Among Pianists In Moscow, An Abiding Love For A Show-Stealing American : Deceptive Cadence The late Van Cliburn won a piano competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War. Today, pianists competing in an event named after Cliburn hold a certain reverence for the man and the moment.

Among Pianists In Moscow, An Abiding Love For A Show-Stealing American

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Judges have been traveling the world for the past six weeks to hear musicians audition. And they've just returned to Texas, where the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition begins later this spring in Fort Worth. The contest is named for the American pianist who stunned the world by winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War 59 years ago. Bill Zeeble of member station KERA caught some auditions in the Russian capital and brought back this report.

BILL ZEEBLE, BYLINE: Russian native Nikita Abrosimov is 28, two years shy of the Cliburn competition's cut-off age. And he admits, a little old to be hoping to become a touring pianist.

NIKITA ABROSIMOV: We try to get to the concert career. That's why we enter competitions.

ZEEBLE: The winner of the Cliburn gets three years of professional management, international bookings and publicity. Abrosimov was a semifinalist in the last Cliburn competition four years ago. Today, he's in a little performance hall in Moscow's Tchaikovsky Conservatory.


ZEEBLE: Abrosimov played a 40-minute audition for a small audience and five Cliburn judges. Though he wasn't even born when Van Cliburn played the first Tchaikovsky Competition, he says the American pianist's win here still resonates.

ABROSIMOV: It was so powerful that still after so many years it has huge impression on both professionals and music lovers. The name of Van Cliburn means a lot to Russian people. And Van Cliburn loved Russian culture, Russian music. And the Russian audience also loved Van Cliburn.

ZEEBLE: One hundred forty-six pianists have been auditioning in seven cities across the world for 30 competition spots. Ten played here in Moscow. They picked their program to show off their strengths.


ZEEBLE: Dasol Kim, of South Korea, flew to Moscow from Berlin, where he's lived for 12 years. He played Chopin's iconic Preludes.

DASOL KIM: Because it's just one big work that's really compact and really pianistic in my opinion. So I can show as many qualities as possible in one piece.

ZEEBLE: The Cliburn holds the most extensive audition screening tour by judges of any international contest.

JACQUES MARQUIS: I think this is a crucial part of the Cliburn.

ZEEBLE: Jacques Marquis is the organization's president and CEO.

MARQUIS: When you think of hearing them on tapes or today on videos, there's nothing that tells you more than listening to them live.

ZEEBLE: In Moscow, the pianists managed distracting music coming from practice rooms and even construction sounds down the hall. University of North Texas piano professor Pamela Mia Paul said she and her fellow judges were hoping to hear that special voice rise above the din.

PAMELA MIA PAUL: There are certain people who are just going to jump out at you. And we all may have different people who jump out at us, but people that you just remember.

ZEEBLE: Another judge, veteran concert pianist Michel Beroff, says those kinds of talents aren't easy to find.

MICHEL BEROFF: Well, you don't find a Van Cliburn every four years. So we just hope to find great talent. We are not sure. Until now, I didn't hear that person but I'm expecting to hear it.

ZEEBLE: Twenty-one-year-old Sergey Tannin hopes the judges heard something in his performance of Prokofiev's 7th Piano Sonata. He says he was inspired to enter the contest after seeing Cliburn in a video.

SERGEY TANNIN: It's my dream because I saw when Cliburn's playing. And of course this competition is one of the most prestigious competitions in the world.

ZEEBLE: How do you think you did?

TANNIN: It was good. But I wanted to play better, I think (laughter).

ZEEBLE: Tannin and the others will find out if they made it on March 7. For NPR News, I'm Bill Zeeble in Dallas.


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