Van Cliburn

At the Cliburn, a second chance for all

With famously robust music of Liszt and Prokofiev, Lindsay Garritson’s preliminary round recital was a showcase for her power and athleticism at the keyboard. But on Saturday afternoon at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, she had barely caught her breath backstage before turning her focus to a second and much different recital a few days to come.

“A little more inward, maybe,” the 25-year-old American said of how she’ll play her second performance. “I do a Mozart sonata and a piece by Liszt that has to do with water falling so it has a very impressionistic sound, and Chopin’s fourth ballade, which is very intimate in a lot of the parts. It’s a lot different than today’s program, which was a little bit more out there.”

But in past competitions, Garritson wouldn’t have had that artistic luxury — not unless she survived the Cliburn’s preliminary round. Until this year, jurors have cut the field to 12 after each competitor played a single recital. Now, after a major change in format, each of the 30 young artists will perform two 45-minute recitals.

The first round of recitals, begun at 11 a.m. Friday, ends this afternoon. The second round of 30 starts later in the day and lasts until Thursday evening when the semifinalists are announced.

Some say they are grateful for the chance.

“Playing just one recital is difficult,” said Beatrice Rana, 20, of Italy. “Now we get another chance to express ourselves and show other sides of our music. We have an hour and a half to say something. The most difficult thing is to take advantage of the chance.”

For all the extra notes, some of the jurors say they also are in favor.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” juror Veda Kaplinsky said. “It gives the jury a chance to really get to know these people before they make decisions as to who stays. Hearing them twice instead of once makes a huge difference. You get a broader range of repertoire. And if you have a bad night or an unusually good night, it balances out. You get a more realistic feel for them.”

For all the positives, the new format has brought scheduling challenges and intensified the already grueling nature of the preliminary round. In past competitions, with just one recital per competitor, the preliminaries started to feel like a slog for the media and audience members committed to sitting for every note.

In the semifinals, each of the 12 survivors performs yet another solo recital, but also collaborates with a string quartet. Violins have never sounded so good.

Now, make that 60 first-round recitals (the second round of them begins today.) More than 13 hours of music have been added to the competition as a result. The first and second competitors in each of three sessions per day take the stage five minutes apart. A short intermission takes place every third performance. Preliminary round performances have gone off at a much more leisurely clip in the past.

In Bass Hall this week, even before the first round of recitals was finished, some audience members were getting restive.

“Is it too much? It depends on what you’re asking,” Jerry Thiel of Arlington said. “Too much for whom? This is getting to be a little hard. It’s going to be a grind, I can tell you that. How far are we through this? I can only say to myself, if the jury can do it, I can do it, too.”

Richard Casper, a Juilliard-trained pianist from Cape Cod, said he wasn’t complaining.

“Only wackos come for the whole thing anyway,” said Casper, who attends the entire competition with his wife, Elizabeth Carr. “It’s like giving them all a a second chance. You think you are leading with your ace, but if it disappoints, you have something to fall back on.”

In any event, audience (and media) comfort is not the Cliburn priority.

“We’re not doing it for the jury or the public,” jury Chairman John Giordano said. “We’re doing it to find the best young people. That’s the whole point of the competition, not anything else.”

The new format benefits the competitors in another respect. No longer will the six finalists be forced to play a recital between two concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony.

“This was done at the cost of getting rid of a recital that no one liked,” longtime juror Richard Dyer said. “That last recital was originally established because there were [classical music managers and presenters] in the audience who weren’t there for the earlier part of the competition. Talk about something that wasn’t done for the audience or the players. It was done for the managers.”

Under the new “pass/fail” scoring system, jurors will still take only one vote after the preliminaries.

“You weigh the two recitals as if they are one,” Kaplinsky said.

And even the weary audience members agree that the extra music might lead to better decisions.

“I score everything myself,” Thiel said. “Rather than making that decision after one recital, I wonder how different my opinions will be after hearing them again.”

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