It was easy to see how these two could irritate some jurors. The perpetually smiling, charming and handsome Jiracek played the slow movement of Beethoven's C minor Concerto more slowly than seemed possible and his spontaneity in Liszt's E flat Concerto turned the coda of that piece into a bit of a scramble for the orchestra. Skanavi, on the other hand, showed no hesitation in demonstrating that she had the best chops of any pianist in Fort Worth, and her theatrical, heart-on-sleeve performances offended some of the musically straight-laced jurors.
A serious decision
But the Cliburn's bylaws decree that a first prize must be awarded. In a situation that demanded consensus, it is easy -- in retrospect -- to see why Nakamatsu won first prize. He did not have the charm, the facility or the emotional power of some other finalists, but he had a little of all these qualities. Moreover, he was the least likely to give offense. His Beethoven B flat Concerto may not have been as insightful as Jiracek's performance of the same composer's C minor Concerto, but while it was almost impossible to take exception to Nakamatsu's performance, the German's almost funereal tempo in the slow movement struck some as idiosyncratic.
Likewise, Nakamatsu did not possess the brilliance of technique or the massive sound of either Skanavi or the second-prize winner, Kasman. But because he took fewer risks than the Russians, he hit fewer wrong notes. And because he was less idiosyncratic, he was easier for conductor James Conlon and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra to accompany.
The Van Cliburn Foundation takes its task seriously. And this is almost entirely to the good. It is impossible to think of any competition more generous to young pianists or more sensitive to their needs. It's also difficult to name another competition that is so successful as a festival: The Cliburn can wear out even the most enthusiastic piano aficionado with its workshops, master classes and symposiums.
This seriousness extends to the way it awards first prize. More than any of the five other finalists, Jon Nakamatsu is most likely to prove most dependable in meeting the obligations that come with the Cliburn's first prize.
But I wish that the Cliburn took itself -- and music -- a little less seriously. Make no mistake about it, Jon Nakamatsu is a fine pianist. I can say about him -- as well as about the second and third prize winners -- that I'd like to hear him again. It's just that I look forward to hearing the others even more.
Pub Date: 6/15/97