The second day of the preliminary rounds of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was full of candid moments that both made us laugh and pulled at our heartstrings. My responsibility as the author of this article is to convey exactly what I see throughout the day as objectively as possible while still celebrating each competitor's astounding performances. Without a doubt, Kim Dasol, Tristan Teo, Caterina Grewe, Philip Scheucher, Martin James Bartlett, Ilya Maximov, Daniel Hsu, Yuri Favorin, and Yutong Sun all presented fiery performances that further confirmed the superior judgment of the committee who selected them to compete. Perfectly objective, I am simply stating fact: these musicians are the elite and it was an honor to hear their performances.
As I documented the day's events, I noticed a common theme: humanity. As I mentioned in my introduction, The Cliburn allows the competitors to walk away with the invaluable prize of shared experiences. These shared experiences not only enrich the competitor's lives, but their host families, staff, audience members, and others! There are three examples of these experiences that truly struck me today.
"Is it going down?" asked Martin James Bartlett to the audience as he adjusted the piano bench before he began his Preliminary Round performance. The audience erupted into laughter with Bartlett as he turned what could have been a concentration crushing moment into comic relief. This moment will surely go in The Cliburn archives as one of the most humorous entrances to a Preliminary Round. Bartlett handled a stressful moment with grace, professionalism, and an excellent sense of humor.
The Cliburn is also famous for the comforting backstage experience. The "Backstage Moms" at The Cliburn are there to make sure the competitor is relaxed, positive, and has everything they need before and after their performances. Every competitor has their "Backstage Mom" there to tell them they were excellent and that any mistake was not really as bad as it seems. Even though they are only interacting with them backstage, they are a reminder in what may very well be one of the most high pressure moments in the competitor's life, that no matter what happens they are still stellar performers. A picture is worth a thousand words, but the support from a "Backstage Mom" is priceless.
Bartlett's humor and the "Backstage Mom" are tied specifically to the performance. When the competitors go home with their host families, they have the unique experience of getting to have people dedicated just to them for the duration of their stay in Fort Worth, Texas. After Ilya Maximov's performance today, his host family Stephen Nold and Rebecca Stern came back to the dressing rooms beaming with pride. When asked how she felt about Ilya's performance, Rebecca said, "When I stood to applaud, I was a little bit dizzy. I don't think I breathed during the entire performance! It is like he is my own son!" The couple do not have any children of their own and being Ilya's host family makes them feel like they do, even if it is only for a few weeks.
Taking part in any aspect of an event of this magnitude takes a special person who truly cares about making a difference in the lives of the competitors. Luckily for the competitors, caring, compassionate, and committed people are abundant in Fort Worth, Texas! As I looked around today, I saw people coming together to make the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition the best yet and creating an experience the competitors will not soon forget! We are all a part of The Cliburn Family and the humanity we share is what makes this competition one of a kind.
By Katie Kelly