I attended the second concert of the final round last night at Bass Hall and immediately noticed that more people were in attendance than on Wednesday evening and that the wardrobe-glitz factor had also increased.
This is my first time at the competition, and it's the first time that I've seen a camera suspended from a long arm (or boom) from the ceiling above the stage area. This camera swings silently above the performers and captures their performances for the Cliburn TV production. It's remotely controlled from a booth somewhere. This camera-eye thing is not obtrusive and the audience seems to adapt to it very quickly. I've only seen cameras onstage once before - at the Defiant Requiem concert (Oregon Symphony/PBS) a severak years ago and they seemed to disturb the whole concert experience, because, there was a person who had to ride with the camera as it hovered above the stage and swung around to capture the chorus, orchestra, and soloists. So, if orchestras folks should come to the Van Cliburn festival to a good look at the camera here to see how it might enhance the concert experience.
Last night (Thursday, June 4), the concert began with Yeol Eum Son, a 23-year-old pianist from South Korea, who played really, really well. Her made the Petri arrangement of Bach's "Sheep My Safely Graze" sing with elegance. Son followed that with two impromptus by Schubert: the Impromptu in B-flat major, D. 935, No. 3 and the Impromptu in F minor, D. 935, No. 4. Besides playing both pieces perfectly, Son gave me the feeling that she was creating a special sound world for everone and taking us there with her. Then she did that again with wonderful playing in Beethoven's Sonata in C minor, Op. 111. I liked the dark, low muttering tones that she explored in this work and contrasted it well with the higher stuff at the treble end. I could not tell if she was sucking in air with some kind of restrictive breathing during the fast and loud portions of this piece, but I'm pretty sure that it came from her and it was the only thing that marred her performance.
The concert hall seemed a little fuller after intermission, and I suspect that some people came to hear and see the blind pianist from Japan, Nobuyuki Tsujii. Well, they saw the real deal. Tsujii delivered a stunningly beautiful performance of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. Using a full range of expression from very quiet piannissimos to good, strong fortes, Tsujii transported the audience to a higher level. It was an amazing thing to experience. The audience sprang to its feet after the last note died away, and Tsujii was called back for several bows. He had a big smile on his face.
Given the unenviable task of following Tsujii for the last performance of the evening, Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang, who just turned 19 years old the day before, took the stage to play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, k. 466. Zhang has brilliant technique and played a wickedly difficult cadenza with gusto. But he had too much gusto for this work, which need a lot more nuance in phrasing and in volume level. The entire piece was played from medium loud to loud and much of the time I had the feeling that Zhang was rushing. The audience responded to his performance with good, long applause and some folks gave him a standing ovation as well.
At this point in the final round, I would put Nobuyuki Tsujii and Yeol Eum Son in the lead, but there are a few more concerts to go...