The three finalists of the Cliburn Junior. (From left) JiWon Yang, Shuan Hern Lee, and Eva Gevorgyan. Photo via Facebook.

Classical Music

The World’s Best Young Pianists Gather in Dallas for the Cliburn Junior

Australian piano prodigy Shuan Hern Lee took home first place and a $15,000 prize.

The second Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition and festival came to a close last Saturday after 23 pre-selected pianists representing countries from around the world participated in the week-long competition in Dallas. The competitors, aged 13 through 17, were expected to play over 90 minutes of music for the first three rounds—preliminary, quarterfinal, and semifinal—at SMU’s Caruth Auditorium, and a complete concerto with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under the baton of former DSO assistant conductor Ruth Reinhardt at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Pianist and SMU artist-in-residence Alessio Bax served as chairman of the jury.

The Cliburn Junior competition was established to encourage artists of the future and to provide them with an international platform, which is especially crucial for students with aspirations of becoming professional musicians. The festival is also an important part of the Cliburn experience; the competitors that do not advance along with 14 selected non-competing participants attend master classes, seminars, and workshops led by guest artists and previous Cliburn winners.

This year’s festival was held in Dallas after moving from Fort Worth, where “the” Cliburn competition happens quadrennially for pianists ages 18 to 30. According to a statement by Cliburn CEO and president Jacques Marquis, the Cliburn Junior will return to Dallas for 2023.

“One key to continuing the Cliburn’s strategic advancement is to continuously reach a broader community, both around the world and in our own backyard,” Marquis said in a statement. “We believe it will expose the Cliburn to a greater audience base in the region, as well as bring fantastic new partnerships with SMU, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and more to come.”

16-year-old Australian piano prodigy Shuan Hern Lee took home the first prize and a cash award of $15,000, while Eva Gevorgyan, 15, representing Russia and Armenia, won second place and $10,000. South Korean pianist JiWon Yang took home third prize and $5,000. All of the final performances earned standing ovations from the audience at the Meyerson. Gevorgyan touched the audience with the glistening theme of the Paganini, Yang impressed with her solid control of the Tchaikovsky, and Lee’s grand Rachmaninoff No. 3 stunned audiences with his admirable virtuosity.

Gold-medalist Lee says that the Cliburn has been an amazing opportunity for him to learn. “It’s been a really extraordinary experience; I’ve enjoyed every single moment here. The Dallas audience has been really nice and welcoming, and the city’s fantastic.”

But when asked what’s in his future plans, the young musician is unsure. “I honestly don’t know,” Lee says. “I’m going to do my best, finish my Bachelor of Arts at the University of Western Australia for now, and after that I’ll see where I go next.”

The developmental years of an artist’s career are arguably the most challenging, as emotional and musical growth comes naturally with space and experience. However, based on the level of performances and audience atmosphere from this past week, the Cliburn Junior engages the high level of professional competition with the performer-friendly experience that the main Cliburn competition–which is already the best of its kind–is known for, proving once again that it’s shaping up to be one of the most prestigious competitions available to young artists.

“I have to share some numbers with you,” said Marquis at Saturday’s awards ceremony. “We have four-and-a-half million views of the competition of the last 10 days, and that will only go up in the next few months. We have three million minutes of music watched in 120 different countries. It was said that we would bring the eyes of the world to Dallas. We delivered.”

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