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ON WATCH

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at the Van Cliburn Competition,
with JOHN BELL YOUNG

 

Arriving in Fort Worth after a week of listening to the Cliburn Competition over the internet put me in mind of one of those old Twilight Zone episodes, in which the unsuspecting observer is suddenly sucked whole into the two-dimensional reality of his television set. Sitting in Bass Hall, an impressive structure with superb acoustics, I listened yet again to the erstwhile contest emcee gently demand, with no little humor, that we disengage our watches and cell phones. With this my experience came full circle; I could sense somehow the disembodied presence of all those far-flung Cliburn Competition devotees, condemned to listen remotely through their computers.

En route to my somewhat less than swank hotel, just opposite the hall, I was astonished when the cab driver somehow sensed the purpose of my visit, and asked if I was in town for the Cliburn Competition. I explained that I was here in the official capacity of a journalist, covering the event for the St Petersburg Times. Without missing a beat, he then launched into a most erudite analysis of the competitors thus far, bemoaning the fact that there was no chamber music requirement that demanded each perform a lieder recital with a singer. 'Can you imagine', he said with a touch of urbane diffidence, 'how much we could learn from a pianist were he to perform the Schwanengesang?'. Smart thinking, that. And this was only the taxi driver.

Fort Worth is a chic and sophisticated town. Nothing of the urban sprawl so common to the American south infests its spotless streets and trendy shops. On the whole it resembles the Tribeca district of New York, its downtown area awash with only a few black glassy skyscrapers and many smaller red brick and mortar buildings that now house everything from Harry Winston to the latest designer ice cream. Bass Concert Hall announces itself brilliantly with two gigantic blaring Gabriels affixed to its exterior, their wavy locks codified in limestone and their 20 foot horns bellowing forth in mute fanfare. Named after the billionaire moguls who fund everything in this town, including the Competition, the hall seats more than 2000, and bears a certain resemblance to Carnegie, which I can only presume was intentional. It has been filled for virtually every concert, which take place twice a day. The only bothersome thing in the hall was the corpulent behatted Texan seated behind me, who fell promptly to sleep midway and snored throughout the entire slow movement of the Brahms Quintet, played by the lanky, and somewhat epicicene Primakov at the piano.

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Copyright © 7 June 2001 John Bell Young, Fort Worth, USA

 

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VISIT THE VAN CLIBURN PIANO COMPETITION WEBSITE

LISTEN TO THE COMPETITION RECITAL ARCHIVE

READ ABOUT SOME OF THE PARTICIPANTS

 

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