Bud Kennedy

Grieving grandfather says Cliburn winner overwhelmed by tragedy

A half-continent away, the father of Cliburn Piano Competition winner Vadym Kholodenko grieves for two granddaughters and for a son overwhelmed by their loss.

“I don’t think he’s in any condition to talk, or really to do anything,” Timur Kholodenko said by phone Saturday from his home in Massachusetts.

“It’s very tough to come home and find something like that. I think it will be very difficult for him for some time.”

The close-knit community of international contest pianists and much of the classical music world were stunned Thursday at the news from Benbrook, where police said Kholodenko, 29, found daughters Nika, 5, and Michela, 1, dead and his estranged wife, Sofya Tsygankova, wounded.

Tsygankova, 31, a concert pianist in her native Russia, was hospitalized for stab wounds and a mental health evaluation, police said. Kholodenko is not a suspect, they said.

Timur Kholodenko and his son, born in Kiev, Ukraine, had not been close. But they reunited when the father came for Kholodenko’s 2013 finals performance and the awards.

Their reunion is mentioned in Virtuosity, the Cliburn feature film documentary.

Timur Kholodenko said Vadym has sent two messages about the deaths, and he has also talked with Benbrook friends who hosted his son during the contest.

Tsygankova had brought Nika to Boston to meet her grandfather, he said.

“They seemed like such a wonderful family,” Timur Kholodenko said.

“Vadym won a prestigious contest. They seemed very happy together. I don’t know what happened.”

The couple married in 2010, but Tsygankova stayed home during the Cliburn to tend to Nika, then nearly 3.

They moved to Fort Worth in 2014, leaving war-torn Ukraine and seeking better medical care for Nika. They separated in August and were divorcing, according to court records.

The deaths came the same week as the celebration of Kholodenko’s first album as an artist-in-partnership with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra on the France-based Harmonia Mundi label.

(Italian pianist Alessio Bax is taking his place for three concerts with the symphony at Bass Performance Hall, the last a Sunday matinee.)

Timur Kholodenko said his son is “very busy. … He’s a talented guy. I’m happy for him that he does so many concerts.”

British writer Andrew Solomon, an expert on psychology and depression, studied young prodigies, including pianists, in his Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.

Until Tsygankova is evaluated and more is known about the children’s deaths, he said, it is too soon to assume any connection at all to the stress of overnight success, or to the inherent tension in a marriage of two driven concert pianists.

“I can say that playing the piano is a very lonely activity,” he said.

“You spend a lot of time alone, banging away on a thing made of wood and metal. It can be a very lonely experience.”

Solomon added a comment and then a caveat.

“They are perfectionists who put themselves under tremendous pressure,” he said.

“The level of stress and the level of tension are very high. But I am not sure that connects in any way to this.”

We don’t know much yet.

We can only await the day when we hear again from Vadym Kholodenko.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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