Meet - and go watch - the best teen pianists in the world, all competing in Dallas right now.
These musicians may be young, but they can play. Really play.
Cliburn officials call them the best young pianists in the world. Once every four years, the Cliburn Foundation sifts through auditions to invite a group of 13- to 17-year-olds to Dallas. They compete for prize money and scholarships that’ll help them grow in piano endeavors and other areas. But Cliburn CEO Jacques Marquis said winning, in this case, is more about learning and growing.
“I want them to not focus on the winning the competition part,” said Marquis, “and focus on the learning part, on learning of themselves, learning from each other. I want everybody, after two weeks of saying, ‘Okay, there was some results, I enjoy playing, but I learned so much and I developed some friendships that will last.’"
Marquis has seen teen piano phenoms before, at the Cliburn's competitions in 2015 and 2019. He says many are so smart, they have many career options. He said one past Junior competitor was engaged in dual studies in piano and astrophysics.
“The other one is doing business at Harvard and doing is his New England Conservatory (degree) at the same time. Another’s doing medical studies and piano. These are fantastic young human beings.”
We met just a few of this year's competitors:
Xuanyan Jessie Gong
16 year-old Xuanyan Jessie Gong, from China has played piano for more than half her life. She’s heard advice to pursue what you love when considering a career.
That’s why she’s already decided she wants a professional piano career, no matter how she fares in this competition.
“There are a few days in my life in the past few years where I couldn't play piano. For example, when I first moved to the U.S., I had a few days off piano because I couldn't find the practice place and that I felt - I just feel like something was empty in me.. So I feel like maybe that's just what I'm supposed to do for my whole life.”
Also 16, Jan Schulmeister, from Czechia, feels similar to Jessie.
"The music is the only thing I would like to do in my life because I love it," Jan said. "I so love it. It's a passion, it's a hobby, It's everything, everything positive. So I would like do just piano playing and just music.”
Schulmeister at least has good role models. Both parents are professional musicians.
U.S. competitor Taige Wang, who’s 13, seems equally dedicated to classical music. But his interests extend to composing, where he’s an award winner. Works include pieces "Toothbrush Rhapsody" and "Chopin vs. Chopin 2.0." He sees composing serving a dual purpose.
“I felt like composing would make me study much more music. And that studying will also …would help it a lot too,” said Wang.
And these are just three of 23 competitors. Eleven are from China - the most heavily represented country. Five are from the United States, four from South Korea, two from Japan and one from Czechia (Czech Republic).
One more teen was chosen from Russia but Cliburn officials said the pianist could not secure a visa. Last summer, despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, visas were okayed and Russian pianists competed in the main Cliburn competition. One even earned a silver medal.
In addition to competing for prize money and scholarships, past Cliburn pianists and other professionals will conduct seminars and master classes throughout the Junior competition schedule. Invited, non-competing teen players will play free recitals. The competition concludes June 17 with finalists playing concertos with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, in the orchestra’s downtown Dallas home, the Meyerson Symphony Center.
The Cliburn International Junior Competition runs through June 17 and is open to the public. The first three rounds are at SMU's Caruth Auditorium. The finals are at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Details.