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Fort-Worth Based International Piano Competition Gets Record Number Of Applicants

Thomas Yu playing piano
Courtesy of the Cliburn
Thomas Yu won the last an Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition in 2016.

Over 200 musicians have applied for the 2020 Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition in Fort Worth this year — the most since the competition began in 1999.

This will also be the most geographically diverse set of applicants for the international competition that includes entries from 32 countries on five continents. 

Maggie Estes, director of communications for the Cliburn Competition, said digital tools have allowed the amateur competition to expand its reach. 

“These people come from all walks of life and have a real deep commitment to playing piano in addition to taking care of their kids and doing their jobs,” Estes said. “This is the first [competition] of its kind in the States, and is widely considered the top in the world in terms of amateur competitions.” 

Thomas Yu, a periodontist from Canada, won the Richard Rodzinski First Prize Award in the most recent competition in 2016.

The selection committee is currently in the process of choosing 48 competitors based on applicants' 15-20 minute video submissions. This year, the competition will also select an additional 24 non-competing participants who will play for jurors and receive comments. 

“In response to talking to competitors at the 2016 competition, we had the idea of coming to participate, but to not have the added pressure of competing,” Estes said. 

According to Estes, many former competitors return for the camaraderie with fellow musicians, not just a coveted spot as one of the six finalists who gets to perform with the Fort Worth Symphony at Bass Performance Hall. Estes said about half of the competitors in 2016 took part in the previous competition in 2011. 

“What’s happened since ‘99 is that this community has continued to develop and get stronger across the United States and across the world,” she said. “While they have their profession, it’s great to talk about practice techniques, pieces you’re taking on ... it’s a really supportive thing for people who find [piano] an extremely important part of their lives.” 

The applicants, whose ages range from 35 to 78, include 124 men and 81 women who hold a wide array of occupations including: a playwright, a sommelier, a United Nations officer and a neuroscientist. 

Competitors will be announced March 12 and the competition will take place from May 24 to May 30 in downtown Fort Worth. The preliminary and semifinal round will be held at Van Cliburn Recital Hall, and the grand finale will be at Bass Performance Hall with the Fort Worth Symphony.

The public can purchase tickets to see the entire competition in person, and there will be a full live webcast of the semifinal and final rounds.