Ukraine Pianist Wins Cliburn Piano Competition

Vadym Kholodenko, a Ukrainian pianist and music teacher, has won the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, just four months after the death of the contest’s namesake.

Beatrice Rana, 20, of Italy, placed second, and Sean Chen, 24, of the United States, placed third, officials announced Sunday night. The other three finalists were Fei-Fei Dong, 22, of China; Nikita Mndoyants, 24, of Russia; and Tomoki Sakata, 19, of Japan.

The winner receives $50,000, a live recording of his or her competition performances, a studio recording and performance attire. The second- and third-prize winners both receive $20,000 and a live recording of their competition performances. The other three each receive $10,000, and all six finalists receive three years of concert management.

The competition, which is held every four years and remains among the top showcases for the world’s best pianists, started May 24 with 30 competitors. Some Fort Worth teachers and residents who wanted to honor Cliburn created the contest in 1962, four years after he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. His 1958 victory helped thaw the icy rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, and Cliburn gained worldwide fame and rock-star status.

Cliburn died in February at age 78 at his Fort Worth home after battling bone cancer. He was never a judge in the competition bearing his name but presented awards to winners.

“This competition continues to be what Van wanted: support to young, excellent artists who want to share their art with wider audiences,” said Cliburn’s president and chief executive Jacques Marquis. “They bring to the classical world a new voice.”

People around the world watched performances online, and fans raved on social media about their favorite competitors. During the entire contest, the Cliburn’s webcast had about half a million page views, more than twice the amount in the previous competition, in 2009, according to competition officials.

Kholodenko, 26, said he was glad his wife could watch all of his performances online as she remained in Moscow with their toddler daughter.

“She tried not to criticize too much because she understood the pressure,” he told The Associated Press after winning Sunday night. “She was supportive, like all of my family and friends. … Before the Mozart (performance Sunday) I had to turn my phone off because I was getting so many calls and texts.”

Kholodenko, who had wowed the audience Sunday with his last performance, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, also won awards for best performance of a new work and best performance of chamber music. He credits his mother with his success that began with piano lessons at age 5, saying she never pushed him. He won the International Schubert Competition in Dortmund in 2012 and the Sendai International Music Competition in 2010. He attends the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where he also is an assistant teacher.

Rana, who started playing the piano at age 4, graduated from the Nino Rota Conservatory of Music and now studies at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover. Last year she released her first CD of works by Scriabin and Chopin. She won the 2011 Montreal International Musical Competition, the Muzio Clementi and Bang & Olufsen piano competitions.

Chen, the competition’s first U.S. finalist since the 1997 contest, earned two degrees from The Juilliard School after turning down offers to attend Harvard and MIT. He won second place at the 2011 Seoul International Music Competition and has won awards at various competitions. Chen now studies at the Yale School of Music.

Dong made her orchestral debut with the Macau Youth Symphony Orchestra, three years after her first recital at age 10. She has won several competitions in China, including the Schumann International Piano Competition for Young Musicians, the Asia-Pacific International Chopin Piano Competition, and the 65th Steinway & Sons International Youth Piano Competition. She now is pursuing a master’s degree at The Juilliard School.

Mndoyants gave his first public recital at age 10, and a year later released his first recording of a live performance at the Sibelius Academy Concert Hall in Helsinki. He has toured worldwide and is pursuing postgraduate studies at the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where he also received a degree in piano and composition.

Sakata, in his first visit to the U.S., has said he was disappointed that he didn’t get to meet Cliburn before his death. In the finals Sakata played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which made Cliburn famous. Sakata, who has won competitions throughout Asia and Europe, studies at both the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and at the International Piano Academy Lake Como.

At the 13th Cliburn competition, in 2009, there was a tie for first place – Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20, of Japan, and Haochen Zhang, 19, of China – only the second time in the contest’s history that there have been dual winners. Tsujii also made history as the first blind pianist to win.

Photo: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Rodger Mallison/AP
Vadym Kholodenko, Sean Chen, Alexey Chernov and Fei-Fei Dong, Van Cliburn Int’l Piano Competition, Fort Worth, Texas.

But Marquis, who started working with the Cliburn Foundation last fall before becoming its president in March, imposed new rules to prevent future ties.