The Cliburn Amateur takes copious planning. From the first notes my student, Janet, sent in for the screening audition to the last note she'll play in the finals, every note is part of a carefully engineered experience. Each round is a complete mini-recital with its own flavor and integrity. The only guidelines given are the amount of time allotted for each round. Otherwise it's hers to make brilliant.
I've sat on enough juries myself to know that every jury is made up of remarkably human people. After hours of listening to people play, no matter how dazzlingly, you get tired and sleepy. You want to hear something electrifying. Something new. Anything but another Liszt Sonata. (At least that's how I felt. But even on my best day I don't want to hear a Liszt Sonata.)
Here's what Cliburn tells you:
Competitors are free to choose their own programs for all recital phases of the Competition. Applicants may perform any work written for solo piano by a classical composer of any era, including contemporary music. It is suggested that the repertoire reflect a variety of musical periods and composers. Returning competitors are encouraged to present repertoire that has not been performed at previous competitions.
- No works may be repeated in subsequent rounds.
- Total performance times must include applause and pauses, and will be strictly enforced. (I think this one is funny. Who knows how long people will applaud?)
- Separate movements of larger works will be accepted but must be performed in their entirety. Repeats are at the discretion of the pianist.
- Works do not have to be memorized (a page turner will be provided). (Some pianists do play from the score. Most do not.)
Here are Janet's programs and the behind-the-scenes reasons we chose them:
Ravel: Jeux d’eau
Prokofiev: Mercutio (from Romeo & Juliet)
Janet has played Jeux d'eau for a long time. She'll be comfortable with it and that's essential. It's is a colorful, impressive piece that will help the jury gauge her playing. They'll all know it and hopefully its familiarity will work for her.
The Mercutio is more unusual. It's from a suite of pieces transcribed from the Ballet by Prokofiev. He premiered them himself in 1937. It is full of fire and provides a great contrast to the watery beauty of the Ravel.
Quarter Final Round
Beethoven: Sonata, Opus 81a "Les Adieux"
Second movement: Absence
Third movement: The Return
Prokofiev: Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell
This programming is more unusual. Janet starts with a slow, sad piece: short, but heart wrenching. The Third movement is to be played Vivacissimament (super lively and fast!) It's technically demanding and one of Beethoven's most famously difficult sonatas.
Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell may be my favorite piece that Janet is playing. I adore the way she plays this piece. This round will end quietly, with a sad sense of foreboding at what lies ahead. Janet says that she finds this piece particularly inspiring because she has seen the ballet and imagines the story unfolding onstage as she's playing.
Semi Final Round
Prokofiev: Young Juliet
Chopin: Fantasie in F minor, Opus 49
The Liadov Barcarolle is relatively unknown. Like the Chopin Barcarolle, it is gorgeous and showy. It's the newest piece for Janet. It's important to play something new so the entire program doesn't feel stale. Having some pieces that are newer means the learning process is in different stages and it helps your mind stay agile. Young Juliet is quick and light hearted, but ends softly. The Fantasie is another celebrated piece. Janet plays it wonderfully and it will make a riveting ending to this compelling program.
Schumann: Concerto in A minor, Opus 54
First movement, Allegro affettuoso
This is the first time the Cliburn Amateur has had an orchestra for the finals. Janet is lucky. She got to play this concerto last January for the California Concerto Weekend. For many competitors this may be their first experience with orchestra. Janet already feels comfortable with this piece and knows what it feels like to play it with an orchestra.
Practicing this much repertoire takes lots of time. It also takes a sense of personal confidence that isn't easily discouraged or distracted. It's easy to only practice the first round or two, thinking you'll surely get knocked out. Bad idea. My teacher, John Perry, told me to always practice at least one round ahead. When playing the preliminaries I should be working on the next two rounds. Otherwise when you've been advanced to the next the only thing that awaits you is panic.
Janet is too smart for any of that. She'll practice every note between now and the competition. And I hope she gets to play every one of them in Fort Worth.
Read Part One: The Invitation.