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June 8, 2009

Two pianists, one blind, tie for gold medal at Cliburn Competition

In terms of profile, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition still looms large, even if winners don't necessarily go on to create top-drawer careers. The 2009 competition, which ended Sunday, was swept by Asian pianists, two of them tying for gold medal: Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20 (Japan), and Haochen Zhang, 19 (China). They were the youngest of the 29 contestants this year, and Nobuyuki Tsujii is the first blind competitor ever to advance beyond the preliminaries in the Cliburn's 47-year history. Yeol Eum Son, 23 (South Korea), took the silver medal.

As usual, not everyone is persuaded by the jury's decision. You can already find comments suggesting that Nobuyuki Tsujii ...

would not have advanced were it not for his disability (he has been blind since birth).

Based on the performances I've caught on, which has excellent videos of all the winners, I'd say that Haochen Zhang is the standout. But both young men clearly have something to offer.

Feel free to weigh in after checking out some of those clips, or the YouTube excerpts I've posted here.

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:15 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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