Cliburn Piano Competition Embraces Internet In an audience-broadening attempt, the venerable Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is making all of this year's performances and rehearsals available to watch online.
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Cliburn Piano Competition Embraces Internet

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Cliburn Piano Competition Embraces Internet

Cliburn Piano Competition Embraces Internet

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And the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is underway in Fort Worth, Texas. The winners will be announced tomorrow, and what they will win is $20,000, a CD recording on a prestigious label and a chance at an international career. The contest is held just once every four years. This year, for the first time, all of the performances, even the rehearsals are live on the Web, of course.

Bill Zeeble of member station KERA reports.

BILL ZEEBLE: Cliburn officials say they're always open to something new in attempts to build a broader and younger classical music base. In 2001, the competition offered music streaming online. Four years later, it added video streaming. This time, the Cliburn is streaming audio and video, 11 hours a day for the competition's full 17 days.

To pull it off, lead engineer John Johns has basically built a TV studio for the duration.

Unidentified Woman #3: Stand by.

Mr. JOHN JOHNS (Lead Engineer, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition): There's been a lot of big Web casts, like the Olympics, that were on the air on multiple channels, and things like that. But this, to me, is the biggest Web centric or Web-only event that I know of that's not affiliated with a broadcast.

Unidentified Woman #3: Jessica, Take 7. And go and cue them.

Unidentified Woman #4: I've seen in this online.

ZEEBLE: Cliburn Foundation president Richard Rodzinski sits at his computer and types in

Mr. RICHARD RODZINSKI (President, Cliburn Foundation): And that's where you'll have all the little buttons that will take you to the biographies, scheduled information, to everything. And then you just click on the big screen and that's it.

(Soundbite of applause and a piano performance)

ZEEBLE: Rodzinski is proud of the online extras, especially Web cam access to all of the rehearsals. Not even the paying fans in the hall get this behind-the-scenes access.

Mr. RODZINSKI: It's like having Web cams all throughout the theater, looking in on what's happening backstage putting this whole thing together. And the performing arts and certainly, and opera people love to know what's happening backstage. They love to go to rehearsals because that's where so much is put together in a way that demystifies the experience.

Zeeble: But there's a Big Brother aspect to this that makes some contestants nervous. South Korean Kyu Yeon Kim appreciates the Worldwide Web exposure her recital received. But as she readied for her performance with a string quartet, she didn't realize it, too, was live.

Ms. KYU YEON KIM (Contestant): Is it? Rehearsal? Oh, I didn't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KIM: Oh, I don't know. It's going to be a little bit, for sure...

ZEEBLE: Russian semifinalist Eduard Kunz, who's lived in London many years, understands the appeal to the public but stops there.

Mr. EDUARD KUNZ (Contestant): Am I pleased with it? No, I'm not. It's I don't like the public to follow me in the kitchen, if you know what I mean.

ZEEBLE: Contestants did agree in advance to live Web cams throughout the event, and the video they capture will also be used for a documentary on the competition.

(Soundbite of a piano performance)

ZEEBLE: Another Web extra this year is commentary that scrolls along the bottom of the computer screen, written for viewers by Buddy Bray.

Mr. BUDDY BRAY (Artistic Director of Special Projects, Cliburn Foundation): Well, I sort of had to intuit this, as I went along, since it's really not been done very much in the profession, in the industry before. I think what they like the best is a road map. Now, we'll have a different theme. This is the second theme.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BRAY: And it's announced first by the strings and taken quickly up by the piano, and things like that.

ZEEBLE: Anne Demarest(ph) knows most of the music. She's a successful composer in her own right. But at 89, she doesn't travel much beyond her small town of Arvada, Colorado. So she's counting on her computer to take her to Fort Worth.

Ms. ANNE DEMAREST: I'll be here and I'm not coming up for air. I might come up for air occasionally, but I'll be sitting here in front of this monitor. I still have many years ahead of me, but I'm going to spend them as much as I can involved in music. And now it's brought right to my doorstep.

ZEEBLE: And that's where Demarest says she'll be when the winners are announced Sunday night.

For NPR News, I'm Bill Zeeble in Dallas.

LYDEN: You can hear semi-final and final round performances from the Cliburn Competition at our Web site,

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