Bud Kennedy

Grieving grandfather says Cliburn winner overwhelmed by tragedy

Kholodenko family moving to America

In 2014, Cliburn gold medalist Vadym Kholodenko and his family were interviewed by Star-Telegram reporter Andrea Ahles about their plans to settle in Fort Worth. Video by Andrea Ahles
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In 2014, Cliburn gold medalist Vadym Kholodenko and his family were interviewed by Star-Telegram reporter Andrea Ahles about their plans to settle in Fort Worth. Video by Andrea Ahles

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.

Benbrook police Commander David Babcock confirmed that Van Cliburn winner Vadym Kholodenko is not a suspect in the deaths of his two children.

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.

They seemed very happy together. I don’t know what happened.

Timur Kholodenko

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.

Playing the piano is a very lonely activity. You spend a lot of time alone, banging away on a thing made of wood and metal.

Andrew Solomon, British author and psychology expert

“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.

Fort Worth Symphony music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya dedicates Elgar's 'Nimrod' from 'Enigma Variations' to pianist Vadym Kholodenko from the stage of Bass Hall in Fort Worth on March 18, 2016. Kholodenko was scheduled to perform with the orches

(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.

Woman on scene had multiple stab wounds and was taken to hospital

“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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