Curtis pianists win big at Van Cliburn competition

Photos – user-contributed – PDNVAN1165
June 10, 2017. Daniel Hsu of the United States performs with conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra on Saturday in the Final Round of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Curtis Institute of Music cleaned up Saturday night at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. Curtis graduate Yekwon Sunwoo won the top prize, the gold medal, in the competition — whose awards are among the most coveted in the United States.

Daniel Hsu, a current Curtis student, won the bronze medal – third prize – and was recognized with two other awards: best performance of a new work and best chamber music performance.

Both the gold and bronze awards come with cash, plus three years of career management, concert tours, and recordings.

The Van Cliburn, held every four years for pianists between the ages of 18 and 30, ended Saturday night after more than two weeks of performances and, in the last few days, concerts by the six finalists.

Sunwoo, 28, from South Korea, earned his bachelor’s degree at Curtis and a master’s at the Juilliard School, and currently studies under Bernd Goetzke in Hannover, Germany. The gold medal brings its winner $50,000.

June 9, 2017. Yekwon Sunwoo from South Korea performs with conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra on Friday evening in the Final Round of The Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas.

“The music, how wonderful it is, kept me going,” he told an interviewer from the Van Cliburn webcast.

Hsu, 19, was the last finalist to play late Saturday afternoon — in the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, which the Star-Telegram’s Olin Chism called “a powerful performance.”

Kenneth Broberg, a 23-year-old pianist from Minneapolis, won the silver medal.

Hsu, from the San Francisco area, came to Curtis at the age of 11, and has studied with Eleanor Sokoloff and Gary Graffman. The bronze medal comes with a $15,000 cash prize; the best new piece award with $5,000; and best chamber music award, $6,000.

The last few weeks have been remarkable for the number of Curtis graduates landing major posts. Violinist Kevin Lin, who has just graduated, was named coleader of the London Philharmonic. Violinist Benjamin Bowman, a 2002 graduate, was appointed to one of two concertmaster spots in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. And Conner Covington, a 2017 graduate, received a 2017 Solti Foundation Career Assistance Award after being named assistant conductor of the Utah Symphony Orchestra earlier this year.

Hsu, who could not be reached Saturday night, said in last Sunday’s Inquirer that in approaching the Van Cliburn competition he did not “have much of a strategy. Everyone here has something different to say, and my strategy – and I’m not sure it’s a winning strategy, but it’s a strategy – is to go on stage and make music, be sincere, and play my heart out.”