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Posted on Wed, Jun. 02, 2004
 I M A G E S   A N D   R E L A T E D   C O N T E N T 
Carolyn Luskin of Devon, Pa., shows a vibrant musical imagination in Beethoven's Variations in C Minor at the Cliburn Foundation's International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs on Tuesday at TCU's Ed Landreth Auditorium.
Carolyn Luskin of Devon, Pa., shows a vibrant musical imagination in Beethoven's Variations in C Minor at the Cliburn Foundation's International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs on Tuesday at TCU's Ed Landreth Auditorium.
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 •  High notes

Amateur Cliburn has mix of stormy, serene renditions

Star-Telegram Classical Music Critic

Unexpected delights characterized the second afternoon of the Cliburn Foundation's International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs (aka the Amateur Cliburn) Tuesday at Ed Landreth Auditorium on the TCU campus.

Who would have anticipated that a Realtor -- Carolyn Luskin of Devon, Pa., to be precise -- would so magnificently combine exemplary control of touch and pedal with a vibrant musical imagination in Beethoven's Variations in C Minor? Or that a retired British patent agent -- John Blasdale of New Jersey -- could imbue a Mozart Sonata movement with the blend of poetry, drama and sheer joy of living that often eludes even professional musicians?

Greg Kostraba, a radio host from Toledo, Ohio, did his part to freshen up the repertoire with a beautifully energetic rendition of excerpts from American composer Robert Muczynski's Sonata No. 2, including a jazzy, light-filled perpetual motion. Kostraba opened with Liszt's transcription of J.S. Bach's Fanatasy in G minor, delivered with appealing assertiveness.

California lawyer Brad Arington began his performance with two seldom-heard Mazurkas of Polish romantic Karol Szymanowski -- one fragrant and atmospheric, the other energetically folklike -- before launching into Chopin's very well-known Polonaise in A Flat, achieving a compelling sense of celebration in this old standard.

Victor Alexeeff, a Canadian-born film composer now based in California, crammed four short works into his 12-alloted-minute performance, including a wonderfully stormy Suggestion diabolique of Prokofiev, quite as devilish as the title implies.

On the angelic end, Houston information systems adviser Stephen Fierros revived a lavishly romanticized piano transcription of Bach's aria My Heart Ever Faithful by early 20th-century virtuoso Ignaz Friedman; he also exhibited a breathtaking command of tempo and touch in a pair of rococo sonatas of Antonio Soler.

Chicagoan Stephen A. Zivin brought the first major excitement of the evening by pairing a joyous performance of the presto from Beethoven's Sonata in D, Opus 10, No. 3, with a broad, movingly evocative performance of the Alcott movement from Ives' Concord Sonata. And Venezuelan Abigail Alberto Romero Ramirez brought on the first standing ovation of the competition with a thunderous rendition of the Toccata of contemporary Brazilian composer Amaral Vieira -- unintentionally anticipating the thunder that accompanied the severe weather outside, causing a 15-minute delay later in the evening.

Thunder and high winds were still audible in Landreth Auditorium as Coloradoan Dale Backus, unperturbed, presented a serene performance of Bach's Partita in B Flat. Returning competitor Greg Fisher, meanwhile, had the perfect offering for a stormy evening -- and one likely to pull him forward to the next round -- in Liszt's stormy Funerailles.

Closing out the night, Washingtonian John Gardecki added another outstanding performance to what is shaping up to be the most impressive Amateur Cliburn yet. In contrast to the blustery weather outside, he gave the audience a smoothly delivered Scriabin Nocturne by finding the perfect lilt and aura of improvisation in Chopin's Mazurka in B Flat.

The Amateur Cliburn: May 31-June 5, Texas Christian University


Bach, Chopin and a few other standard composers have dominated the repertoire at this year's version of the Amateur Cliburn. But music lovers wanting to experience something a little different get some opportunities today.

During the afternoon session, Canadian-born network administrator Thomas Maurice will perform the Toccata by the late American composer Harold Zabrack, who was a friend and teacher of Maurice, and a prolific composer of piano music.

Though the name of 20th-century German-American composer Paul Hindemith is well known to orchestra concertgoers via a handful of symphonic works, his solo piano music seldom turns up in piano concerts. However, New York legal assistant Mark Gordon will indulge his passion for Hindemith with a movement from that composer's Piano Sonata No. 3 and sections of the monumental study in counterpoint, Ludus Tonalis.

This listener is particularly looking forward to a performance by Minnesota-based music store manager Darin Tysdale of the first movement of the Sonata No. 2 by Nikolai Kapustin. A Russian jazz pianist living in Moscow, Kapustin is continuing to produce one of the most significant bodies of piano music of our time; his Sonata No. 2 imbues structures and piano technique inspired by Chopin with the energy and aura of jazz.

The day's schedule will also feature the return of notable past performers, including former finalist Charles Chien, who will perform works by Scriabin and Schubert at the close of the afternoon session, and former finalist Henri Delbeau, whose performance of works by Bach, Wagner and Liszt will close the evening session. Paul Anthony Romero, who was second-place winner in 2002, will perform works by Rachmaninoff during the evening session.

The afternoon session will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the evening session will be 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Semi-finalists will be announced after the end of the evening session. Admission is $10 for each session. Call (817) 335-9000 or log onto for more information.

-- Wayne Lee Gay

Wayne Lee Gay, (817) 390-7756

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