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18-year-old South Korean pianist triumphs at 2022 Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth

June 18,2022

See full CultureMap article by Stephanie Allmon Merry here.

Yunchan Lim, an 18-year-old pianist from South Korea, won the Sixteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition on June 18 in Fort Worth.

Second place went to Anna Geniushene, 31, of Russia; and third place went to Dmytro Choni, 28, of Urkraine.

As the top prize winner, Lim takes home a gold medal, $100,000 cash, international concert bookings and management for three years, and more. Second and third place come with silver and bronze medals, cash prizes ($50,000 and $25,000, respectively), concert bookings, and more.

Cliburn Competition jury chair Marin Alsop made the announcement June 18 on stage at Bass Performance Hall in downtown Fort Worth. It came at the culmination of a grueling 17-day competition, through four rounds held at the Van Cliburn Concert Hall at TCU and Bass Hall. The preliminary round started June 2 with 30 competitors. The field was cut to 18 quarterfinalists, then 12 semifinalists, and then six finalists who competed for the gold.

Each finalist performed two concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Alsop, conductor.

Powerhouse run
Lim, who had a powerhouse run through the competition, was the youngest contestant and now becomes the youngest ever Cliburn gold medalist. He was praised for his ambitious programming, technical prowess, and stunning execution. Critics particularly applauded his performance of Liszt’s complete 12 Transcendental Etudes in the semifinal round. (“Give him the gold medal right now,” one fan could be overheard saying in the hall.)

But it was his performance of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto on the penultimate night that brought the house down. Cliburn webcast co-host Elizabeth Joy Roe called it a once-in-a-lifetime performance that left her nearly speechless. “It’s like he’s a magician, he can just conjure whatever he wants … He was filled with something divine tonight,” she said on the webcast afterwards.

Critic Wayne Lee Gay wrote, “We haven’t had a moment this exciting at the Cliburn since Olga Kern played the same work here in 2001.”

Likewise, the audience granted him the most rousing ovation of the competition, calling him back to the stage three times.

A native of Siheung, Lim studies at the Korea National University of Arts and has performed with orchestras across South Korea. Coming to Fort Worth, he told the Cliburn he was “looking forward to playing in front of the warmest and most passionate audience in the world.”

Additional prizes
Other Cliburn Competition prize winners were:

Carla and Kelly Thompson Audience Award ($2,500): Yunchan Lim, South Korea, 18
Beverley Taylor Smith Award for Best Performance of a New Work ($5,000): Yunchan Lim, South Korea, 18
Best Performance of a Mozart Concerto ($5,000): Ilya Shmukler, Russia, 27
John Giordano Jury Chairman Discretionary Award ($5,000): Marcel Tadokoro, France/Japan, 28
Raymond E. Buck Jury Discretionary Award ($5,000): Changyong Shin, South Korea, 28
Patricia and Neal Steffen Family Jury Discretionary Award ($5,000): Andrew Li, United States, 22
The three non-medaling finalists were Clayton Stephenson, United States, 23; Ilya Shmukler, Russia, 27; and Uladzislau Khandohi, Belarus, 20.

The one American candidate who made it to the finals, Stephenson easily won over the Fort Worth audience early in the competition, as many remember him as a prize-winner in the inaugural Cliburn Junior Competition in 2015. His playing was described as joyful and full of charisma.

Ukrainian pianist Choni received a warm and generous response from the crowds each time he took the stage, and he's naturally attracted worldwide media attention. After his final concerto performance, a woman from the audience hurried to the stage with a bouquet of sunflowers.

Besides receiving cash prizes, the gold, silver, and bronze medalists all will receive "a comprehensive and personalized career management package, to include three years of concert bookings, artistic planning mentorship, traditional and social media training, logistics support, and tax and financial planning guidance, as well as commercial recording releases and a complete promotional package," the Cliburn says.

The jury deciding the winners consisted of Alsop, jury chairman (United States); Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (France); Alessio Bax (Italy); Rico Gulda (Austria); Andreas Haefliger (Switzerland); Wu Han (China Taiwan/United States); Stephen Hough (United Kingdom); Anne-Marie McDermott (United States); Orli Shaham (Israel/United States); and Lilya Zilberstein (Germany).

Of 388 initial applicants for the 2022 competition, 70 were invited to screening auditions in Fort Worth in March, and of those, 30 were selected to compete in June.

 The next Cliburn-sponsored competition will be the 2022 Cliburn Amateur Competition, taking place October 12-18 in Fort Worth.


Location Mentioned: Bass Performance Hall