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Ukranian and Russian pianists advance to the Cliburn finals

Russian-born Cliburn competitors Ilya Schmuckler and Anna Genushiene.
Richard Rodriguez
The Cliburn
Russian-born Cliburn competitors Ilya Schmuckler and Anna Genushiene.

It looks like it'll be an international cliffhanger. The Fort Worth competition has drawn worldwide attention this year because of the Russian-Ukranian war — and the decision of the Cliburn to permit young Russians to compete.

Sunday evening, the 12 semi-finalists in the Cliburn Piano Competition were narrowed by the judges to six. The finalists are the single Ukranian in this year's contest (Domytro Choni), two Russians (Anna Geniushene, Ilya Shmukler), one pianist from Belarus — a close ally of Russia (Uladzislau Khandohi) — the American (Clayton Stephenson) and a South Korean (Yunchan Lim).

Many cultural organizations in America and Europe have cancelled contracts or dismissed even famous artists from their posts. This has mostly been because of their public relationships with Russian President Vladimir Putin or their refusal to publicly denounce the invasion of Ukraine.

But Jacques Marquis, the Cliburn CEO, has been outspoken in his defense of the original decision to invite 15 pianists from Russia to try out for the Cliburn. The competition's mandate, he said, is helping young musicians at the start of their professional careers and from its beginnings, it has sought to stay above politics. Its namesake, pianist Van Cliburn, surmounted Cold War tensions with his competition victory in Moscow in 1958.

Dmytr Choni, Ukranian pianist
Ralph Lauer
The Cliburn
Ukranian pianist Dmytro Choni after his semi-final performance at the Cliburn

In fact, a number of the young Russians invited to compete — including Anna Geniushene, 31 — have left Russia because of their opposition to the war or they have objected to it.

Geniushene, a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, is married to a Russian-Lithuanian musician, a recent silver medalist at the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow (the contest that Van Cliburn famously won). The two took their 18-month-old son to Lithuania only weeks after the invasion.

"After this aggression started," Geniushene said, "we just decided that we need to go right now. So that was the second or third of March when we crossed the border."

In March, during initial tryouts for the Cliburn, the Ukranian pianist, Choni, 28, expressed concerns about his family, who had fled the violence around Kyviv. But during the competition, he's been reluctant to discuss anything but music — which he described as "a hideaway from the world."

The 16th Cliburn Piano Competition concludes Saturday, June 18th, at Bass Hall in Fort Worth with the announcement of the winner — after a final round of four concerts:

TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2022
Final Round Concert 1 – 7:30 p.m.

Yunchan Lim, South Korea, 18 – BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, op. 37

Ilya Shmukler, Russia, 27 – RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, op. 30

Clayton Stephenson, United States, 23 – GERSHWIN Piano Concerto in F Major

Final Round Concert 2 – 7:30 p.m.

Uladzislau Khandohi, Belarus, 20 – RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, op. 18

Anna Geniushene, Russia, 31 – BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, op. 15

Dmytro Choni, Ukraine, 28 – PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, op. 26

FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2022
Final Round Concert 3 – 7:30 p.m.

Clayton Stephenson, United States, 23 – RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, op. 30

Ilya Shmukler, Russia, 27 – GRIEG Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 16

Yunchan Lim, South Korea, 18 – RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, op. 30

Final Round Concert 4 – 3 p.m.

Dmytro Choni, Ukraine, 28 – BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, op. 37

Uladzislau Khandohi, Belarus, 20 – CHOPIN Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, op. 11

Anna Geniushene, Russia, 31 – TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, op. 23

Awards Ceremony: 7 p.m.

Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks at You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.

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