Our Woman at the Cliburn: Exposure on the Concert Stage

Performing Mozart is precarious business. The pianist who tackles a Mozart concerto—in public, no less—is a brave person indeed. 
To play Mozart is to risk exposure; so many things can go wrong. Miss a note, and there is no thick, Romantic, bulwark of harmony to cover your mistake. Minimize the shading, and the scalar passages sound like clicking computer keys. And heaven protect the pianist who forgets the composer’s intellectual through line! (Don’t worry; you’ll know when it’s not there. Audience members will be yawning and reading their program books.)
This year, for the first time, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition required each of the twelve semifinalists to play a concerto by Mozart. What a fiendish and effective method of narrowing the field! The Mozart performances, which were June 3-5, required intense concentration, innate musicality, and expert ensemble coordination with the Fort Worth Symphony, led by Nicholas McGegan. Now that those performances are complete, six finalists remain.
Cliburn competitors must be between the ages of eighteen and thirty, and the ages of this year’s finalists encompass most of that age range:
Kenneth Broberg, 23, from the United States
Rachel Cheung, 25, from Hong Kong
Yury Favorin, 30, from Russia
Daniel Hsu, 19, from the United States
Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, from South Korea
Georgy Tchaidze, 29, from Russia
It’s a good group. Two of the performers, however, stood out. Korea’s Sunwoo established congenial camaraderie with the conductor and orchestra in Mozart’s Concerto in C Major, K. 467. Sunwoo combines beautifully released phrases with swinging rhythmic vitality, and—even in online video—conveys expertise and affability. He is one to watch in the finals.
Also notable was Kenneth Broberg, who, in the Concerto in C Major, K. 503, captured Mozart’s whimsy and spice. He also provided a master class in shading and dynamic control. The highlight, however, came in the first-movement cadenza, with Broberg combining the movement’s second theme with the first phrase of “La Marseillaise.” Bravo.
Final rounds begin this evening, June 7, 2017 at 7:30 pm (Central Time). Broberg, Favorin, and Sunwoo will perform Dvořák and Franck with the Brentano Quintet. Live and archived concert viewing is available at www.cliburn.org