Van Cliburn winner finally gets an agent

Van Cliburn winner finally gets an agent


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2017

There was a time when the music business surged to Fort Worth to sign up the Cliburn finalists.

No longer. The competition has yielded dull results and the business has turned its sights elsewhere.

So it’s a relief to report that this year’s Korean winner Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, has signed with the London boutique management Keynote, whose artists include Helene Grimaud and Teodor Curentzis.


  • Petros Linardos says:

    When were Van Cliburn winners hot? Can anyone name anyone who has had a lasting career?

    • La Verita says:

      Radu Lupu, Christina Ortiz

      • Petros Linardos says:

        You are right. I also just found out about Nikolai Petros and Christian Zacharias. So the first few competitions were noteworthy, about four-five decades ago.

        • La Verita says:

          Also Rudolf Buchbinder, Cecile Ousset, Barry Douglas, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Alexander Toradze, Jeffrey Swann, etc.

    • Byrwec Ellison says:

      “There was a time when the music business surged to Fort Worth to sign up the Cliburn finalists.”

      The quote is accurate. I first came to Fort Worth to cover the ’93 Cliburn Competition and discovered a convention atmosphere for what you could call ‘the classical music business.’ There were concert presenters from around the US and Canada (maybe international as well, I don’t know) looking for emerging talent to book into their halls and music series. There were artist managers from New York scouting out young pianists with evident star power. The cocktail party before the final round was a schmooze-fest of arts administrators and agents comparing notes, talking business or just reconnecting with old friends.

      Music critics/journalists from papers around the country still came to cover the Cliburn back then. And they met on their off days to present conference papers and discuss the state of music in their respective cities. There was even a betting pool in the writers’ room to see who could come closest to matching the jury picks after each round.

      The local college radio station broadcast the Competition from start to finish, and the local newspaper ran a daily tabloid with advance stories on the day’s contestants and reviews of the previous day’s. The audience took the Competition directives so seriously that if one had to cough, he or she stifled it long enough to quickly exit the hall and wait until the next break to reenter.

      I live in Fort Worth now, and it’s in no way the same. The local newspaper dismissed its last two music critics and no longer has an at-large arts critic or music critic on staff. The local Symphony underwent a long and painful strike a year ago and is having trouble recruiting a new chief executive to run the business side. The local Opera dismissed its popular, forward-looking executive director at the beginning of this year. The Cliburn ambles along as a local concert presenter, but its Competitions no longer attract the attention they once did, largely because there’s no music journalism structure to pay attention.

      But in it’s day, this place was Mecca for the classical music business every four years. That was when the Cliburn Competition mattered.

    • Melissa Liu says:

      > When were Van Cliburn winners hot? Can anyone name anyone who has had a lasting career?

      Nobuyuki Tsujii, 2009 Cliburn co-winner, has been doing exceptionally well in Japan. He regularly performs sold-out concerts in venues of 1000+ seats. He is featured in TV-specials this time of the year. He has best-selling albums. His performances in U.S. and Europe, although infrequent, are well received. Just because a pianist doesn’t get coverage in Europe and U.S. doesn’t mean he’s not a success. The world is wide.

  • Johm says:

    Kenote only has a contract due to win the contest, and the contract expires in two years.

  • La Verita says:

    Ridiculous to infer that the Cliburn Competition cornered the market on dull outcomes: the results of Leeds, Queen Elizabeth, Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein and Warsaw Chopin competitions haven’t always been so stellar either. There are simply too many of these marathons for a great artist to emerge at every one of them, and there are far too many well-trained students who flock to these events because they have no where else to be heard. The Cliburn is no more flawed than any other comparable event.

    • Melissa Liu says:

      The classical music market is highly localized these days. In U.S. and Europe, the spotlights seem to shine on mostly contest winners who sign with Deutsche Grammophon. I often wonder why. But guess what? There are audiences — lots of them — elsewhere in the world. Nobuyuki Tsujii is still enjoying great popularity in Japan since his win at the 2009 Cliburn, and he probably sells far more concert tickets than most people realize.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    What exactly does a classical musician’s agent do?

    • Saxon Broken says:


      They book shows, arrange travel and the schedule, and help the artist collect the money. They also help arrange any recording deals, and anything else that needs arranging. This allows the artist to concentrate on practising and performing. I can’t see how anyone with a serious career can do it without an agent.

  • Gill says:

    I spent time with the winners this year. Three remarkable and very different pianists. Yekwon will do well with the excellent team at Keynote, who have no obligation to guarantee representation. Let’s all say “Bravo Yekwon” as opposed to give silly back handed compliments.
    Happy Christmas!

  • David Rick says:

    Cliburn winners turn up routinely at Mackie Auditorium, not far from my home in Colorado, so I’ve heard several over the years. They are unfailingly technically astonishing, but not all display a comparable level of actual musicianship. Yekwon Sunnwoo is one who does; he richly deserves both attention and representation.

    Boulder audiences do not attend concerts to “be seen”. They arrive in blue jeans just to hear music, and they know the difference between good and exceptional. They could not get enough of this talented young pianist.