South Korean pianist Yunchan Lim, 18, wins the 2022 Van Cliburn International Competition

FORT WORTH — At age 18, South Korean pianist Yunchan Lim on Saturday night became the youngest gold medal winner in the 60-year history of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

At an awards ceremony at Bass Performance Hall, the second prize silver medal went to the oldest of the competitors, 31-year-old Russian Anna Geniushene, and the third prize bronze medal to Ukrainian Dmytro Choni, 28.

One of the world’s highest visibility classical music contests, the Cliburn presents cash awards of, respectively, $100,000, $50,000 and $25,000 to its three top winners. More valuable almost certainly are guarantees of three years of concert tours and career management. Selections were made by an international jury including prominent concert pianists, with conductor Marin Alsop as chair.

In addition to live audiences in Fort Worth, the contest was followed avidly by other pianists, teachers, conductors and artist managers around the world via live and delayed video streams.

Lim is the second South Korean in a row, after 2017′s Yekwon Sunwoo, to win the top prize. His stunningly virtuosic and mature performance of the Liszt Transcendental Etude In the semifinal round obviously carried the day, and he also took two other awards. Here’s an enormous talent to watch.

Geniushene is clearly a solid and substantial musician. Her performances of Brahms’ Op. 10 Rhapsodies and Beethoven’s Op. 33 Bagatelles were magical.

Choni playing offered at once sophisticated and natural, and he’s clearly another major talent to watch.

The ceremony concluded an 18-day schedule of solo recitals and, with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, concerto performances. The final concertos Saturday, led by Alsop, featured pianists from three countries tragically in the news lately: Ukraine (Choni), Russia (Geniushene) and Belarus (Uladzislau Khandohi).

The Saturday night ceremony also presented numerous other awards.

Each of three finalists who didn’t win a medal — Uladzislau Khandohi from Belarus, Ilya Shmukler from Russia and Clayton Stephenson from the United States — received a $10,000 cash award. Semifinalists received $5,000 each, quarterfinalists $2,500, preliminary round competitors $1,000. Other awards worth thousands also were announced.

Jury Discretionary Awards, $4,000 each:

Patricia and Neal Steffen Family Jury Discretionary Award: Andrew Li, 18, United States

Raymond E. Buck Jury Discretionary Award: Changyong Shin, 28, South Korea

John Giordano Jury Chairman Discretionary Award: Marcel Takokoro, 28, France/Japan

Other awards were:

$5,000 Beverley Taylor Smith Award for Best Performance of a New Work (this year, competition jur Stephen Hough’s Fanfare Toccata): Yunchan Lim

$5,000 Best Performance of the Mozart Concerto: Ilya Shmukler, 27, Russia

$2,500 Carla and Kelly Thompson Audience Award: Yunchan Lim

Pandemic delay

The normally quadrennial Cliburn was delayed one year by the COVID-19 pandemic. The competition is named after Texas-raised pianist Van Cliburn, whose win at the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, at the height of Cold War tensions, catapulted him into instant fame. The competition was launched four years later by Fort Worth fans of the pianist, who moved to the city in 1986 and spoke at awards ceremonies before his death in February 2013.

Screening auditions identified 30 competitors ages 18 to 31, representing 15 countries (counting double nationalities claimed by two pianists). During the three first rounds, the list of competitors was narrowed to six finalists.

There were some changes this year. Preliminary and quarterfinal rounds, devoted to solo recitals, were held not at Bass Performance Hall, but at Texas Christian University’s handsome new 717-seat Van Cliburn Concert Hall.

Then at Bass Hall, each of 12 semifinalists played a 60-minute solo recital and, with the FWSO and guest conductor Nicholas McGegan, a Mozart piano concerto. The Mozart concerto performances replaced a chamber music round that had been a Cliburn staple.

This represented a third concerto in advance of the two traditional contrasting ones in the final round. Alsop, who also served as the jury chair this time, conducted the final round performances.

Cliburn 2022 competition finals: Day 4 is a wrap, with the last three concertos

Geopolitics shadow the Cliburn

The Russian invasion of Ukraine loomed over this year’s Cliburn.

The Cliburn’s decision to let Russians compete Trigged backlash from some who thought they should be banned. Both the Dublin and Honors Piano Competitions initially decided to ban Russians, later reversing course.

“We’ve been talking about giving a platform to young musicians, from wherever they are, and will not discriminate,” said Jacques Marquis, president and CEO of the Cliburn.

“Naturally, if someone would have been in support of war, we would have the need to disqualify and send home anybody. But we still believe these young musicians have nothing to do with this.”

At Cliburn 2022 finals, Russia-Ukraine war looms over the competition

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