Little Big Shots

7 ways to see the best teen pianists on the planet play in Dallas

7 ways to see the best teen pianists on the planet play in Dallas

Ishan Loomba, Cliburn junior competition
Competitor Ishan Loomba, 17, of the United States tries out a piano in Caruth Auditorium. Photo by Ralph Lauer
Avery Gagliano, Cliburn competition junior
Avery Gagliano, 17, of the United States tests out a piano in Caruth Auditorium before the competition begins. Photo by Ralph Lauer
Jun Li Bui, Cliburn International Piano Competition webcast
Pianist J J Jun Li Bui,14, of Canada sits for a webcast interview before the competition gets under way in SMU's Caruth Auditorium. Photo by Ralph Lauer
Ishan Loomba, Cliburn junior competition
Avery Gagliano, Cliburn competition junior
Jun Li Bui, Cliburn International Piano Competition webcast

Dallas, meet the Cliburn. The crown jewel of Fort Worth’s arts scene — named for famous late pianist Van Cliburn, who called Fort Worth home — has packed its pianos and moved east for its next big event, the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition and Festival.

From May 31-June 8, Dallas becomes the center of the piano universe, as 23 of the most talented teenage pianists from 11 countries compete for cash, scholarships, and major international bragging rights. They're the ones who made the cut, after 230 hopefuls from 32 countries auditioned.

Former first lady Laura Bush serves as honorary chair of the competition. The most in-demand concert pianists in the world are judges. Press from France, Italy, Japan, Canada, and the UK will cover it. And, unlike Cowboys games or the last Ariana Grande concert at the AAC, the entire thing will be live-streamed, free and legally, via a Cliburn-produced webcast.

Lucky for Dallas culture vultures and keyboard geeks, the competition hosts are making it easy to attend performances in person, catch a live simulcast on a giant outdoor screen in Dallas' favorite park, or even take part in some of the events alongside the musicians. And a lot of them are free.

Whether you’ve always been curious about this Fort Worth event, have a budding musician in your household who needs inspiration to sit down and practice, or just want to hear a killer Chopin etude during dinnertime, here are some ways to get in on the competition action in Dallas — no talent required.

1. Sit in the audience. The contest takes place in four rounds. The first three are at SMU's Caruth Auditorium, and the preliminary round (May 31-June 1) is ticketed but free to attend. (Check the website or call 214-849-4376 for availability, though, as some concerts are sold out.) Quarterfinal tickets (June 2-3) are $10, and semifinal tickets (June 5-6) are $20. The final round is the biggie, and it takes place all in one day, June 8, at the Meyerson Symphony Center (prices range from $19-$99). The Dallas Symphony Orchestra will accompany three finalists on a complete concerto, with the awards ceremony to take place immediately after.

2. Enjoy it in the park. The biggest Cliburn watch-party ever assembled will be at Klyde Warren Park on June 8. From 2:30-7 pm, the finals will be broadcast live on a giant LED screen. After the competition, there'll be expert commentary and recap, and then the naming of the winners. The watch party is free to attend. (One will take place simultaneously at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, too.)

3. Show up for a pop-up concert. Throughout the competition — and even before it begins — the virtuosic teens will give recitals in locations around Dallas, and all are free to attend. Catch them:

  • Noon to 1 pm on May 30 at Main Street Garden Park downtown
  • 11:30 am to 12:30 pm on June 1 at Dallas Museum of Art and NorthPark Center
  • Noon to 1 pm on June 5 at Klyde Warren Park
  • 4-5 pm on June 6 at Dallas Museum of Art and NorthPark Center

4. Learn from the masters. For a next-level music education experience, join the 23 competitors and 14 other invited festival participants in master classes, seminars, and symposia. Check the website for list of master classes taught by some of the world's best pianists. Two symposia of note are Repertoire Planning, 10 am on June 4 (How to put a complete program together for a recital and more); and the Jury Symposium, 11 am on June 8 (Members of the Cliburn competition jury will discuss changes in piano training, technique, practicing, and more.) All events are at O'Donnell Recital Hall at SMU.

5. Get on the party bus. For those who live closer to the west side of the Metroplex and want to attend the final round without a drive to Dallas and parking hassles, the Cliburn is offering a ticket package that bundles a ticket to the concert and a round-trip ride on a party bus to the the Meyerson from downtown Fort Worth. It boards at 1 pm on June 8 and departs Dallas at 7 pm.

6. Tune in. Local radio station WRR 101.1 will broadcast many of the competition events, including the final round, with commentary from their on-air talent. They'll also air interviews with jurors, competitors, and more Cliburn folks throughout the competition. (Pro tip: Say, "Alexa, stream WRR," and she beams it right in.) So if you can't show up to watch the action, you can at least listen and visualize being there. Also, NPR's famous program From the Top will cover the competition in person for an hour-long documentary set to air in October on 220 stations around the United States.

7. Watch it on demand. In addition to the live webcast, the Cliburn will make performances available on demand for later viewing on their website, Vimeo, YouTube, and Facebook. The entire webcast will be a "show" hosted by the Cliburn's artistic expert Buddy Bray, joined by past Cliburn laureate Sean Chen for commentary and interviews with competition insiders. It'll also go backstage for an up-close look at the inner workings of the competition.

For more information, visit the Cliburn's website.