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

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Playing from the heart

01:15 AM CDT on Sunday, June 6, 2004

By SCOTT CANTRELL / The Dallas Morning News

FORT WORTH – Paul Anthony Romero, a composer and porcelain dealer from Sherman Oaks, Calif., made quite a sweep of prizes in the Fourth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs. At the awards ceremony Saturday evening, Mr. Romero took the $2,000 first prize plus the press jury and audience awards and the prize for best performance of a work from the romantic era.

Prizewinners were announced at Texas Christian University's Ed Landreth Auditorium, where the competition began Monday afternoon. Presentations were made by jury chairman John Giordano and Richard Rodzinski , president of the Van Cliburn Foundation, which sponsors the biennial amateur competition.

Performing at the end of Saturday's final round, Mr. Romero turned in bold, brilliant performances of Franz Liszt's Soirée de Vienne No. 6 (arranged from a Schubert waltz) and Liszt's extravagant tone poem Vallée d'Obermann. He closed with his own over-the-top arrangement of "The Trolley Song" from the Martin-Blane Meet Me in St. Louis. Liszt would have been proud.

The $1,500 second prize went to Averill Piers Baker, a Canadian senator's wife and volunteer from Gander, Newfoundland. Ms. Baker played a single work in the finals, the Schumann Symphonic Etudes. Ann Herlong, a homemaker from Rock Hill, S.C., won the $1,000 third prize and the prize for best performance of a work from the baroque era. Her single work in the final round was the Beethoven Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 31, No. 3.

In addition to Mr. Romero, Ms. Baker and Ms. Herlong, the competition's finalists included Victor Alexeeff, Ellen Weiss Dodson and Marisa Naomi Haines. Prizes for individual categories of music, each worth $250, could go to the competition's 16 semifinalists as well as the six finalists.

Prize for best classical performance went to Hiroko Ohtani, a physical chemist from Dearborn Heights, Mich. Miho Yamada Fisher, a medical researcher from Denton, got the prize for best performance of a modern work. The prize for most creative programming, open to all 72 contestants, went to Darin Tysdal, a music store manager from Minneapolis, Minn.

There were also two $250 jury discretionary awards, to Ms. Fisher and Franz Josef Mantini, an electrical engineer from Tampa, Fla.

Van Cliburn appeared and spoke before the awards presentation, saying, "I thank you for being here because you've inspired me. I want to practice more." Other introductory comments were made by Cliburn Foundation chairman Alann B. Sampson, Toronto Star music critic William Littler and Dallas entrepreneur Morton H. Meyerson. Master of ceremonies, as he was throughout the competition, was WRR 101 announcer Steve Cumming.

PROFILE

Steve Cumming has been a part of the competition scene in Fort Worth since 1989. Everyone who goes would recognize him. He's the man who walks onstage, cautions the audience about cellphones and other potential noise-makers, and introduces each contestant. He's emceed all four of the amateur competitions, plus the last four Van Cliburn International Piano Competitions, with a fifth one coming up next year.

Competition time is busy time for Mr. Cumming. Over the past week he's risen at 4:15 a.m. every day, gone to WRR-FM for his 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. morning show, then driven to Fort Worth for competition sessions lasting past 10:30 p.m. After that, it's back home to Dallas.

That gives him about four hours for sleep. He compensates, he says, with a couple of "power naps" whenever he can work them in.

Mr. Cumming meets every contestant backstage, asks (if necessary) how to pronounce their names, and checks to be sure they're going to play the scheduled repertory in the scheduled order. He also does a little "hand-holding" if needed. He divides the contestants into two categories: those with a "deer-in-the-headlights" look and those who are self-assured. The former need reassuring.

Mr. Cumming hears them all. As they play, he sits a few feet away behind a partition out of sight of the audience. The sound is great, but for seeing he has to rely on a closed-circuit television monitor.

Olin Chism

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