Paul Anthony Romero sat at the grand piano, heart pounding, muscles
powering through a Liszt composition before a rapt crowd of 1,000 music
lovers. It was his rare moment in the spotlight, and he was thinking:
"I wonder what that lady in the audience is whispering to her friend? I
wonder if my arms will make it through this? I wonder if they like it
Romero needn't have worried. The 38-year-old composer and porcelain
dealer from Southern California took first place in the Cliburn
Foundation's Fourth International Piano Competition for Outstanding
Amateurs on Saturday at Texas Christian University.
Romero bested 71 other amateur pianists from 26 states and Brazil,
Canada, France, Germany, South Africa and Venezuela. He wins $2,000, a
recital date in Washington, D.C., and a pair of custom spurs.
Averill Piers Baker, a 60-year-old cancer survivor and the wife of a Canadian senator, won second place.
Ann Herlong, 74, a homemaker and lifetime piano player from Rock
Hill, S.C., took third. Herlong, with her sweet disposition and
grandmotherly countenance, was an audience favorite.
Renowned pianist Van Cliburn of Fort Worth praised the competitors for their zeal.
"I think it is fantastic to have so many people coming from all over
the world to play and to discuss the great literature of classical
music that we have as a legacy," Cliburn said before handing out the
awards at Ed Landreth Auditorium.
The Amateur Cliburn, as it is commonly known, is arguably the most prestigious amateur piano competition in the world.
Even so, Romero says it won't change his life. He has no plans to become a professional performer.
"I wouldn't want it as a career," Romero said. "It's too hard. The
discipline, the nerve-wracking pressure. I prefer the anonymity of
being in the composer's booth."
Still, he practices for many hours every week, as do all of the
Amateur Cliburn competitors. But when he's not stunning friends and
family with Rachmaninoff or Liszt, Romero is composing music for
independent movies, documentaries, TV commercials and computer games,
including the popular Everquest and Heroes of Might and Magic. Romero also collects and deals in antique porcelain.
The 2004 Amateur Cliburn winner can be considered a "professional
amateur." Not only does he work in the music business, but he has won
amateur competitions in Paris, Washington, D.C., and Colorado, and
audiences may remember his second-place finish in the 2002 Amateur
"The performers are astonishing," said audience member Mattie
Peterson Compton. "You can't tell that they do something else by day.
They must not need much sleep."
The Winners List
First: Paul Anthony Romero, $2,000, custom spurs and a
recital at Hirshorn Museum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the
Second: Averill Piers Baker, $1,500 cash
Third: Ann Herlong, $1,000 cash
Best performance of a Baroque work: Ann Herlong, $250
Best performance of a Classical work: Hiroko Ohtani, $250
Best performance of a Romantic-era work: Paul Anthony Romero, $250
Best performance of a modern work: Miho Yamada Fisher, $250
Most creative program award: Darin Tysdal, $250
Jury Discretionary awards: Miho Yamada Fisher and Franz Josef Mantini, $250
Press jury award: Paul Anthony Romero, Peters Bros. Western hat
Audience award: Paul Anthony Romero, Justin Brands boots
Fort Worth Piano Teachers Forum Award: Stephen Fierros