The six finalists in the Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition were announced late Tuesday night at Bass Hall. They are:
• Sean Chen, 24, United States
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• Fei-Fei Dong, 22, China
• Vadym Kholodenko, 26, Ukraine
• Nikita Mndoyants, 24, Russia
• Beatrice Rana, 20, Italy
• Tomoki Sakata, 19, Japan
The field includes the competition’s youngest competitor in Sakata.
He said he knew he had made the finals before his name was announced. The names were announced in alphabetical order and when Beatrice Rana’s name was announced, only five finalists had been named and Sakata was the only one left.
“My mind is going crazy a little bit because I am happy and it’s exciting,” Sakata said.
He spent most of Tuesday morning practicing his Mozart concerto with his teacher, William Nabore, in case he made it to the next round. “I’m planning to go to bed as soon as possible to recharge my energy.”
Chen is the first American to make the finals since Jon Nakamatsu, who won the 1997 Cliburn.
Chen accepted congratulations from Misha Amory, the viola player of the Brentano Quartet.
“The madness continues,” Amory said, laughing.
“The practicing, much more practicing,” Chen replied.
Chen said he attended the Cliburn four years ago as a student at the PianoTexas program at Texas Christian University.
“Four years ago if you would have asked me if I would be in the Cliburn, I would have said, ‘Probably not.’ If they would said I would have been in the semifinalists, no way. But the finals with Leonard Slatkin?”
He said he expected the finals to be “fun, very fun. I love playing concerti. The Rach Three (Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto) is an old friend of mine. I’ll have to get reacquainted with him.”
Mndoyants’ father, Alexander, won 5th place in the 1977 Cliburn. Minutes after the announcement, he said the news still hadn’t sunk in.
“It’s such a great honor to be in the finals with such a great conductor like Leonard Slatkin,” he said. “I will try to do my best.”
Dong had finished her solo recital less than an hour before the announcement came.
“I’m feeling very happy and totally surprised by this,” she said. “This is my first ever final to make in all of the competitions I’ve played in, so I’m thrilled. But I wasn’t that confident as I didn’t expect this to happen, especially as I wasn’t too happy with my Chopin Preludes as part of my last recital. Now for the finals, since no one really practices the concerti in advance, I really have to start working on them. But, first, I will call my family in China.”
Finalists receive three years of commission-free management by the Cliburn Foundation, as well as concert tours for the the first three concert seasons after the competition.
The winner will receive international concert engagements, as well as $50,000 — the largest cash prize in Cliburn competition history.
Kholodenko said he was exhausted waiting for the late-night results.
“So many emotions,” Kholodenko said. “I have not slept for two days.”
When his name was announced, a few screams erupted from the gallery. Since his debut at Bass Hall during the preliminaries, Kholodenko has developed a fan club, with dozens of people often waiting for him at the backstage door after his performances.
“I really appreciate them,” Kholodenko said. “It’s so heart-breaking.”
The final round begins Thursday night at Bass Hall.
Each pianist will perform one “small” Beethoven or Mozart concerto (from a predetermined list), as well as one “large” concerto of their choosing, with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Renowned American maestro Leonard Slatkin will conduct.
The competition began May 24. Thirty pianists representing 13 countries played two 45-minute preliminary round solo recitals.
On Thursday, the field was narrowed to 12 semifinalists, who played an additional 60-minute solo recital and a piano quintet with the Brentano Quartet.
Ongoing questions of fairness have plagued the competition as local media outlets, bloggers and social media followers have raised eyebrows over the number of pianists — nine out of 30 — who are students of jury members. Of those, two — Dong, student of Yoheved “Veda” Kaplinsky, and Rana, student of Arie Vardi — advanced to the finals. Cliburn rules preclude jurors from voting on their students.
The semifinalists not advancing were Claire Huangci of the United States, Alessandro Deljavan of Italy, Nikita Abrosimov of Russia, Nikolay Khozyainov of Russia, Jayson Gillham of Australia/United Kingdom and Alexey Chernov of Russia.
The “Twitterverse” erupted with reactions when the finalists were announced, with exhortations such as:
• “Aw, no Deljavan. I’ll to listen to the ones I’ve missed and see why they were chosen. Glad about Rana. #Cliburn2013” — @Pattyoboe
• “What a bump- I lost my favorites of 3; Khozyainov, Deljavan, Gillham at #Cliburn2013 final....they will be MISSED!!” — @mranfeld
• “Having some mixed emotions about the finals list, but still looking forward to this weekend. Semifinalists should be proud. #cliburn2013” — @abigailw92
Deljavan, the competition’s only returning competitor, also made it to the semifinals in 2009.
“I actually feel very well about this decision,” he said. “I’m actually happy and not so disappointed. I really hope for the best for these finalists. I’m actually more upset for my host family. Sure, I felt the audience seemed to like what I was doing, but the audience is not the jury.”
The awards ceremony will take place 7 p.m. Sunday at Bass Hall.
Star-Telegram reporters Andrea Ahles and Tim Madigan, and correspondent Andrew Marton contributed to this report.