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Sunday June 6, 2004 2:47 p.m. Central Daylight Time

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The Cliburn: Stress, slip-ups

12:52 AM CDT on Saturday, June 5, 2004

From Staff Reports

FINALISTS ANNOUNCED

The finalists, who are set to begin playing at 2 p.m. today, were named late Friday night. They are:

Victor Alexeeff, film composer, Burbank, Cal.

Averill Piers Baker, legal volunteer, Gander, Newfoundland, Canada

Ellen Weiss Dodson, healthcare marketing director, Lexington, Mass.

Marisa Naomi Haines, financial trader, San Jose, Calif.

Ann Herlong, homemaker, Rock Hill, S.C.

Paul Anthony Romero, composer and porcelain dealer, Sherman Oaks, Calif.

FORT WORTH – Music competitions tend to hit rough waters in semifinal rounds. Competitors are probably best prepared for the preliminaries, at which point everyone is by definition a long shot. But once the field is narrowed the scrutiny is more intense, nervousness heightened.

So it was Friday in the International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, at Texas Christian University's Ed Landreth Auditorium. There was some exquisite playing from the 16 pianists, but some of it was littered with disastrous memory meltdowns. One hopes the six players chosen for Saturday's final round won't hesitate to use scores if they're not absolutely confident.

Rebecca Davis, a Minnesota homemaker, brought crushed-velvet delicacy to both Bach (Prelude and Fugue in B-flat minor, BWV 867) and Rachmaninoff (Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op. 32, No. 12). Her account of the Allegro ma non troppo movement of Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata was accomplished and deeply personalized.

Marisa Naomi Haines, a financial trader from San Jose, Calif., was another standout, her Bach, Prokofiev and Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez poised, cultivated and communicative. Averill Piers Baker, a legal volunteer from Newfoundland, Canada, stood up after her Chopin Barcarolle to admit she was so nervous that she wanted to talk for a minute. It worked: with the audience now in the palm of her hand, she turned in a confident set of Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm by Béla Bartók.

Two other performers largely triumphed over passing memory slips. Franz Josef Mantini, an electrical engineer from Tampa, Florida, wrapped lavish rubato around two Schubert impromptus and the Chopin B-flat minor Scherzo. Miho Yamada Fisher, a medical researcher from Denton, supplied refined Debussy, but her L'isle joyeuse wanted more urgency. Ann Herlong, a homemaker from South Carolina, got more rattled at her lapses, but the best of her playing had unhurried nobility.

Some of the most enchanted playing came from retired Seattle architect Chung Lee, who brought amazing tenderness and whimsy to Chopin (G minor Ballade) and Schumann (several movements of Kinderszenen). But both he and California flight attendant Charles Chien (who turned some lovely phrases in Beethoven's Op. 110 Sonata) spoiled their chances with too many dead-halt memory blackouts.

With the competition running 40 minutes late in the evening, deadlines kept me from hearing the last three contestants, Paul Anthony Romero , Victor Alexeeff and Ellen Weiss Dodson.

Scott Cantrell

PEER SUPPORT

One of the most pleasant aspects of the competition is its atmosphere of camaraderie. No question that many of the contestants are ambitious, but they are also friendly to one another and share a love of music in general and the piano in particular.

This was obvious at Thursday's piano marathon in the auditorium of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It was an informal, come-and-go affair, with contestants who did not advance past the preliminaries playing music that would have been their semifinal or final repertoires.

Although outsiders were welcome, the audience was mostly other competitors who came to support friends they had made at the Cliburn Amateur or elsewhere. (There is a whole series of amateur contests in the Unites States and France.) They made a friendly audience and often stood around chatting after a performance.

The relaxed atmosphere proved beneficial. Pianist Scot King, for instance, gave a reading of Beethoven's complete Waldstein Sonata that was confident and at times hair-raising. Robert Finley's performance of music by Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Granados was likewise solid.

Even in this setting there was an occasional memory slip, but this wasn't quite as unsettling and was more easily recoverable than in Ed Landreth.

A second marathon is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. today at the museum, 3200 Darnell. It's free.

Olin Chism

DETAILS

Location: Ed Landreth Auditorium at Texas Christian University, University at Cantey in Fort Worth. Tickets: $35 Information : Central ticket office, 817-335-9000 or 1-800-462-7979 or www.centralticketoffice.com.

Critics Olin Chism and Scott Cantrell recap the semifinal round.

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