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Soviet Crowd Favorite Wins Cliburn Medal

June 12, 1989

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ Aleksei Sultanov, a 19-year-old Soviet noted for his aggressive, crowd- pleasing performances, won the Eighth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition on Sunday.

Sultanov was the youngest of the 38 competitors in the prestigious two-week contest, which is known for launching musical careers. He shook hands with Van Cliburn, the Fort Worth pianist for whom the contest is named, and host Dudley Moore.

Jose Carlos Cocarelli, a 30-year-old Brazilian making his second appearance in the competition, won the silver medal. Benedetto Lupo, a 25-year-old who now teaches in the Italian city where he grew up, was awarded the bronze medal.

As the bronze medalist was announced the crowd erupted in wild applause and shouts of ″Bravo 3/8″ Sultanov was given a standing ovation.

″In this competition, I wanted to get first prize or nothing,″ the winner said afterward through an interpreter.

A native of Tashkent, Sultanov has played concerts throughout the Soviet Union and Europe and attends Moscow State University. He studies under L.N. Naumov, who taught two previous Cliburn medalists.

Along with his gold medal, the winner of the competition receives $15,000, a Carnegie Hall debut recital, concert tours and free air travel.

The only other 19-year-old gold medalist in the history of the contest was Christina Ortiz of Brazil, who won the Third Van Cliburn in 1969. The only woman to win the Van Cliburn, Ms. Ortiz was one of the judges of this year’s contest.

Sultanov became the sentimental favorite of the audience during the semifinal round, bringing the audience to its feet during a performance of Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B minor. For the finals, he performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor.

The three medal winners were chosen from six finalists in the quadrennial competition. Cocarelli and Lupo, the last contestants of the final round, played for jurors Saturday night.

Lupo played Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor. Cocarelli chose Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor.

Lupo said he will not enter any more competitions, explaining, ″I don’t like competitions. You can’t compare two completely different ways to play the piano.″

He said a pianist’s career is not defined by a competition.

″I think that a career is very long and it doesn’t matter if you are first prize, second prize, third prize,″ Lupo said.

All six finalists were required to play a concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and one with the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra.

Two of the three Soviet finalists, including Sultanov, appeared for their last-round performances Friday. Elisso Bolkvadze, 22, played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major and Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor.

Alexander Shtarkman, 21, of the Soviet Union led off the finals round Thursday with Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C major and Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3 in C major. Shtarkman is the son of Naum Shtarkman, who placed third to Cliburn’s first in the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Ying Tian, a 20-year-old Chinese student who lives in Boston, played Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major.

Begun in 1962, the competition was started in honor of Cliburn, who rose to international fame after winning the Tchaikovsky competition at age 23.

His concert schedule and performance fees swelled. But in 1977 he took a career ″intermission″ that lasted a decade. Cliburn, now 54, gradually has been returning to the stage.

The competition finalists, announced Tuesday, emerged from 12 semifinalists narrowed from 38 contestants since the contest began May 27.

Cocarelli has studied with Adele Marcus in New York. He was born in Rio de Janeiro and lives in Paris.

Lupo, born in Bari, Italy, teaches at the Piccinni Conservatory and was a student of Aldo Ciccolini.

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