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Cliburn medalist Dmytro Choni's award-winning performance

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The Cliburn
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Pianist Dmytro Choni, performing in the preliminary round at the 2022 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was established in 1962, and today it’s one of the most prestigious showcases of keyboard talent in the United States, if not the world. In 2022, three hundred eighty-eight performers applied to be a part of the competition. Thirty competitors performed live at the in-person preliminary round in June. Subsequent rounds whittled that down to six finalists, and of them--Dmytro Choni, from Kiev, Ukraine, was awarded the Bronze medal. In this week’s program, you’ll hear those Cliburn performances from Dmytro Choni recorded live at Bass Concert Hall in Fort Worth.

Choni will be returning to Texas this month, performing on September 18 at the Fredericksburg Music Club.

This week’s program includes excerpts from an interview with Dmytro Choni, conducted by phone from his home in Graz, Austria. An edited transcript is below.

*****

Nathan Cone: Near the beginning of your musical journey, you took up piano at age four. Was there music in your home growing up? Was it something handed to you by your family that inspired you?

Dmytro Choni: Yes, kind of. My parents are not musicians, but I have three siblings and everybody played piano for a certain time. I have two elder sisters and they [had] been playing piano.

As you were going through your musical journey, I read on the Cliburn site that at age 14, though, some ten years after that was kind of like a musical turning point. What was that moment? What was it that happened when you were an early teenager that really kind of clicked for you?

I have to specify that in the beginning, no, I was I was always very much into piano playing. But just in the beginning, everything was quite easy, I would say very enjoyable. I had much success and so on. But then of course, in my teenage years here, I was more interested in playing soccer than playing piano. So this turning point… I was almost 15. I had that performance… I was in the orchestra at Summer Academy in Kiev. So there were some master classes at this academy. And then at the end of the master class, there was a performance with an orchestra. And it just felt so nice playing in front of the audience. It was in the open air stage, quite warmed by the pleasant place. Starting on from this point I came back to the focus of playing piano and I started playing, started, started interested being interested in playing soccer less.

Let me ask you a little bit about the Cliburn. I'm always curious, you know, because at piano competitions, they employ and commission a composer to write a piece for all the contestants to perform. And in this case, it was Steven Hough with this “Fanfare Toccata.” I enjoyed listening to it and enjoyed hearing your performance of it. I was wondering kind of what you thought about the piece when you went into the competition?

Oh, I loved it. And I have to say, I had a great fun performing this piece, and this is probably the best piece I've ever played [that was] written for a competition. It was really a nice experience. And the music itself is great. It's got different characters, different parts… Stephen Hough is a great performer. So, I mean, I knew it before, but when you're when you're playing a piece which was written not only by the composer but by [a] performing pianist, I could yeah, I could feel that… the piece is very effective itself, but it's playable, so it is possible to play it. And Stephen Hough did play it himself for sure! I had just the best possible experience with this piece.

Another composer that you were called out for having a real great touch on in the Cliburn… was your performances of Debussy. And so I wonder if you might say a few words about, you know, playing Debussy’s music.

Debussy has become one of my favorite composers, I have to say. And I'm starting to play it more and more. And I actually find it so varied, so deep, and I just feel wonderful being playing his music. I'm just trying to imagine all those landscapes or all this, all these characters in his music. And it's all connected to other types of arts, such as painting. So, so it's just, it's a marvelous, it's beautiful music and I feel great playing it. And actually right now I'm considering learning a couple of new [pieces] because I just can't get enough of Debussy's music.

In watching your performances, I noticed that, you know, some people take just take a mental break at the bench and some people like yourself, you left the stage and you and then you come back in and play. Do you feel the need to move your body some after each piece that you perform in order to kind of get into a new space for the next piece? How do you approach performance in that way?

I'm trying to change my mind and my body from one piece to another, because my problem at Cliburn, it was quite a variety [of music] in every round to perform, I have to say. So going from Prokofiev to Debussy and from Debussy to Liszt for example, the quarterfinal round, I need some mental change, you know? So I just tried to take my time between the composers, between the pieces and to be ready to be in the mood and in the world of the composer I'm playing next.

I know you were asked this a lot during the competition itself, and I'm just wondering if you have any reflections on that time when you were performing… surely your thoughts were focused on the music itself, but I'm sure there was this kind of undercurrent in the back of [your mind] thinking of your homeland in the city of Kiev where you grew up. I guess you were able to successfully focus on the music during that time. But it surely it must have been a little difficult to do.

Yeah, of course it was not easy and there was a lot of different other factors. But as I said previously, I just try to focus on music as much as possible.

How do you see the Cliburn as a step in your career path?

It's one of the most prestigious competitions in the world. Of the one of the best, I would say. So I feel. I felt great being part of this piano fest. And it's been a dream of mine for quite a long time. I was following the previous competitions online. I was watching some documentaries about the past competitions, so it was a dream for me to take part in the Cliburn and I'm super happy that I did that. And in terms of career, Cliburn offers a great number of engagements for the winners, and I think this is such a great boost for the career. We all gain so much experience playing in all these places, and I hope it continues after three years of management, which Cliburn offers. I hope [my career] doesn't end at this point, and I will continue playing and performing on different stages!

I'm sure you will. What are you most looking forward to in the in this coming first year of your tour engagement? We here in Texas are looking forward to your return, of course, to South Texas in the Hill Country in mid-September. But what else are you looking forward to?

I'm looking forward to coming back to Texas, too, and actually to all other engagements. And I have many performances in the States, many performances in Europe here. So I just I love traveling, I love playing on stage. So I'm happy about every concert this season. Can't wait!

Find more from Dmytro Choni on his website, here: https://www.dmytrochoni.com/

Learn more about The Cliburn online, here: http://cliburn.org

Nathan has been with TPR since 1995, when he began working on classical music station KPAC 88.3 FM, as host of “Tuesday Night at the Opera.” He soon learned the ropes on KSTX 89.1 FM, and volunteered to work practically any shift that came his way, on either station. He worked in nearly every capacity on the radio before moving into Community Engagement, Marketing, and Digital Media. His reporting and criticism has been honored by the Houston Press Club and Texas Associated Press.