Van Cliburn

Cliburn amateur competition starts Sunday with few surprises

Matthias Fischer of Germany was among the strong players Sunday at the Cliburn International Amateur Competition.
Matthias Fischer of Germany was among the strong players Sunday at the Cliburn International Amateur Competition. The Cliburn

The Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition held no negative surprises as it got underway Sunday.

Those who had attended the previous six knew that the word “amateur” is appropriate only in a limited sense. The contestants don’t make their living playing the piano, but they certainly know how. Had the age barrier (they must be 35 or over) not applied, some of them would have been right at home competing in the regular Cliburn.

An international group of 68 pianists is taking part in the current version. Competition began Sunday morning in Van Cliburn Recital Hall, across Calhoun Street from Bass Hall. Afternoon and evening sessions followed, as they will on Monday.

For Sunday morning’s session, the hall, which will seat a maximum of 250 listeners, had an audience of about 60. For the afternoon session, the crowd grew close to the hall’s maximum. It was a knowledgeable audience of piano diehards, attentive and supportive.

One thing became apparent as the contestants came onstage for their 8- to 10-minute preliminary recitals: It’s going to be hard to narrow the field to 30 for the quarterfinals, 12 for the semifinals and six for the finals. There are plenty of strong competitors, and nobody crashed and burned.

There was one positive surprise Sunday afternoon. Canadian pianist Thomas Yu played something called Butterflies and Bobcats as his sole preliminary piece. This work by contemporary Canadian composer David McIntyre not only scored points for its playful title, but was a decisive winner as a piece of music. Yu gave it a strong performance and probably assured himself of a place in future rounds.

Some other strong players in the morning and afternoon sessions (and this by no means exhausts the list) included: Matthias Fischer of Germany, Yumi Ahn of South Korea, David Lee of Taiwan, Deirbhile Brennan of Ireland, Simon Finlow of the United Kingdom, Mari Yoshihara of Japan, Yvonne Liu of China, and Max Sung, Jeanne Backofen Craig and Kevin Grigsby of the United States.

Note: An early deadline didn’t permit a review of evening competitors, but full coverage of the first day of preliminary competition will be online at and

Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition

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