Van Cliburn

Kholodenko: ‘I’ve enjoyed every minute’ of teaching at PianoTexas

Vadym Kholodenko, 2013 Cliburn gold medalist, returns to the Fort Worth stage in June at the PianoTexas festival at TCU.
Vadym Kholodenko, 2013 Cliburn gold medalist, returns to the Fort Worth stage in June at the PianoTexas festival at TCU. Star-Telegram archives

Piano competition fans will be flocking to Fort Worth on Sunday.

The Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition begins downtown, and the PianoTexas festival showcases the winners of its Young Artist Concerto Competition in performance with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at TCU.

Vadym Kholodenko, who won the gold medal at the Cliburn’s flagship international competition in 2013, served as a juror for the PianoTexas competition and taught master classes to students during the monthlong festival.

He also presented a solo recital and chamber music concert — his first public performances in Fort Worth since his two daughters were found dead in the family’s home in Benbrook in March. Kholodenko’s estranged wife, Sofya Tsygankova, has been indicted on capital murder charges in the children’s deaths.

Local audiences welcomed Kholodenko back to the stage June 5 with standing ovations and multiple curtain calls, and critics praised his subtle, lyrical playing.

Kholodenko said he is not ready to talk about his personal tragedy. But in his first in-person interview since March, he talked with the Star-Telegram after one of his PianoTexas performances about music and mentoring young students — about teaching, performing and whether he prefers to judge or be judged in a piano competition.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

What is it like to talk with young students who are at the beginning of their careers?

It was my first experience to have so many master classes during the week, and so many students, and they were all different. I was also excited, very much, about the piano competition. … I was on the jury. It was my first experience on the different side of the fence.

Yes, you judged the PianoTexas concerto competition. Now that you’ve been on a competition jury, do you prefer to be a judge or a competitor?

It was easier to be a judge. I think so. It was great that all three of us had the same opinion. We went into a room for discussions and from the very beginning we had the same opinion about it all.

What have you enjoyed the most about your time at PianoTexas?

For me the most exciting moment was this exchange of ideas with the students. It was not only like I would give them something. I am getting new information. It is always great to communicate with young musicians. … I hope I helped them a little bit.

Actually, they were all great and very different, of course. It’s another great thing about this profession. You shouldn’t play everything one way. There are different opinions, different imaginations, different perceptions of music, so that’s what’s so interesting, really.

What was the most challenging question you received from a student?

It was a great question about did I feel pressure because of first prize so in this case I should play always good in concerts, and I said it’s not like the second prize should take their events and play average.

When competing, I said I would not target this place or that place. I always try to play on a certain level. It was a great question.

You played a solo recital and a chamber music concert as part of PianoTexas. Did you discuss the difference with your students?

We did speak about preparation, in general, for concerts. Of course, chamber music is a very different experience from the standpoint that you communicate with a few musicians. It’s not like an orchestra when it’s a group of 70 people.

In this case it was three musicians, so it’s more personal. It’s really difficult to explain how it works, but it’s very different, in the scope as well in preparation. I explained what they might do to prepare for a concert and programs.

With this experience at PianoTexas, do you think you would like to become a teacher?

It’s so difficult to say. I enjoy doing master classes. When I’m playing so many recitals during the [concert season], I feel teaching is not something I’m interested in doing at the time. But now I don’t have as many recitals in the summer, so I’m just enjoying this.

For the future, it’s difficult to say if I’m going to teach for sure; I just don’t know. The first time I saw my schedule, I thought it was so difficult to teach for eight hours and then rehearsal, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @STFeatures

PianoTexas Concerto Concert

  • Featuring winners of the Young Artists Competition (Chelsea Guo, 15, U.S.; Andrew Vargas, 15, U.S.; Ruixue Zhang, 21, China) conducted by Barry Douglas
  • 7:30 p.m. Sunday
  • Ed Landreth Auditorium, TCU
  • $25
  • 817-257-7456;

Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition

  • Sunday-June 25
  • Van Cliburn Recital Hall and Bass Hall, Fort Worth
  • $10-$60
  • 817-212-4280;
  • Performances will be webcast at and