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On Monday morning Roger Wright and I had breakfast at Fort Worth's Worthington Hotel with Lowell Liebermann, the distinguished composer whose work was performed at this year's contest. He told us something rather interesting, which the Cliburn has not disclosed fully. This year the Cliburn, in its customary effort to include a contemporary work, held an invitational competition for composers. More than 30 of them contributed a work for consideration for performance at the competition. Out of some 32 anonymous submissions (the names of the composers were, for a time, kept anonymous), only a few were successful. One of them was Liebermann, whose Three Impromptus proved a most effective and haunting work. In any case, the work was not commissioned by the competition. In fact, the participating composers were asked to submit any work, even if already published, providing only that it had not been awarded a prize previously. The Cliburn awarded the winning entries cash prizes -- Lowell's was the most frequently performed, so he won the grand prize of $5000.

Of course, it is odd, and potentially unfair that the Cliburn competition would have sanctioned a published work; as Lowell pointed out, he could just as easily have submitted Gargoyles, which has been performed frequently, and even recorded several times. That would rather defeat the whole purpose of giving a competitor a brand new work to learn in a short time, when it is entirely possible that he may have already played it in concert; had he done this with Gargoyles, for example, Roger Wright, who knows it well and has recorded it, would have had a huge edge had he gotten to the semifinals, or had he been allowed to program it in the first round.

On Tuesday morning I enjoyed a most enlightening meeting with conductor James Conlon, who must have the stamina of a horse, given the 12 hours of rehearsal he is compelled to schedule during the last days of the competition. Unlike previous years, the competitors will play two performances of the two concertos. Conlon felt this was both productive and useful, insofar as it is precisely this kind of pressure and schedule that the real world of concert life will impose on them. Naturally, I asked him if he would be willing to engage a pianist who did not win the competition. 'Of course!', he enthused, 'if he is a good musician!' With that I wasted no time in providing the strongest recommendation of Roger Wright, though I also couldn't resist recommending a non-pianist as well, namely, the fabulous American dramatic soprano Joanna Porackova, who recently made her debut at Kennedy Center in the lead role of Menotti's The Consul, under the direction of Menotti himself. It seems that Conlon has programmed Rolf Liebermann's (no relation to Lowell) 12 tone opera, Freispruch für Medea, at the Paris Opera, and is casting. Coincidentally, Ms Porackova is singing the title role in the opera's world première at the Bern Opera in Switzerland at this very moment, where she has gotten rave reviews. Mr Conlon, who does his homework, will fly to Bern next week to hear her. As I said, no one goes away from the Cliburn empty handed.

On Tuesday evening I attended a party for the competitors, jurors and the press at a vast ranch just a few miles outside of Fort Worth. The steaks were delicious, and I had an opportunity to meet the Italian competitor, Allesandra Ammara just after her tour of the grounds on the back of a large steer, whose siblings we had no doubt just eaten. I also had the great pleasure of meeting a Cliburn Competition winner, the charming Jose Feghali, who was genuinely surprised to find that I did not conform to his image of a critic -- old, fat and gray -- but that I was relatively young, svelte and in shape. I suppose it didn't hurt that I look like a Brazilian, too, as he was quick to point out. Thus did we establish an immediate and warm rapport. Who would have thought that the world of cowboys and ranch hands would so effortlessly coincide with the world of concert artists, and so memorably at that? What can I say, except 'what a country!'

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







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