For 17 days, the young performers took part in what some call the Olympics of piano playing: the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Texas, one of classical music’s most prestigious competitions.
The results were in on Saturday: Pianists from South Korea, Russia and Ukraine won this year’s competition.
Among the winners are Yunchan Lim, 18, of Siheung, South Korea, who became the youngest gold medalist in the history of the Cliburn, winning a $100,000 cash prize; Anna Geniushene, 31, Moscow born and silver medal winner (and $50,000); and Dmytro Choni, 28, from Kiev, who won the bronze medal ($25,000).
“I was so tired,” Lim, who played concertos by Beethoven and Rachmaninov in the last round, said in a telephone interview. “I practiced until 4 a.m. every day.”
“The Texas audience is the most passionate in the world,” he added.
The war in Ukraine loomed over this year’s competition, which began in early June with 30 participants 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 been criticized in some quarters for giving Russians a chance to compete. The decision came as cultural institutions in the United States came under pressure during the invasion to cut ties with Russian artists.
De Cliburn stood by his decision, citing the legacy of Van Cliburn, an American whose victory at the 1958 Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition during the Cold War was seen as a sign that art could transcend politics.
Choni, the Ukrainian competitor, said he was proud to represent his country at the competition. He said he almost cried at the start 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 at the moment has probably put extra 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 was critical of the war, said she was relieved to see a mix of countries among the winners.
“It’s a huge achievement,” she said in a telephone interview. “We all deserve to be on the podium.”