For 17 days, the young artists competed in what some have called the Olympics of piano-playing: the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Texas, one of classical music’s most prestigious contests.
On Saturday, the results were in: Pianists from South Korea, Russia and Ukraine prevailed in this year’s contest.
Among the winners are Yunchan Lim, 18, from Siheung, South Korea, who became the youngest gold medalist in Cliburn’s history, winning a cash award of $ 100,000; Anna Geniushene, 31, who was born in Moscow, taking the silver medal (and $ 50,000); and Dmytro Choni, 28, of Kyiv, winning the bronze medal ($ 25,000).
“I was so tired,” Lim, who played concerts by Beethoven and Rachmaninoff in the final round, said in a telephone interview. “I practiced until 4 am every day.”
“Texas audiences are the most passionate in the world,” he added.
The war in Ukraine loomed over this year’s contest, which began in early June with 30 competitors from around the world, including six from Russia, two from Belarus and one from Ukraine.
The Cliburn, held every four years in Fort Worth, had drawn criticism in some quarters for allowing Russians to compete. The decision came as cultural institutions in the United States were facing pressure to cut ties with Russian artists amid the invasion.
The Cliburn stood by its decision, citing the legacy of Van Cliburn, an American whose victory at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958, during the Cold War, was seen as a sign that art could transcend politics.
Choni, the Ukrainian competitor, said he felt proud to represent his country at the competition. He said he almost cried at the beginning of the awards ceremony on Saturday, when a previous winner of the Cliburn, Vadym Kholodenko, who is also from Ukraine, played the Ukrainian national anthem.
“It was so touching,” Choni said in a telephone interview. “The situation right now has probably put some additional pressure on me, but it’s just an honor for me to be here.”
Geniushene, the Russian pianist, who left Russia for Lithuania after the invasion and has been critical of the war, said she felt uplifted to see a mix of countries represented among the winners.
“It’s a huge achievement,” she said in a telephone interview. “We all deserve to be on stage.”