Despite the invasion of Ukraine, the Cliburn will let 15 young, Russian pianists compete

“We have young musicians … who have been preparing themselves for the opportunity of playing at the Cliburn most of their entire lives,” said the Cliburn CEO.

By Jerome WeeksMarch 11, 2022 12:59 pm, , , , ,

From KERA:

Auditions for the 16th Cliburn Piano Competition begin this weekend — with 15 Russian-born pianists among the 72 coming to Fort Worth to vie for the international prize.

And there’s one Ukrainian as well.

Despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Cliburn CEO Jacques Marquis said he will allow the young Russian musicians to compete.

Marquis contrasted them with the Russian classical music celebrities whose international careers have recently taken severe hits. These include conductor Valery Gergiev — both the Munich and Rotterdam philharmonics cut official ties with him.

At the same time, opera soprano Anna Netrebko has lost two seasons with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

CLIBURN CEO Jacques Marquis.jpg
Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Cliburn CEO Jaques Marquis

The “huge difference” between the musicians who’ve been “banished,” Marquis said, and the young Russian competitors in Fort Worth, is that Gergiev and Netrebko have been vocal supporters of Vladimir Putin. Gergiev is even a personal friend of the Russian president. Although Netrebko has criticized the invasion, both artists have not publicly commented on Putin’s leadership.

“In our case,” said Marquis, “we have young musicians between 18 and 28 who have been preparing themselves for the opportunity of playing at the Cliburn most of their entire lives.”

So far, the young Russians have had to get visas from outside Russia in order to compete in America — “which they had to do on their own dime,” Marquis said. “They had also to get the new vaccine — twice — outside their country because Putin’s vaccine is not accepted here.”

And they had to arrange their own flights — often on Turkish Airlines.

“So then, they do all this — and they could not compete?” Marquis said.

The Cliburn’s core mission, he continued, is to promote classical music, to help young musicians “and to be above politics — like Van in 1958.”

Marquis was referring to the origin and legacy of the Cliburn, which was born at a similar tense point in Cold War politics between the US and the old Soviet Union.

The competition’s namesake, pianist Van Cliburn, went to Moscow in 1958 and won the first Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. This was only months after the Soviets’ successful launch of the Sputnik satellite had stunned the world — and left Americans nervously looking to the sky.

The Soviets had also developed the Tchaikovsky as a cultural showcase for their own artists. But the young American won over the judges because his playing recalled the traditional, romantic Russian piano style the judges themselves had grown up with but hadn’t heard in years.

Cliburn’s victory launched his long career — and more immediately, led to a ticker-tape parade for him in New York City as an American hero.

Some of the Russian competitors have already arrived in Fort Worth, Marquis said. An artistic liaison stays with them all the time.

Even before the Cliburn’s official announcement Thursday about permitting the Russians to compete, Marquis said, “I saw some emails, some texts from them [to the liaison], saying ‘Thank you for all the effort, thank you for making this possible for us — you know, for carrying this vision of Van Cliburn that music transcends everything.”

The Cliburn press release:



FORT WORTH, Texas, March 3, 2022—Today, the Cliburn releases the following official statement:

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is reprehensible and heartbreaking. The Cliburn stands firmly against and condemns this tyranny. The Russian-born pianists who have applied for the Sixteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition are not officials of their government, nor is their participation in the Cliburn state-sponsored. Therefore, in the vision of our namesake and inspiration, Van Cliburn, and our mandate to support young artists—which is the very core of our mission—the Russian-born pianists will be allowed to audition for the Cliburn Competition.

The story of Van Cliburn and his Cold War victory at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow inspired the world as a testament to the transcendence of art, even at the most tense of times between two superpowers. As he himself said: “Since we know that classical music is timeless and everlasting, it is precisely the eternal verities inherent in classical music that remain a spiritual beacon for people all over the world.”

Of the 72 pianists invited to take part in next week’s Screening Auditions for the 2022 Cliburn Competition, 15 are Russian-born; eight of those currently reside in Moscow. These young, brilliant artists have worked their way through an intense and complicated situation to ensure they would be able to come to Fort Worth for their chance to compete on one of classical music’s biggest stages—for their chance to live their dreams.

They have spent the better part of their lives preparing for this opportunity. The stakes are high. One of our current applicants sent us this note this week: “I hope that the great positive impact Maestro Van Cliburn had on the course of the Cold War should be an excellent example for all the artists.” And another: “I pray we give music a chance to be the ambassador of peace and love it has always been.” We look forward to hearing each of our participants do just that.


The Screening Auditions of the Sixteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition will take place March 6–12, 2022, in PepsiCo Recital Hall on campus at TCU. Seventy-two pianists representing 22 countries were selected from a record-breaking applicant pool of 388 to come to Fort Worth to audition. The Auditions are open to the public and are free to attend. For the full schedule, details, and pianist list, visit


Widely considered one of the preeminent international music contests, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (sixteenth edition, June 2–18, 2022) exists to share excellent classical music with the largest international audience possible and to launch the careers of its winners every four years. Building on a rich tradition that began with its 1962 origins in honor of Van Cliburn and his vision for using music to serve audiences and break down boundaries, the Cliburn seeks, with each edition, to achieve the highest artistic standards while utilizing contemporary tools to advance its reach. The world’s top young pianists compete for gold in front of a live audience in Fort Worth, Texas, as well as a global online viewership of more than 10 million. Beyond cash prizes, winning a Cliburn medal means comprehensive career management, artistic support, and bolstered publicity efforts for the three years following.

For full details about the 2022 Competition, visit:

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