Joint winners in Van Cliburn competition

Top prize shared by two youngest competitors

A joint first prize has been awarded at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20, and Haochen Zhang, 19, – the two youngest competitors – were both awarded a £12,500 ($20,000) cash prize, a three-year concert management contract and the chance to record a CD.

Tsujii, from Japan (pictured here between fellow medallists Yeol Eum Son and Zhang), was the first blind pianist to reach the Van Cliburn final. For his competition-winning final performances he played concertos by Chopin and Rachmaninov, and a recital including works by Beethoven and Liszt. Zhang, who celebrated his 19th birthday during the competition, played concertos by Mozart and Prokofiev, as well as Ravel’s fiendish Gaspard de la nuit.

'For me I'm happy because I'm one of the youngest, and also the first Chinese winner ever to score a gold medal in Cliburn,' says Zhang to bbcmusicmagazine.com. 'And I also want to congratulate Tsujii who tied with me. I think he's the first blind pianist to win such a big international competition – it's something truly historic.'


Both winners had made it through a gruelling two weeks of performances, during which an 11-strong jury whittled down 29 pianists from around the world to six finalists. For the final of the world-renowned competition, which takes place every four years, each of the finalists had to perform a 50-minute recital programme, and two concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and conductor James Conlon.

While the third-place crystal award was not given this year, the second-place silver award was made to 23-year-old pianist Yeol Eum Son from South Korea. The three other finalists – Evgeni Bozhanov from Bulgaria, Mariangela Vacatello from Italy and Di Wu from China – each won three years of concert management and £6,250 ($10,000). Awards were also made for best chamber music performance and best performance of a new work as well as three discretionary jury awards.

Image: Altre Media