Van Cliburn

Australian pianist, 16, basks in Cliburn Junior glory. ‘It seems like a festival’

A teenager from Australia is one of the best pianists in the world.

Shuan Hern Lee, 16, won first prize — along with the $15,000 cash reward — after the final round of the second Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition Saturday evening at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

The offspring of The Cliburn, The Cliburn Junior debuted in 2015 at TCU and took place in Dallas for the first time. Held every four years, the Junior Competition is for pianists ranging from ages 13 to 17.

Backed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Ruth Reinhardt, the three finalists performed complete concertos. Lee chose Sergei Rachmaninov’s complex configuration, Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30.

From Russia/Armenia, Eva Gevorgyan, 15, won $10,000 for second prize with Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43.

From South Korea, 17-year-old JiWon Yang won $5,000 for third prize with Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 23.

All three finalists will also receive a $2,000 scholarship from the Fort Worth Piano Teachers Forum. Three $500 prizes were also awarded at the Cliburn Junior finals. From the United States, Avery Gagliano, 17, won the Audience Award. J J Jun Li Bui (Canada, 14) took home the Peer Award and Gevorgyan received the Press Award.

The first three rounds of this year’s Cliburn Junior Competition began on May 31 at Caruth Auditorium at Southern Methodist University. After two days of 40-minute solo recitals from six young pianists in the semifinal round, the three finalists were announced by jury chair Alessio Bax on June 6.

They originally competed with 23 players from 11 countries. Three semifinalists receive a $2,000 prize: Gagliano, Bui, and Chun Lam U (Hong Kong, 16).

Last month, Lee was the subject of controversy with his shocking disqualification at the Lang Lang Shenzhen Futian International Piano Competition. After being asked to omit one of three planned pieces, Lee decided to stick to the original plan.

Jury members rang a bell and even yelled in a microphone, but Lee refused to stop performing.

But there was no drama Saturday at the Meyerson when Lee, who appeared on Australia’s “Got Talent” at age 7, won his 12th top prize at an international piano competition on his first visit to the Lone Star State.

“This is one of my first competitions that doesn’t really seem like a competition,” Lee said, at the press conference that wrapped up the Cliburn Junior. “All of the programming at the Cliburn is so detailed that it seems like a festival and I have really enjoyed my time here.”

Lee is planning to return to competition in the fall, but worries about exams waiting for him at home: “Trust me, it’s worse than performing Rachmaninov!”