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Cliburn invites 6 Russian pianists and political fireworks to 2022 competition in Fort Worth

Cliburn invites 6 Russians and political fireworks to 2022 competition

Sergey Tanin
Sergey Tanin is one of six Russian pianists vying for gold in the 2022 Cliburn competition. Photo courtesy of the Cliburn

Get ready for geopolitical fireworks to accompany the 2022 Cliburn competition in Fort Worth this June. Of the 30 competitors chosen for the Sixteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, six are coming from Russia, the largest pool from any one country, the organization revealed March 30. Two are from Belarus, and one is from Ukraine.

The announcement comes at a time when cultural institutions around the world are banning participants from Russia and Belarus to stand against Vladimir Putin's Russian-led invasion of Ukraine. But the Cliburn is choosing to stand with artists — and with the power of art to transcend politics — says CEO Jacques Marquis.

In a statement released with the list of competitors, Marquis says:

The 30 competitors we announce today were selected solely on their artistry. We know that their extraordinary ability to communicate through music will touch the world when they take the Cliburn stage this June.

The Cliburn must and will remain true to its mission as an artist-supporting cultural institution, and we are dedicated to the power of this artform to transcend boundaries. We make no distinction between non-political artists based on their nationality, gender, or ethnicity. We stand firmly with the music community around the globe in its commitment to these ideals.

The hearts of the people of the Cliburn are with the valiant Ukrainians as they courageously defend their homeland from the Russian regime. What is happening goes against everything that humankind should stand for.

A March 30 social media video of the Cliburn's announcement was set to the music Three Movements from Petrushka by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, which Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko played to great acclaim on his way to winning the 2013 Cliburn competition.

Already listening
The quadrennial Cliburn international competition is considered the world's pre-eminent piano contest and an "Olympics" of the classical music world. The theme of the 2022 event is "The World is Listening," which already has been true.

The Cliburn received both criticism and applause in early March, when — just days into Russia's attack on Ukraine — the organization allowed 15 Russians to participate in screening auditions in Fort Worth. While the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board agreed with its decision, the Fort Worth Weekly's Kristian Lin warned that he and the audience might stand up and boo.

The Cliburn's decision even attracted The New York Times, which reminded readers of the foundation's Cold War-era roots and quoted Marquis as saying, “We can help the world by standing our ground and focusing on the music and on the artists."

Van Cliburn's victory at the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow was considered a pivotal thaw in Cold War relations. When Cliburn passed away in February 2013 at the age of 78 in Fort Worth, he was still known by a title bestowed on a Time magazine cover: "The Texan who conquered Russia." (A TCU concert hall named for Cliburn, where much of the competition will take place, is set to open next week.)

While the participation of Russian pianists will likely dominate headlines until the last note is played, here's a list of all 30 of the competitors who will be vying for a gold medal and the start of a professional career. The competition runs June 2-18 in Fort Worth.

  • Tianxu An, China, age 23
  • Yangrui Cai, China, 21
  • Albert Cano Smit, Spain/Netherlands, 25
  • Dmytro Choni, Ukraine, 28
  • Federico Gad Crema, Italy, 23
  • Anna Geniushene, Russia, 31
  • Francesco Granata, Italy, 23
  • Arseniy Gusev, Russia, 23
  • Masaya Kamei, Japan, 20
  • Uladzislau Khandohi, Belarus, 20
  • Honggi Kim, South Korea, 30
  • Elizaveta Kliuchereva, Russia, 23
  • Shuan Hern Lee, Australia, 19
  • Andrew Li, United States, 22
  • Yunchan Lim, South Korea, 18
  • Denis Linnik, Belarus, 26
  • Kate Liu, United States, 28
  • Ziyu Liu, China, 24
  • Jonathan Mak, Canada, 25
  • Georgijs Osokins, Latvia, 27
  • Jinhyung Park, South Korea, 26
  • Changyong Shin, South Korea, 28
  • Ilya Shmukler, Russia, 27
  • Vitaly Starikov, Russia, 27
  • Clayton Stephenson, United States, 23
  • Yutong Sun, China, 26
  • Marcel Tadokoro, France/Japan, 28
  • Sergey Tanin, Russia, 26
  • Yuki Yoshimi, Japan, 22
  • Xiaolu Zang, China, 22

The country breakdown (with a couple competitors representing two countries) is as follows:

  • Russia: 6
  • China: 5
  • South Korea: 4
  • Japan: 3
  • United States: 3
  • Italy: 2
  • Belarus: 2
  • Ukraine, Spain, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Latvia, France: 1

Notably, just three of the 30 are women, a number that's down from past competitions.

Of 388 initial applicants, the Cliburn says, 70 were invited to audition in Fort Worth, and 30 of those were selected to compete in June.

The jury deciding the winners will consist of Marin Alsop, jury chairman (United States); Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (France); Alessio Bax (Italy); Rico Gulda (Austria); Andreas Haefliger (Switzerland); Wu Han (China Taiwan/United States); Stephen Hough (United Kingdom); Anne-Marie McDermott (United States); Orli Shaham (Israel/United States); and Lilya Zilberstein (Germany).

For tickets and more information, visit the competition website. The entire competition also will be live-streamed.