A Surprise in Texas: The Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

By Salfen, Kevin | Notes, September 2012 | Go to article overview

A Surprise in Texas: The Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition


Salfen, Kevin, Notes


A Surprise in Texas: The Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Compe tition. DVD. Directed by Peter Rosen. [Germany]: EuroArts, 2010. 2058168. $24.99.

Peter Rosen's documentary A Surprise in Texas is about the 2009 Van Cliburn Inter - national Piano Competition, which was held in Fort Worth, Texas. There can be little "surprise" to the competition's outcome: judges awarded no third prize, but a second prize to Korean Yeol Eum Son and joint first prizes to Haochen Zhang and blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii. The filmmakers have tried very hard to recreate the suspense of being in the midst of the competition, and the results are generally successful, particularly when it comes to Tsujii's "surprising" success in each round of the competition.

The film highlights three of the required performances in the Van Cliburn: the first round, which features a number of pianists playing solo repertory; the chamber music portion of the second round, with twelve pianists playing quintets with the Takács Quartet; and the third round, with six pianists performing concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under James Conlon. To anyone who has seen American Idol or X Factor, this form and the approach to editing will seem familiar. Excerpts from performances are interspersed with public and private moments of the competitors and comments from the judges. By the time the film is over, the competition winners have become real people to the viewer, their very significant musical accomplishments made to support a sketch of their characters.

As often happens with reality TV, the eventual winners are also the competitors who get the most screen time from the beginning of the film. In a film that lasts only 92 minutes, the viewer gets to know competition winner "Nobu" Tsujii, and also his mother, his principal translator (of all the finalists, he was the only one who could not speak English), his host family in Texas ( John and Carol Davidson), and his Japanese piano teacher (Yukio Yokoyama). …

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