DVD Review (The Straits Times, July 2011)



A SURPRISE IN TEXAS
13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
EuroArts 2058168 / ****


The “surprise” in the title of this documentary on America’s most prestigious piano competition should not have been about a blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii winning 1st prize, but how the 2009 edition was dominated by Asian pianists. Four of the six finalists were from Japan, China and Korea, with the top three spots also won by Haochen Zhang (Joint 1st) and Yeol-Eum Son (2nd prize). Peter Rosen’s absorbing film starts from the preliminaries, identifying personalities out of a field of 30 talents, but the narrative thread left little doubt as to who was going to triumph. Blind from birth, Tsujii’s overcoming of adversity and ultimate artistry was nothing short of miraculous.

That the big prize was shared by the soft-spoken and unassuming Zhang was a surprise, that is until one witnessed his performance of Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka (included among the bonuses of this disc). Simply jaw-dropping stuff. Elsewhere, the drama, tension and comedy of competition – of big egos, frayed nerves and shattered dreams - is hinted at but not further developed. Van Cliburn makes a cameo of a few seconds, but the stars are the young pianists themselves, whom veteran juror Menahem Pressler rightly refers to as the “priests of music”, whose gods of Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov they humbly serve.

BOOK IT:
HAOCHEN’S YELLOW RIVER
with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra conducted by Tsung Yeh
22 & 23 July, SCO Singapore Conference Hall, 7.30pm
Tickets available at SISTIC