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Countdown to the Cliburn

Cliburn The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is beginning on Friday. And you can watch it live, eleven hours a day, from your computer.

You can find out how to do that by clicking here.

You can find out about the 29 contestants here.

As of Thursday the big news was that the contestants had drawn lots to see who would play when. You can update yourself on that here.

I plan on looking in on it now and then. Having been in the Van Cliburn Amateur Competition, it is easy for me to put myself in these 30 contestants' shoes. 

Also, there is one contestant I am cheering on, Eduard Kunz, because he and I have the same name. He is 28 and from Siberia. I have already left a message for Cousin Eduard on Facebook and have told him to do the family proud. Also, not to brag, but I have his cell phone number so if he wins I can be the first to congratulate him!

The Van Cliburn Competition has a couple of local connections that I am getting the idea are not widely known. John Giordano, who is the chairman of the jury and has been central to the contest for years, is originally from Dunkirk. He told me that his father painted the murals at the Buffalo Zoo and also at one of our East Side churches -- he could not remember which one. I am not sure what happened to the murals at the Buffalo Zoo. I think they are in storage somewhere. I hope they are not lost.

The other Buffalo tie-in is that the last surviving member of the jury of the historic first Van Cliburn Competition, held in 1962, was Leonard Pennario. Pennario, who died last summer, was born in Buffalo and lived here until he was 10. He was one of only two pianists ever named permanent jurors of the Cliburn Competition. The other was Lili Kraus. There is some piano trivia for you.

Both Pennario and Giordano, when I talked to them about this, seemed unaware that the other one was from Buffalo. That makes it even more funny to think of the Cliburn Competition being largely under the control of these two Buffalonians for all those years.

I am wondering what everyone out there thinks of competitions. Anyone out there plan on watching the Cliburn? Following it already? I see people on Twitter already following the contest, placing odds on the pianists as if they were racehorses. 

I have mixed feelings about the Cliburn Competition the way I do toward all contests like that. I find myself wondering if competitions force musician in to a certain mold and make them proficient in the art of pleasing juries rather than the art of making good music. More and more weight seems to be attached to contests like this one. It seems every pianist's or violinist's bio is full of which contests he or she has won or placed in. That distresses me sometimes.

Still, I take a kind of satisfaction in a media circus focusing on classical piano. And the Cliburn Competition is a lot of fun. For us spectators, anyway.

I can only begin to imagine the pressure the contestants are feeling, as the time ticks down.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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