Van Cliburn

14 burning questions about the 14th Cliburn Competition

Although the Cliburn competition has been around since 1962, it continues to evolve every four years, so each event is slightly different. Even seasoned competitiongoers will notice small changes in format, in addition to the bigger changes in guest artists, this year. From the length of the preliminary recitals to the cool collectibles in the gift shop, here are answers to frequently asked questions about the 14th Cliburn.

1. How can I watch it if I don’t have tickets?

Available at and, the webcast will bring the competition to life around the world in real time with more than 110 hours of live broadcasts of performances, interview segments and awards ceremonies over the 17-day period. It will also include hours of symposia, competitor profiles, tributes to Van Cliburn, taped interviews, featurettes on the many aspects of the competition (including its 1,200-volunteer force) and other behind-the-scenes glimpses. The webcast will once again be hosted by pianist and media personality Jade Simmons. Think of it as Cliburn reality TV.

The webcast can be viewed on a large screen each day in the Van Cliburn Recital Hall, in the Maddox-Muse Center, across Calhoun Street from Bass Hall. The simulcast is free and offers an “almost live” option for young children, latecomers and others interested in getting a taste of the action. Patrons of the simulcast will be allowed to bring drinks from the bar into the hall during performances; those attending live in Bass Hall will not.

2. What’s new about the preliminary round?

Each competitor will perform two 45-minute recitals. (This is different from 2009, when they played one 50-minute recital only.)

3. What’s new about the semifinal round?

The Brentano String Quartet will make its Cliburn competition debut, performing a piano quintet with each of the semifinalists. (The inclusion of chamber music, however, dates to the first competition.)

The quartet, formed in 1992 and the ensemble-in-residence at Princeton University, is named for Antonie Brentano, whom many believe to have been Beethoven’s “immortal beloved.” Members are Misha Amory on viola, Serena Canin on violin, Nina Lee on cello and Mark Steinberg on violin.

4. What’s new about the final round?

There will be no recitals performed in the final round (there was in 2009). Each finalist will perform two concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, who is making his first Cliburn competition appearance. (The FWSO has appeared in every Cliburn.)

Slatkin is a renowned American conductor who has won seven Grammy awards (and been nominated for 64), and has received the National Medal of Arts, among other accolades. He is the music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Lyon, France.

5. Who composed the commissioned piece for the semifinals?

The Cliburn commissioned Christopher Theofanidis (thee-oh-fan-EYE-duhs) to write a new work that will be performed by all 12 semifinalists. The piece is titled Birichino and will make its debut when the semifinals start June 1. The composer is scheduled to be in attendance for the performances.

Theofanidis is a Dallas native whose work includes chamber pieces, orchestral music and ballet scores. His Rainbow Body has been performed by more than 120 orchestras around the world. The Fort Worth Symphony commissioned him to write the inaugural fanfare for the opening of Bass Hall in 1998.

6. What pianos will the competitors play on?

They will choose from two American Steinways and two Hamburg Steinways. The Cliburn owns one of each, and Steinway is bringing in the others for the competition.

As in previous years, before the competition starts, each competitor will have a chance to try out all the pianos and make a selection.

7. How will the order of play for the preliminaries be determined?

At the draw party on Wednesday night, Cliburn personnel will draw the names of competitors randomly, and the competitor will select his or her performance slot. (This is a change from past years, in which each competitor drew a number indicating his or her order of play.)

The order will remain the same for both of the competitors’ 45-minute preliminary recitals. (In other words, whoever plays first in the first recital round plays first in the second.)

8. Where might I catch my favorite competitors off the stage — is it OK to talk to them or ask for autographs?

Absolutely! It’s not unusual to find groups of people gathered on the sidewalk outside the stage door at Bass Hall (on the Commerce Street side), waiting for pianists to emerge after they play. Many people like to have their favorite competitors autograph their program books.

Depending on how they feel, the competitors usually will have brief conversations with fans after their performances; they all speak at least a little English.

9. What’s the social media etiquette at the competition?

The Cliburn encourages patrons to participate in the competition online — through Twitter (#cliburn2013) and voting for the Audience Award — but asks them not to do so during performances. Cellphone use of any kind during performances is prohibited. Audience members will be asked to silence or turn off phones before each performance.

10. Where’s the best place to sit in the hall?

All performancegoers have their own favorite spot. Some prefer keyboard side so that they can see the competitors’ hands, and others prefer the right side so that they can see faces. Some prefer to sit in the upper tiers of the hall, as well. The large screen above the piano gives every patron an up-close view of the action onstage.

11. Can I bring my children?

Patrons must be at least 10 years old to attend the competition performances at Bass Hall. Children younger than 10, accompanied by an adult, may watch for free on a big screen at Van Cliburn Recital Hall.

12. What happens to the competitors who don’t advance out of the first round?

New this year, every nonadvancing player will receive a cash award of $1,000, courtesy of the Cliburn’s young professionals group, the 180s. Some of the pianists will stay around for the duration of the competition and will attend the performances; others choose to go home.

Those who stay may choose to play during the Piano Lunch, free and open to the public, at noon June 6 and 7 in McDavid Studio.

13. Can I wait until I find out if my favorites advance to the finals before I buy tickets?

The finals are filling up very quickly, competition organizers say. The Cliburn does not expect any tickets to be available by the time they begin.

14. What will be the hot sellers in the gift shop this year?

There’s some great new merchandise that is sure to go fast. Things we’re eyeing include baseball-style long-sleeve T-shirts ($35), belts with the Cliburn logo ($28-$30) and our favorite, a wooden piano cheese board, complete with a set of tools inside ($70). Look for other T-shirts in various styles and colors, as well as a needlepoint key fob ($25), cuff links ($45 per set), stemless wineglass sets ($36.50) and Vineyard Vines ties ($75).

The gift shop will be open during the hours of the competition. Items are also available through

Source: The Cliburn

— Compiled by Stephanie Allmon