Jon Lee won first place at the Eighth Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition Oct. 18 at Bass Performance Hall.

Lee edged out fellow American Michael Slavin in second place and Xavier Aymonod of France who took third in the competition for pianists over age 35 who do not make their primary income from piano lessons or performances.

Both Slavin and Aymonod earned the same places the last time the amateur competition was held in 2016. Lee, a freelance software engineer, is coming off of a recent win at the San Diego International Piano Competition & Festival for Outstanding Amateurs.

“It’s sort of unexpected,” he said. “All I knew is that, like, I just needed to focus on playing the best that I could and trying to communicate how I was feeling … and that can be kind of a challenge and difficult to do.”

Each of the six finalists made it through two rounds of recitals before performing one concerto each with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday night. 

American pianist Pamela Mia Paul was the chair of the jury, and said there were several performances, even before the final round, that will stick with her for a long time. 

“As a professional pianist, and I speak I think for the whole entire jury, we’ve devoted our entire lives to the piano, and there’s never been any room for anything else,” Paul said. “And here are these people with these fascinating careers. I mean, doctors and lawyers and software engineers — all such varied talent and a wide range of ages — and they love the piano so much that they come home from a hard day of work and they sit down, they practice for a few hours. And that somebody loves the piano to that extent is so moving to us.” 

Forty-eight pianists were selected from a pool of 205 applicants for the competition, which was originally scheduled for May of 2020. Of the artists who were initially selected, 39 were still able to compete.

Cash prizes for first, second and third place are $2,000, $1,500 and $1,000, and the jury also had three discretionary $500 awards to hand out. 

Lee was encouraged to sign up for amateur competitions by a friend and said that he appreciated the opportunity to connect with other musicians.

“The biggest thing for me is having met so many wonderful people through the amateur competition circuit,” he said. “… It’s just really lovely to see them and to be supportive and to see how everybody grows, to me that is great … There’s a whole bunch of new people that I’ve met here that I plan on keeping in touch with, and I think it’s just really lovely that there’s a forum like that here.” 

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta FornoffArts & Culture Editor

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...