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at the Van Cliburn Competition,


<< Continued from Thursday

Few here believed that Xiohan Wang, the Chinese national whose playing has irritated most of the critics in Fort Worth, would have made the final cut. I took a different position, not because I failed to recognize his many significant weaknesses in relation to the other finalists, but because I am only too familiar with the mindset of competition juries. (This year alone I served on the juries of 7 international competitions in Spain, Scandinavia, the USA and Russia.) The semi-final round convinced me Wang would be chosen, not only because his playing was clearly thoughtful and substantial (if not uniformly inspired), but for political reasons. Mind you, that his teacher is on the jury has little to do with it: she was forbidden from voting for him.

Of course, that doesn't prevent anyone from lobbying for anyone. And make no mistake: lobbying for contestants is perfectly normal at every competition, though it may be subtle. For example, no one has tried to keep secret that Van Cliburn's favorite is Ioudenitch, while Rodzinski's is Phillipov. Indeed, as there is a cooperative relationship between the Cliburn and the Esther Honens Competition in Calgary, the Cliburn actively encouraged the Canadian contest's winners to audition. Among those attending the event is the wonderful William Nabore, who I hadn't seen in 20 years and who, like Dorian Gray, hasn't aged. Nabore, a pianist and teacher, is the director of the prestigious Cadenabbia Institute in Italy. He had no fewer than six students in the contest, including 2 in the semi-finals and one, Stanislav Ioudentich, in the finals. All were exemplary, though Ioudentich left much to be desired.

As for Mr Wang, he collapsed from exhaustion after his performance in the semi-finals, and this despite his Fort Worth host's admission that she sprinkled his clothing beforehand with Holy Water. This was only exacerbated by the tension caused when his father, a translator for the Chinese government, who arrived from Beijing for his performance of the Rachmaninoff Third Concerto which was, to put it mildly, rough around the edges. He really was not well prepared for this massive piece, and though he played it musically enough, it was beset by problems, largely interpretive, but also technical. He is not yet comfortable in its ever so Russian skin, that demands a concrete command of affective articulation, and which duplicates, in compositional categories, the fruity vowels and plosive consonants of Russian speech. He is a serious artist, and I have little doubt this will come in time with sufficient study. I thought it was terribly unfair of the local media to have singled him out as they did for such merciless disparagement. He was the youngest, probably the least experienced of all the competitors, and had no track record with orchestra nor even on disc. Insofar as he was not taking money out of the pockets of the public, nor misrepresenting his powers, as Lang Lang does whenever he steps on stage these days, I see no reason for such critical excoriation. Of course, he is now competing with those who are in a somewhat more rarified and maturer interpretive league, and will have to develop a thick skin where the press is concerned, until he catches up and, no doubt, one day surpasses them.

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Copyright © 10 June 2001 John Bell Young, Fort Worth, USA







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