Review: 2015 Cliburn Festival: The Works of Chopin | Cliburn Concerts | Renzo Piano Pavilion

Putting on the Chopin

We review the five concerts in the Cliburn Foundation's The Works of Chopin festival. Added: Ko-Eun Yi and Adam Golka.

By Gregory Sullivan Isaacs and Zachariah Stoughton | March 10, 2015

Fort Worth — Music festivals based around a single composer abound these days, but usually for composers that don’t lack exposure like Mozart and Beethoven. Such is the case with The Van Cliburn Foundation’s The Works of Chopin festival that opened on Thursday evening at the Kimbell Art Museum’s Piano Pavilion.

Of course, Chopin’s music is a mainstay of the piano repertoire and Cliburn is all about the piano. Besides, it should be thought-provoking to hear different pianists’ ideas about how this music should go. Furthermore, the Cliburn Foundation has an unlimited supply of young fantastic pianist at its disposal, from competitions past and present. 

Management is part of the prizes, so why not bring them here to play Chopin for a weekend? 

TheaterJones covered all five concerts; the reviews are below, written by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs or Zachariah Stoughton (the writer is noted beneath each entry).


2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 8

The Cliburn’s Chopin Extravaganza ended on Sunday with Adam Golka, a 26-year-old pianist who studied with the late José Feghali at Texas Christian University. In his introduction, Cliburn CEO Jacques Marquis joked that Golka was an example of a pianist with a career who was not a Cliburn winner, but he failed to point out that his teacher (Feghali) took a gold medal in 1985. It might be interesting to research how the Cliburn influences spread from teacher to student and so on down the line considering the competition has been around since 1962.

Golka certainly proved his worth as a major talent in his recital at the Piano Pavilion at the Kimbell Art Museum. He displayed a sure technique and remarkable musical insights. He brought spontaneity to Chopin’s music that reminded you that Chopin’s gift as both a composer and performer was music for the salon rather than the large concert halls. Even his performance of Chopin’s second Piano Concerto, one of the composer’s few large-scale works, reflected an intimate quality to his playing. Yet, there was quite a lot of forceful and exciting playing mixed in with all of the sensitivity.

The program started out oddly with a set of five nocturnes, a musical form that Chopin invented. Golka played three of them and the other two were heard in a so-so arrangement for string quartet. This was because the Amphion String Quartet (plus a contrabass player) was in attendance to accompany Golka in Chopin’s second piano concerto, so you can suppose they wanted to do something by themselves.

Hearing Golka play his nocturnes, with Chopin’s overall simplicity created by an underlying complexity, only pointed up the paucity of the arrangements. By giving the melody to the first violinist all of the time, the arrangements sounded like little mini-concerto movements for violin and a three-piece orchestra. Moving the melody around, even it transposed down an octave, would have been more interesting. This effect was not helped by the rather shrill sound that first violinist Katie Hyun’s violin produced.

Like Ko-Eun Yi’s performance of the first piano concerto the night before, Golka’s marvelous performance of the second concerto was marred by the placement of the instruments.

Read what I said in her review above. Like Ko-Eun Yi, Golka was worth watching.

On his own, Golka delivered stirring performances of the Polonaise No. 5 in F-sharp minor and the Ballade No. 3. He never once over-reached or over-played, but he knew just how far he could go before crossing that line. This is something that cannot be taught: an artist has to feel it instinctively. Otherwise, it sounds like they are holding back because someone told them not to play so loudly or worse, that they play too loudly and don’t realize it or even worse, that they enjoy banging away.

Overall, the Chopin Festival was a resounding success. It was well-attended and gave the audience the opportunity to hear five outstanding young pianists playing works by the same composer. It is difficult to determine an artist’s individual approach to music and the instrument when you hear pianists play in succession but playing different repertory. Hopefully, the Cliburn will continue to offer such festivals including ones that feature the works of living composers.

— Gregory Sullivan Isaacs