Van Cliburn

Critic’s review of Cliburn Amateur Day 1 preliminaries

Deirbhile Brennan of Ireland plays during the afternoon concert at the Cliburn Amateur preliminaries.
Deirbhile Brennan of Ireland plays during the afternoon concert at the Cliburn Amateur preliminaries. The Cliburn

Note: An early Sunday deadline didn’t permit a review of evening competitors. This story updates with impressions of the final concert of Dday 1.

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.

There was some slippage in the evening session, but there were also strong performances. Particularly impressive were Noah DeGarmo of the United States, who mastered some tough music from Prokofiev’s Sarcasms, Adrienne Johnson of the United States and Tessa Knipe of South Africa.

The 30 quarterfinalists will be announced at the conclusion of play on Monday, about 9:50 p.m., the Cliburn says. They will begin playing at 2 and 7 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, the 12 semifinalists will play on Thursday at 2 and 7, and the six finalists will compete starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Bass Hall, with the awards ceremony to follow.

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