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Cliburn's Big Winners: A Ukranian, An Italian And The First American Since '97

Vadym Kholodenko, a 26-year-old Ukranian, won the top prize Sunday night at the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth. A 20-year-old Italian, Beatrice Rana, was named runner-up, and third place went to Sean Chen, 24, the first American to reach the Cliburn finals in 16 years.

Kholodenko was more than happy to win the top prize of  $50,000. But he said the rankings don’t mean that much.

“It’s kind of fun for the audience,  for the press," he said. "It’s interesting to put ‘first,’ ‘second,’  ‘10th,’  but in life, not so important.”

So much of life involves competing no matter what you’re doing, he added. Kholodenko and the other two winners said the competition was tough, but worth it.

Famed composer BelaBartok once said, sarcastically, that competitions are for horses. But silver medalist Rana said she doesn’t feel like a horse.

“Competitions are one of the main ways for us to have a concert pianist career," she said. "Competitions can be accessible for everybody. I don’t compete often, but I’m glad we have a chance to play often."

She referred to what winners consider the real prize of the Cliburn: three years of professional management and commission-free bookings here and overseas.  Winning also usually means no more competitions.  That’s what third-place finisher Chen was happy about.

“This experience has been really awesome but kind of the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life," said the resident of Oak Park, Calif. "You know, it’s just  the nature of the beast. I would be kind of happy to not have to go through it again.”

But now the pressure of life and career begins. One of the judges and famed chamber music pianist,  MenachemPressler, said the winners are up to it. He compared Kholodenko to legendary pianists who conquered Lizst’s Transcendental Etudes, which the gold medalist played.

“That was a feat that a not many people can do, not on that level, which is remarkable because he’s a young man,” Pressler said.

The hope for all three is that they not only keep performing well, but that they win over new audiences. That way, when the Cliburn bookings end in three years, concert managers will still want to sign them for future engagements.  

Kholodenko, the gold medalist, will receive $50,000; career management and international and U.S. concert tours for the three concert seasons following the Competition; studio and live recordings produced by Harmonia MundiUSA, and performance attire by Neiman Marcus.

Rana, the silver medalist, and Chen, the crystal award winner, will each receive $20,000; career management and U.S. concert tours for the three concert seasons; and a live recording of the competition produced by Harmonia Mundi USA.

The remaining three finalists will receive cash awards of $10,000 each, and concert tours and management for three concert seasons. They are Fei-Fei Dong, 22, China; Nikita Mndoyants, 24, Russia; and Tomoki Sakata, 19, Japan. 

Other Awards

The Steven de Groote Memorial Award for the Best Performance of Chamber Music, with a cash prize of $6,000, was awarded to Vadym Kholodenko, 26, Ukraine.

The Beverley Taylor Smith Award for the Best Performance of a New Work, with a cash prize of $5,000, was awarded to VadymKholodenko, 26, Ukraine.

The winner of the John Giordano Jury Discretionary Award, with a cash prize of $4,000, is Steven Lin, 24, United States.

The winner of the Raymond E. Buck Jury Discretionary Award, with a cash prize of $4,000, is Alessandro Deljavan, 26, Italy.

The winner of the Jury Discretionary Award, with a cash prize of $4,000, is Claire Huangci, 23, United States.

The Audience Award was voted on by almost 24,000 visitors to The Audience Award winner, Beatrice Rana, will receive a cash award of $2,500.

The semifinalists will receive cash awards of $5,000 each. Preliminary round competitors will receive cash awards of $1,000 each.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.