Keys of gold

Cliburn sweetens the pot for winners of 2021 competition in Fort Worth

Cliburn sweetens the pot for winners of 2021 competition in Fort Worth

2013 Cliburn winner Vadym Kholodenko
Back when Vadym Kholodenko won the Cliburn in 2013, he earned a mere $50,000. Photo by Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn

The winner of the 2021 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition will leave Fort Worth with twice the amount of cash that the gold medalist took home in 2017.

The Cliburn announced June 17 that it will increase the winners' purse by 94 percent for the next quadrennial competition. First place will receive $100,000 (previously $50,000); second place, $50,000 (previously $25,000); and third place, $25,000 (previously $15,000).

"The Cliburn is widely considered one of the top competitions in the world," says Jacques Marquis, Cliburn president and CEO. "This increase in the actual dollars awarded puts us among the top few by that marker, as well." 

As recently as 2009, the gold medalist won just $40,000 (which was split that year between two co-winners). The prize was increased to $50,000 for the 2013 competition.

But money is only one reward for outplaying 30 or so of the best pianists in the world. The Cliburn also books concerts and manages careers of its winners for three years. The scope of their management will increase for the 2021 winner, as well. In addition to European and Australian representation, the winner will have official management across most of Asia and booking services in South America and Japan, the Cliburn announced.

"The true prize of the Cliburn — and what most sets us apart among all of our peers — is the unrivaled, comprehensive, and global career management we’re able to offer winners, in addition to the massive amount of exposure generated for them," Marquis says. "In normal circumstances, the total value of the Cliburn’s prize packages can be close to $2 million, when you account for income from concert bookings and services provided."

Current circumstances for artists are far from normal, though. With the global coronavirus pandemic shutting down concert halls, social distancing measures keeping musicians apart, and health concerns locking up patrons at home, the concert industry is experiencing what Marquis calls "total disruption."

The prize increases were planned before the pandemic hit, he says, but the changes "meet the times," when career innovation and financial footing have never been so important.

"As we all know, the concert industry has been totally disrupted, causing artists around the world to be home like the rest of us," Marquis says. "A concert is a shared experience — a communion between the artists and the public, a happening between friends, an occasion to elevate your spirit and your mind in a joint experience. Social distancing does not lend itself well to that kind of living arts. Concert presenters (including us) and artists are coming up with creative, safe ways to bring people together, which is great; but it will likely be some time before concert life returns to normal."

The Cliburn itself has been forced to cut back its concerts, pushing the start of the next season to January 2021. (Its Cliburn at Home series continues to offer programming virtually through the summer.)

The 16th Cliburn international competition is still slated for May 27-June 12, 2021 in Fort Worth. But in a major modification from years past, a screening jury will not travel to eight cities around the world to pick final candidates. Instead, prospective competitors will be invited to audition in Fort Worth next spring. The recitals will be open to the public.

For more information on the competition, including subscriptions, visit the Cliburn website.