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A Critic Breaks Down The Cliburn Amateur Competition 55

As the six finalists in the Cliburn Amateur Piano Competition take the stage this weekend in Fort Worth, one man will be listening as closely as the judges who choose a winner.

Cliburn Final Round & Awards Ceremony: Saturday, 3 p.m., Bass Performance Hall. Tickets.

Writer Wayne Lee Gay has critiqued classical music in North Texas for more than 30 years. He’s covering every performance at the amateur  competition for Theater Jones dot com. He talked to Art&Seek’s Anne Bothwell about the trends he sees and what it means to be the winner.

Wayne Lee Gay has been writing about classical music for the past three decades. Photo: Wayne Lee Gay

Wayne Lee Gay has been writing about classical music for the past three decades.
Photo: Wayne Lee Gay

It’s called The Amateur Competition, but these performers seem to be playing at a high level. How are they different from the pros? 


The level of playing here is very close to professional level. A professional is playing 30, 40, 70, 80 times a year. An amateur that plays a lot, may play for friends once a month, if he’s really good someone may ask him to play two or three times a year. The difference is similar to that golfer that is very good and plays three times a week and a professional who doesn’t even think about what he’s doing.

You’ve been following The Cliburn competitions for a very long time. Are there any new trends that you’re seeing this year?


There are always trends in repertoire. We’ve heard two Antonio Salieri. 35 years ago? You barely heard him anywhere. I’v e been noticing a lot of use of the pedal. It used to be that you either used the pedal or you didn’t. People are half-peddling a lot more often. Pedal for color. There are trends in what people want to hear, in what people want to play and how people look at a certain artist. It changes from generation to generation.

Going into the weekend. What should we listen for? What should we look for? What should we expect?


The final round will be concerto movements with Orchestra. And that is something that amateurs often haven’t had a chance to do a whole lot.  They’ll be playing with the Fort Worth Symphony. Some of these people have studied in conservatory and have had the chance to play with maybe one or two orchestras. Maybe not. But probably not much since then, so it’ll be interesting to see how well this will be put together with the orchestra. That’s a whole other set of skills.

There’s going to be a winner chosen, what’s the significance?


Well, this is not a career building thing, ya know? You’re gonna go back to your hospital where you work or your medical practice or taking care of your kids or teaching your classes or whatever. This is such a cliché, but everybody is a winner. Everybody who works and puts together a program has exercised their brain, they’ve become really intamate with the music they’ve worked on and that’s the winning part of it.