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How this Park University pianist became a 'more serious' contender at the world-class Cliburn contest

Emil Matveev
Pianist Ilya Shmukler, a student at Park University's International Center for Music, advanced Sunday to the final round of the 2022 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.

The six finalists in the 2022 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition include Ilya Shmukler, who attends Park University’s International Center for Music.

Update: Medalists were announced on June 18. Shmukler did not receive a medal, but he was recognized for one of the additional awards for "Best Performance of a Mozart Concerto."

This year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, started with a record-breaking 388 applicants from all over the world.

Among the six who've made it to the finals is Ilya Shmukler, 27, who studies at Park University's International Center for Music in Parkville, Missouri.

The Cliburn is a competition that's launched numerous careers since it started in 1962. It pays $100,000 to the winner, $50,000 to the silver medalist and $25,000 to the bronze medalist.

This marks Shmukler’s second time in the competition. In 2017, he advanced to the quarterfinal round in what he described to Classical KC as “a real milestone" in his piano career.

“I was 22 years old, and I was very young,” he said. “Not only the age but the soul. I was like, ‘OK, let’s have some fun.’ So I was not serious enough, what I’m thinking now, about my previous experience.”

He said he thinks he’s matured.

“I’m much more serious in preparation, in choosing repertoire, in feeling, in practicing,” he said. “I hope that now I’m totally different Ilya than five years ago.”

In March, 30 competitors were selected after a screening audition. The competition started on June 2 with a preliminary round. The field was narrowed to 18 in the quarterfinal round, and then, 12 in the semifinal round.

On Sunday, six finalists were announced. They are scheduled to perform two concertos June 14-18 with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop.

The finalists hail from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, South Korea and the United States.

Shmukler is a Russian pianist who studies at Park University's International Center for Music with Stanislav Ioudenitch, who won the gold medal at the Cliburn in 2001. Kenny Broberg also competed in 2017 as a Park ICM student and won the silver medal.

Shmukler describes Ioudenitch as a “superstar.” While earning a master’s degree at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Shmukler attended some of Ioudenitch’s masterclasses and reached out to him on Facebook.

“OK, if he replies to me, that’s perfect. If not, OK, that’s life, we’ll try maybe something else,” he recalled thinking in an interview with Classical KC. “He replied (to) me on Facebook. He listened to my video recordings and he said he wanted to listen to me in person.”

At the time, Shmukler was in New York for a recital, so he flew to Kansas City for a few days to play for Ioudenitch.

“So I did, and he listened to me,” he said. “And after that, he said, ‘OK, from now on, you are my student and welcome to Park.’ So I was very happy.”

Shmukler's now a graduate student in Ioudenitch’s piano studio and an artist diploma candidate.

Shmukler is scheduled to perform on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. and on Friday at 8:30 p.m.

His Tuesday program features Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30,” and on Friday, he’ll be playing Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16.”

“One of the greatest pianists Sviatoslav Richter told that his very favorite piece of music is which he’s currently playing,” he said. “I agree with him, you have to be in love with the piece, which you are performing now.”

All performances will be available for viewing online. The winners are scheduled to be announced on Saturday.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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