Why we’re staying away from the Cliburn

Why we’re staying away from the Cliburn


norman lebrecht

May 19, 2017

Of all the world’s musical trouble spots, Fort Worth has shown the highest burnout rate in the past year.

First, the orchestra got locked out of its hall for four months when musicians had the temerity to resist a deep cut in their wage packet.  The FWSO president Amy Adkins ordered them to play up or be replaced. Five months after the dispute was settled, she waltzed out of music to a better job.

In February, Fort Worth Opera fired its innovative general director. Overnight.

This week, Bass Performance Hall threw out the music director Miguel Hart-Bedoya for trying to smuggle in a child’s violin…

Instead of apologising, the Hall president said the maestro should have known better. Musicians complain they have no place of safety to keep their instruments.

Bass Hall is where the Van Cliburn Competition is taking place next month. When we described the temperature there as ‘frigid’, locals said that was an understatement.

Fort Worth is a tough town. Don’t take a handkerchief with you to the competition or you might get stopped. Any expectation of pleasure is being killed at the door.

That’s the atmosphere in which the Van Cliburn Competition opens next week.



  • Bruce says:

    It is strange that the Van Cliburn people would hold their competition in a location that has demonstrated such hostility to musicians. (Don’t they still use the Fort Worth Symphony for the concerto round? It’s clear that Bass hates the FWSO most of all.) Surely there is another venue in town that could accommodate them: most universities have let out for the summer, for example.

    Presumably they already thought about this and for some reason decided to go ahead with this venue anyway. Hopefully nothing ugly will happen.

  • Justinian Forethemoney says:

    The number of “international piano competitions” occurring per month appears to be on an exponential trajectory, if the data shown at the Alink-Argerich website are any indication – for example there were 33 listed for the month of April 2017 alone (presumably producing between 100 and 200 “laureates”).
    Considering that the works performed at these events — including the “Cliburn”– are all essentially the same and the prizewinners largely interchangeable, why should anyone have the remotest interest in following or even attending any more of them?
    High time to abolish piano competitions altogether as irrelevant, but that is presumably unlikely as long as the organizers and jurors can make a nice profit at the expense of the hopeful competititors.

  • AMetFan says:

    For the first years in the ’70s, the Cliburn competition was held id Ec Landreth Auditorium, the then music building of Texas Christian University. The final concerto round was later moved to the Convention Center Theater downtown. The two weeks of the Cliburn was a wonderful time…many students, mingling with the jury, etc….joyous and almost magical. Even if people didn’t attend, the citizens of Fort Worth were aware of the successes of the pianists on a daily basis. There was tremdous and justified pride.

    At the that time, the FW Symphony, still basically (a very fine and active) fulltime chamber orchestra, was supplemented by freelancers for programs that required a full symphony orchestra. Different iterations of the orchestra played symphony concerts, the opera, the ballet, the Cliburn, and a substantial number of tour dates to small communities all over Texas. It was a formula that worked very well for many decades.

    As with everything cultural in the US, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and the Cliburn competition had ambitions and many of these have not been financially sustainable.

    Yes, Fort Worth is a tough town. But once upon a time it was also a real community in the vey best sense that took great pride in its cultural organizations, which in the ’70s and ’80s outranked Dallas and most cities in Texas. All things evolve, and Fort Worth has lost its essential Texas-ness and sense of small-city community.

    The excesses at Bass Hall are no surprise; just emblematic of a community has lost its identity.

  • mr oakmountain says:

    Good thing pianists don’t bring their instruments in a case and put it into their locker in the break …

  • Esfir Ross says:

    Fort Worth’s a wonderful town with appreciative audience. I was recognized by waiters in restaurant that saw my picture in local newspaper. The restaurant staff closely followed competition. TCU has the best Steinway D I ever played. Go, you’ll enjoy the fair.

  • Kurt Rongey says:

    Okay, but you’re likely to miss some astounding music-making. Anybody who went to the last competition can tell you that from the opening of the preliminaries to the end, there were enough great musical moments for a lifetime. Kholodenko, Rana & Chen are terrific artists, sometimes profoundly so. This year’s pianists are unlikely to disappoint.

    You’re sure to hear quickly enough if hall management policies compromise the experience. Nonetheless, the show goes on.

  • Ainslie says:

    Nobody is commenting on the obvious: MHB looks Latino (being Peruvian, he comes by it naturally). No wonder his looks aroused suspicion in a state where police are allowed to question your immigration status when they see fit.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Ft. Worth is a fine town with many elements superior to Dallas and much to do and see in your hours off from the competition.

  • Brian says:

    They should move it to Austin. A far more music-friendly city (and a bit of an oasis from Texas’s medieval politics).