Korean, 18, triumphs at Van Cliburn

Korean, 18, triumphs at Van Cliburn


norman lebrecht

June 19, 2022

The little-known Yunchan Lim of South Korea last night defeated a field of experienced Slavs with a storming performance of Rachmaninov’s third concerto that won him the gold medal of the Van Cliburn competition.

The judges, chaired by Marin Alsop, did not need long to decide.

Yunchan, a student at the Korea National University of Arts under Minsoo Sohn, is the competition’s youngest winner. He receives $100,000 and a host of career benefits.

You can watch his astonishing final performance at 2:05 on this video. He takes hold of the concerto with a rare blend of virtuosity, delicacy and authority.

Lim is the second Korean in succession to win the Van Cliburn. The 2017 award went to Yekwon Sunwoo, who was 28 at the time.

See also: A Russian is runner-up

UPDATE: What pianists say 


  • Ludwig's Van says:

    He won way before his Rachmaninoff 3rd concerto – his 12 Liszt Transcendental etudes in the semi-finals sealed the deal. There wasn’t a single judge on that jury who could equal that performance! Lim could send Yuja, Martha, Evgeny and Lang Lang into retirement.

    • Jobim75 says:

      Anyone with some musical sense could send Lang Lang into retirement….for the rest, figure of speech.

    • bermsherm says:

      Lang Lang maybe. I’ve only heard Lim on the etudes and just on the strength of that I would say he’s likely worlds better than the others, but nobody’s replacing Martha just yet in my book, and if any of the others come to town, I’m going. Lim’s once in a lifetime. I’m glad to have heard him.

  • Ya what says:

    2011 gave us Trifonov. 2015 gave us Cho. 2019 gave us Kantarow. 2021 gave us Bruce Liu. And 2022 gives us Yunchan Lim. Not only the correct, obvious result, but Yunchan firmly ranks with the above-mentioned best of the best. In a world that’s so swept by mediocrity (see some of the young pianists on the Warner label for instance), it’s so gratifying when you genuinely discover someone of this calibre.

    Bravo – it was worth putting on the Cliburn to discover Yunchan alone. The Cliburn did it’s job.

  • Daniel rodriguez says:

    I became interested in the competition because of the great performance of this amazing young Korean, Lim.
    As an American, the tendency to watch was to witness competition but I never expected to be transported into the soul of the composer interpreted by this amazing young man.

  • Patrick Park says:

    Bravo Lim, There was no question he was going to win the Gold, this could well be a new young Horowitz! But what about the silver and bronze winners! Of course they are talented but neither possessed what Kate Liu has! It’s a jury miss! Kate is a remarkable artist. She’s refined and a romantic throw back to another time. Many thought she deserved the Gold at the Chopin Competition. Listen to her performance of the Chopin b minor 3 rd Sonata and Scherzo no 3. Truly a Rubinstein type rendition performance. Her Prokofiev Sonata at the Cliburn was extraordinary and unmatched. Maybe pyrotechnic pianism is not her thing or maybe it’s her shyness. She is a true refined artist that deserved if not the Gold then at least the Silver or Bronze. A sad jury error! It’s always politics! In the end a Russian and Ukrainian took them.

    • nimitta says:

      No, Patrick – politics had nothing whatsoever to do with Kate Liu’s elimination. As I wrote last week, her performances of the Prokofiev and Beethoven were superb, but she stumbled elsewhere – particularly and severely in the Franck, just before the Fugue’s last pages. I’ve heard several recent Liu performances elsewhere, and her tendency to stretch tempi out – aiming, I think, for ‘heavenly lengths’ – is overplayed. Often as not, her slow is many another’s drag.

  • Luke Moissinac says:

    Lim is a very worthy winner. And the 2nd and 3rd placings were a toss up between Geniushene and Choni.

    I don’t know exactly what the Jury Discretionary Awards mean, but I find it interesting that all three were given to pianists of Asian descent: Asian American, Andrew Li; French Japanese, Marcel Tadokoro; South Korean Shin Changyong.

    Perhaps the jury was trying to reverse its previous anti-Asian bias.

    I think the final would have been much more interesting if it had included Tadokoro and Shin instead of Stephenson and Khandohi.

    • Rockman says:

      The jury discretionary awards are given to the competitor that just missed advancing. For example, Andrew Li missed advancing to the semifinals and got a JD award. That means he was ranked one short (13th) of advancing to the semifinals. The results are based purely on scores. There isn’t any discussion among the jurors.

  • Rino says:

    It was insanely good.
    my heartbeat was getting faster.. And he played Lizst’s
    transcendental 12etudes in a single sitting. In a competition. It was astonishingly beautiful too.