Winners of the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Compeition, from left, South Korea's silver medallist Son Yeol-eum, 23, Japan's gold medallist Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20, and China's gold medallist Haochen Zhang, 19.
/ Courtesy of Van Cliburn Foundation
By Lee Hyo-won
FORT WORTH, Texas ― Son Yeol-eum became the second South Korean to win a top award at the presitigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition when its 13th quadrennial edition came to an end Sunday.
The 23-year-old won the silver medal, while Japan's Nobuyuki Tsujii and China's Haochen Zhang, shared the gold medal. No third prize or crystal award was given.
The three winners each receive, in addition to a $20,000 cash prize, a three-year management contract with the Van Cliburn Foundation for concert engagements and album recordings for the Harmonia Muni label. Pianist Van Cliburn, who turns 75 this summer, handed out the medals himself in the award ceremony at Bass Hall.
In a press conference following the ceremony, the three top prizewinners said they were happy.
One journalist pointed out to Son that she was one of the few females in the competition. ``Personally, I don't really prefer to categorize something… I am sure there are no differences between men and women, or nationality or whatever,'' she said.
Son, who was born and educated in Seoul, recently studied abroad for the first time in Germany. She said she looked forward to performing in the United States. ``I'm not exposed to playing here, and it will be a nice chance to play here,'' she said.
Tsujii, the event's first visually- challenged winner, naturally attracted attention. ``I just listen, listen and memorize the music,'' said the 20-year-old, who was born visually impaired. During the concerti with the Maestro James Conlon-led Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, he said he listened to the other musicians' breathing in order to keep the pace.
Zhang and Son, who both opted for Prokofiev's devilishly challenging Piano Concerto No. 2, spoke about their choice.
``Prokofiev is a very interesting composer. First of all his piece is very challenging and I suppose all the jury will know it will be one of the most difficult in technique. Prokofiev is a unique musician and (the piece embodies) Prokofiev's personality and personal spirit, and also Russia's tradition of something very powerful and kind of cold,'' said Zhang, who was this year's youngest participant at 19 years of age.
``Prokofiev's No. 2 is one of the most tragic pieces I've ever known. In terms of the competition (point of) view, it has everything; the relationship between the consonance and dissonance is perfect. It is enjoyable to play,'' said Son.
In the previous event in 2005, Joyce Yang, who was 19 at the time, became the first Korean top prizewinner with a critically acclaimed rendition of the same Prokofiev piece. She is considered one of the most noted young musicians in the United States.
In addition to the silver medal, Son also won the award for the best performance of chamber music ($3,000), which she shared with Bulgarian finalist Evgeni Bozhanov. Seoulites can look forward to a replay of her award-winning performance with the renowned Takacs Quartet June 18 at LG Arts Center. Tickets cost from 30,000 to 70,000 won. Call (02) 2005-0114.