Just in: Korean wins Cliburn

Just in: Korean wins Cliburn


norman lebrecht

June 11, 2017

After a competition unmarked by incident and widely unreported, the Van Cliburn winner, announced last night, was Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, of South Korea.

Second and third were Americans – Kenneth Broberg, 23, and Daniel Hsu, 19.

The audience award, in which 20,000 website visitors and medici.tv watchers had a right to vote, was won by the only woman in the finals, Rachel Cheung.

The jury chair, Leonard Slatkin, is expected to share his personal impressions with us shortly.


UPDATE: There is no place for colourless competitions.


  • Cyril Blair says:

    Sunwoo was a very deserving winner.

  • Grazzidad says:

    Sunwoo played a whiz-bang showbiz concerto, the Rach 3, and played it well. It’s ferociously difficult, so proved to the judges he can handle the heavy stuff. But it failed, in my view and those of many I’ve spoken to, to reveal anything novel or especially unique about his music-making.

    By contrast, Cheung’s concerti were… magical. The Beethoven 4 was in the Perahia / Arrau / Fleisher league: long lines, finely graded contrasts, tasteful drama, the whole nine yards. The audience was hearing something they responded to at a visceral level, something that Yet Another Rach Three wasn’t delivering to them.

    • Andy says:

      These concertos have both been played countless times, by all (pretty much) of the best pianists of the last 100 years, and recorded endlessly. Is there really anything ‘new’ to say about them, that no genius of the last 100 years hasn’t said already.

      I wonder if we’re at the stage where we should stop looking for something new, the works can still be played with tremendous beauty/excitement/touch, or whatever else. That’s enough (for me anyway).

  • Sandra Carlock says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Cyril. Right from Yekwon Sunwoo’s preliminary recital I thought he had something very special to offer. And overall I loved his programming. I thought it was imaginative, showing the full (and impressive!) range of his personality and abilities – musical and technical. AND he put his entire being into those performances. His concentration and involvement were apparent – almost without wavering….throughout every stage of the competition. He talked about his love of the music…that was clearly apparent PLUS his respect for it. There was excitement…the piece by Hamelin absolutely sizzled…yet was melodic and subtly expressive with an absolutely stunning build to the climax of the piece. And included humorous touches of jazz as well! His Rach sonata the same…as was so much of what he played…and his Dvorak Quintet was gorgeous….BEAUTIFUL tone and so sensitive. Beautifully responsive to the quartet! If he keeps this up he will have a wonderful career. He appears to be a very modest and lovely person with his values firmly in the right place. I say – the judges did an incredible job filtering through all the talent in such a short period. I’m a pianist – Oberlin – Juilliard – and I stand firmly on everything I’ve said here. This young man is a true artist and I wish him all the best. Pace yourself, Yekwon, and share what you feel and know – and….oh yes(!)….try to squeeze some practicing in to the formidable schedule I’m sure you will have at times!! More than anything else – much luck…and deeply enjoy sharing the music that you love so much!

  • ERIC says:

    Sunwoo gave a fine performance. However, compared to thr other pianist, his playing was significantly deficient in many ways. They could all be summed up in one word: poise. Poise or self-composure of a pianist can only be achieved through not only a complete mastery of technique but a deep understanding of the composer’s creative state which gave rise to the music. Sadly, on the evidence of her performances in the competition, he possesses neither.Firstly the technical elements. There were many errors and wrong notes. i disagree with the result.