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Eight Van Cliburn Finalists Honor The Late Pianist With Memorial Concert In Fort Worth

Bill Zeeble
Van Cliburn at a gala fundraiser in Fort Worth. He died last year.

Exactly one year ago, legendary pianist Van Cliburn, who stunned the world when he won the Tchaikovsky Competition in the USSR at the height of the cold war, died. Tonight, in downtown Fort Worth, where the International Piano Competition named for him is held every four years, past winners will pay tribute.

A month ago, Cliburn Foundation President and CEO Jacques Marquis says the emails went out to all past finalists of the competition. It was an invitation to play for tonight’s anniversary.

“It’s part of the Cliburn ideology of sharing the music with the larger audience,” Marquis said. “I think that ‘Van vision’ was to share the music.”

Cliburn lent his name to the famous competition he considered less a contest and more a festival of classical masterpieces played by some of the world’s most gifted young artists. He gave generously of his time and money over the years, furthering the cause of classical music, musical education, and helping up-and- coming musicians.

For Jose Feghali, a 1985 Brazilian-born gold medalist and Texas Christian University artist-in-residence, saying "yes" to tonight’s performance was easy.  

“Oh absolutely, absolutely, yes,” Feghali said. “As soon as I was asked. There was a possibility of a conflict but I got rid of that.”

Alexey Koltakov, a 2001 finalist originally from the Ukraine but who now lives in New York, says he had to be in Fort Worth, and definitely wants to perform. The competition helped launch his career as a pianist and teacher because it gave him a chance to perform a lot.

“And this is really where every artist learns about himself,” Koltakov said. “About performance, about being on stage, about how to do that. You can’t learn it in a practice room.”

Koltakov will play music by Lizst that he recently fell in love with and says it will give audiences adequate emotional impact.

But it won’t be too somber, says Ann Hudson, a longtime volunteer, and now cabinet member of the Cliburn Foundation board. She’s been with the Cliburn competition since the start, more than half a century ago. She says this will be a celebration.

“It’s a tribute,” Hudson said. “It’s just the happiest way we can salute Van and we will do it many different ways, many times.”

And it will be a reunion. Feghali calls it a Cliburn competition family reunion. Eight pianists will play tonight, the oldest medalist winning nearly 30 years ago, the youngest having performed in Fort Worth just two years ago.

For those listening in Fort Worth and live online, it will be an evening of great works in tribute to a champion of classical music. But Cliburn might say it’s a tribute to master composers: Pianists are just the vessels who bring their music to the people. 

Here's tonight's lineup:

5 p.m. Welcoming remarks

5:06 p.m. Yakov Kasman, 1997 silver medalist

RACHMANINOV Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, op. 36 (1913)

5:33 p.m. Simone Pedroni, 1993 gold medalist

WILLIAMS Suite from Lincoln

LISZT Funerailles

6:03 p.m. Steven Lin, 2013 jury discretionary award winner

DEBUSSY Menuet and Clair de lune (from Suite bergamasque)

MENDELSSOHN Fantasy in F-sharp Minor, op. 28

6:30 p.m. Maxim Philippov, 2001 silver medalist

SCHUMANN Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, op. 11

7:02 p.m. Alexey Koltakov, 2005 finalist

LISZT Après une lecture du Dante

7:25 p.m. José Feghali, 1985 gold medalist

SCHUMANN Kinderszenen, op. 15

BACH-HESS Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

7:55 p.m. Antonio Pompa-Baldi, 2001 silver medalist

LISZT Ballade No. 2 in B Minor

POULENC Les chemins de l’amour

LISZT Paraphrase on Verdi’s “Ernani”

8:17 p.m. Alexander Kobrin, 2005 gold medalist

TCHAIKOVSKY Selections from The Seasons, op. 37b

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