said. “It’s been a real source of Fort Worth pride.”


May 25-June 10

Bass Hall, Fort Worth

Complete competition subscriptions: $600-$3,000.

Semifinal round: June 1-5. Twelve competitors will play a 60-minute solo recital and a Mozart piano concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. $280-$450 round subscription; $30-$120 per concert.

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 will be webcast live, hosted by pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, at Content also will be available on demand. The final round will be broadcast in movie theaters around the country. For information and tickets, visit

For more information, scheduling and tickets, visit Follow complete competition coverage at

Thursday’s competitors

Semifinal round, Phase 1

7:30 p.m. (Solo recital)

Daniel Hsu, 19, United States

Schubert — Four Impromptus, D. 899, Op. 90

Brahms — Variations on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24

8:50 p.m. (Solo recital)

Dasol Kim, 28, South Korea

Mendelssohn — Fantasie in F-sharp minor, Op. 28 (“Scottish Sonata”)

Kapustin — Intermezzo in D-flat major, Op. 40, No. 7

Schubert — Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960