For over 60 years, the crown jewel of Fort Worth arts has been the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The acclaimed competition returns in 2022 – after a Covid-related postponement for the 16th edition – June 2-18 at Bass Performance Hall.

Established in 1962, the competition is named in honor of a true rock star of the classical music world, Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn Jr, who died in 2013. 

New for the 2020 edition, the Cliburn will have its first female jury chair with the internationally respected Marin Alsop at the helm. Alsop has a rich resume as a conductor and curator, serving as music director for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, and leading the Ravinia Festival. 

“I conducted for many years, the finals for the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, and I found working with young artists is very inspiring, you can really impact the outcome for them, help them shape and formulate their interpretations,” Alsop said. “I’m very happy to be conducting the finals.” 

The Cliburn generally completes auditions through an eight-city tour, spreading out the selected competitors between various international cities where performance trials are held. 

Van Cliburn Concert Hall at TCU

In 2022, however, all 72 up-and-coming pianists will be invited to Fort Worth in March. Screening auditions will be open to the public and held at the PepsiCo Recital Hall at TCU. Preliminary and quarterfinal rounds in June will take place at Van Cliburn Concert Hall at TCU and are ticketed. Semifinal and final rounds will take place at Bass Performance Hall and are ticketed. The competition gives the Fort Worth community a look at the best young concert pianists between the ages of 18-30 as they compete on a major stage. 

Technical prowess and sound quality are two of the metrics Alsop will look for in next year’s competition, but she is looking most for students with a mature grasp of their musical intention. 

“The most important thing about a performance is it has a reason to exist,” she said. “You feel the trajectory of where it’s going, why it’s going, and what’s happening. Of course it has to be housed in quite a high level of perfection, as well.”

Jacques Marquis has been the president and CEO of the Cliburn since 2013. Before joining the Cliburn he was executive and artistic director of Jeunesses Musicales Canada from 2002 to 2012 where he was instrumental in establishing the Montreal International Musical Competition and oversaw 11 editions of that competition. He speaks of his vision for Cliburn with burning, infectious energy. 

“I came from Montreal, and the Cliburn for me, was first class as an international organization,” Marquis said. “It’s been built on a fantastic foundation. It’s always easier to do this when the foundation is great. We all know the Cliburn is a top competition in the world. So the question becomes, how can you enlarge this? First, it has to have the support of the local people. What we have been doing over the last few years is increase programs within the community. I don’t think someone will cross into metropolitan opera when they’ve never been before. It’s a process.” 

Kenneth Broberg from the United States smiles at the end of his performance with conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Saturday during his concerto in the Semifinal round at The Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Carolyn Cruz)

Marquis cites the Cliburn’s early use of technology – it has been webcasting the event since 2001 – as one of the ways it stays ahead of the curve. Live-streaming the event widens the audience, allowing anyone, from anywhere to enjoy the event in the comfort of their home. 

“You have to look at the assets you have and ask, ‘How can we improve this?’ ” he said. “We increased international reach by increasing our webcasts. 2022 will be my 17th international competition. I’m very particular about it functioning as a gigantic funnel. You want to give competitors conditions for them to play in the best environment. You don’t want to lose any people during the process.” 

Key dates of the 16th Cliburn competition 

March 6–12 – Screening Auditions* 

March 30 – Announcement of competitors to the public 

June 2 – Competition begins 

June 18 – Awards ceremony 

ALL TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE 

*For the first time, the Screening Auditions will be held in the Cliburn’s hometown, Fort Worth. Seventy-two applicants will be chosen to perform a 25-minute recital in front of a live audience and the Screening Jury. From those, 30 will be selected to return to Fort Worth in May to compete.

It has become the Cliburn’s mission statement to advance classical music throughout the world and into the classrooms, homes, and hearts of everyone who enjoys competition and the arts. As a conductor who has led orchestras across the world, Alsop knows the influence competitions like this can have for all communities. 

“Competitions like this bring attention to classical music in a way regular concert series just can’t,” Alsop said. “ I know the community turns out for this in a big way. It brings the community together but it also inspires these young people and connects the community to a broader international pool of young artists.” 

Daniel Hsu had never been to Fort Worth before competing in the Cliburn competition, where he took Bronze in 2017. The 22-year-old said although the elite competition had him on the edge of his seat throughout the tournament, the Texas hospitality he received from the city of Fort Worth and its citizens made him instantly feel at home. 

“It’s immediately apparent when you’re there, in Fort Worth, the whole city is buzzing about the competition,” he said “I performed and then went out to dinner after and a lot of people at the restaurant were also at the competition. They were all talking to me. Even our waiter and the wait staff were like, ‘Are you participating in the Cliburn?’ The whole city is in on the experience.” 

Marquis echoed Hsu’s sentiments about the continued support of the Cliburn from Fort Worth.

“What’s fun about people from Fort Worth is they are very entrepreneurship-minded,” he said. “They are business people and they like projects. When you come to them and say, ‘I want to bring Cliburn to another level,’ They like it. They like when we take risks and push boundaries. They have helped us through all of this. The audience showed up. We want to create a place where people say, ‘I’m on the winning team tonight.’ “

Daniel Hsu of the United States performs Thursday evening during his recital in the Semifinal round at The Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Ralph Lauer)

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Nov. 19 to clarify performance venues and on Nov. 22 to correct spelling issues.

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