Van Cliburn Junior - 18 years later, and the Cliburn Competition still inspires me!

by Alec Davis

This past summer, I blocked out an entire week on my calendar, and every day that week sat down in front of my computer with popcorn and a giant foam finger to watch the live webcast of the first ever Cliburn Junior International Piano Competition, for students aged 13 to 17.  It may seem silly to treat a piano competition like the Super Bowl, but this one holds a special place in my heart, and I was so excited to be able to watch it without flying all the way to Texas, where it is held every 4 years (Just like the Olympics!).

 

I started piano lessons when I was 10 years old, when a friend of my dad’s needed a place to store her Kimball piano, and I immediately started sounding out Christmas carols and video game music. My grandmother, having seen me play on her piano every time I visited, was a big supporter, and would give me CDs of great piano performances, one of which was an assortment of performances from the medalists of the 1993 Cliburn Competition.  Those pieces were my inspiration going through piano lessons; I would ask my parents to buy me the sheet music for the pieces I heard, and would listen on my giant headphones and watch the score as hundreds of notes passed by (many of which I didn’t even know how to read) and try in vain to learn even just a couple measures of the Liszt Mephisto Waltz, or Vladimir Horowitz’s Variations on Themes from Carmen. Of course, it was not until many years later until I could actually play any of these, but I knew in my heart that one day I would be able to, and knowing that all the scales, theory, and practicing was bringing me closer to that is what kept me practicing.

 

Fast forward back to this year, and seeing these high-school aged pianists perform just as well as some of the legends I listened to growing up was awe-inspiring!  23 Pianists from 14 different countries made it into the competition, and once we got past the first round, my bets were all on 17 year old Alim Beisembayev, from Kazakhstan. As amazing as it was to hear how much skill all of these students had, Alim made the music come alive and made it look so easy!  Now, looking back, I know how much work it took to get from struggling through my first scales to playing Liszt and Rachmaninoff, but seeing this inspired me all over again to keep practicing!  Every bit of theory work helps you to understand the building blocks of the music you are playing a bit better. Every focused scale and chord exercise brings you a millimeter closer to playing harder and faster music with ease. And every new piece that you learn can teach you a style or expression that can be used in the next one.

 

Back to the piano for me; watch the videos - get inspired!

 

Liszt: Mephisto Waltz - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJbg9V2KnD8

Bizet/Horowitz: Carmen Variations - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHqqJfRDnBY

Alim Beisembayev (Kazakhstan) Preliminary - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWiD2mbH5KQ