ALBUM TITLE: Virtuosity: Music is Like a Mirror
WORKS: The 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
PERFORMER: Various Performers
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 2061288; Blu-ray: 2061284
The most telling comment in this documentary comes from the nonagenarian juror Menahem Pressler. ‘Is it anything to do with art?’ he says. ‘Of course not. Art is love – love for the music.’ It would have been nice to hear more from him – and the other jurors – while surveying the roller-coaster 2014 Cliburn, the Texan piano olympics.
The film nevertheless captures, with excellent camera work and sound, the agony and ecstasy of competition existence. You start to care about the young pianists as if they are your friends: the young woman who says her dog leaves the room if she’s not playing well; one who’s reduced to tears by negative remarks on a website; a contestant who emerges more famed for pulling faces while playing than for the playing itself; and Vadym Kholodenko – the winner – who meets his father for the first time in 23 years after tracking him down on Facebook.
Virtuosity may be the focus – but music takes a back seat. Indeed there’s little, if any, comment from anybody about their approach to any masterworks beyond ‘Who’s your favourite composer?’ ‘Bach and Schumann,’ says silver medallist Beatrice Rana; cue film of her playing Ravel. And certain people in Warsaw, Moscow, Brussels and Leeds might take issue with the film’s assertion that the Cliburn isn’t just any competition, but ‘the one’.
The bonuses are vital. ‘Six months on’ shows Kholodenko reflecting on the shock effect the prize has had on his life, and there’s longer footage of superb playing from some of the others – notably Claire Huangci – though several terrific pieces of contemporary repertoire infuriatingly remain unidentified. Finally the top three winners are shown in full performances… of one short piece each. Jessica Duchen