By Amanda Jesse
In one of the most highly-anticipated events in the upcoming performance season, the Van Cliburn Foundation of Fort Worth will be hosting a five-day festival featuring the works of Chopin at the Kimbell Art Museum. From March 5 to 8, five different artists will perform their interpretations of Chopin’s masterful compositions, including Davide Cabassi, Fei-Fei Dong, Adam Golka, Mariangela Vacatello and Di Wu.
“Chopin is one of the great contributors of all time to the piano literature,” Cliburn President and CEO Jacques Marquis said on the Cliburn website. “We asked five amazing pianists to take a fresh look at his vast repertoire and mold programs that showcase his genius perhaps in a different light than what we normally may see. The result will be five compelling concerts of solo pieces, as well as his lesser-known chamber works and the two concertos in piano sextet form.”
The Van Cliburn Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading appreciation for classical piano music. It holds annual competitions for the discovery and recognition of young artists and amateur enthusiasts.
Four of the five featured artists in the festival are past winners of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, according to Melinda Willmann, a representative of the organization. Willmann described each pianist as “uniquely passionate.”
Cabassi was a Van Cliburn Piano Competition finalist in 2005, where he featured prominently in a documentary about the foundation. Many have called attention to the emotional connection he has to the pieces he performs, with his entire body and expression reflecting the mood of the work. Dong, who has been praised by critics for what the Killeen Daily Herald referred to as her “natural, unaffected charm, along with a sweeping, uncanny technique” was the winner of the 2013 competition. Wu won the competition in 2009 and was described as “a performer who appears to have a human connection to her music” by Washington Post critic Anne Midgette in 2010. Also in 2009, Vacatello was a finalist and winner of the Internet Audience Award. A 2011 profile by Vancouver-based website straight.com asserts that Vacatello is “consistently praised for her expressivity and magnetic presence.”
The fifth featured pianist, Golka, is a Texas native who has achieved international recognition for his talent. In the past, the young pianist has been criticized, notably by the Dallas Morning News, for “expressive gestures [that] were sometimes too self-conscious and too often came at the price of essential forward direction.” However, more recently, Anne Timberlake of the Richmond Times-Dispatch called his performance “knowing, competent, and, best of all, alive to every shift of color.”
This year marks the first time the Cliburn is holding an event of this nature, but according to Willmann, organizers hope to establish it as a yearly event, featuring different artists and composition material every year. “[We are] extremely excited to kick off the festival,” said Willman. This year’s subject, Chopin, offers its own challenges and opportunities for the performers to demonstrate their talents.
“He could make the piano sound more truly romantic and poetic than anybody else,” University of Dallas music department pianist and piano teacher Andrey Ponochevny said in an email. “He was a true poet of the piano!” When these five pianists take the stage in March, they might take the advice of Chopin himself: “Put all your soul into it, play the way you feel!”
The festival includes three evening performances at 7:30 p.m. March 5 to 7, and two matinees at 2 p.m. on March 7 and 8. Tickets can be purchased at $35 for individual performances, or $150-$300 for the complete festival.