This summer we are looking forward to having with us the 2017 Van Cliburn Gold Medalist, Yekwon Sunwoo. Over the years we have featured several other Cliburn winners as well including Vadym Kholodenko, Nobuyuki Tsujii and just this past summer, Minnesota native, Kenny Broberg. In 2013 I watched much of the Cliburn competition streamed live. That year Kholodenko had caught my attention early on and had quickly become one of my favorites. So, I was particularly excited to present him at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival and was really looking forward to his concert. Even though he was friendly and cordial at all times, he was nevertheless quite reserved in his demeanor. When concert time arrived and the stage crew were in their places, the lights were cued down and the house went quiet. In that final brief moment, the crew member holding the stage door half whispered to Vadym, “Have fun!” Vadym’s response was to suddenly, and vigorously, give a huge exuberant smile with an energetic double thumbs-up and then instantly drop back into his reserved expression as the door fully opened; he then proceeded to walk out in the appropriate serious manner of a concert pianist performing to a sold-out house. He had made the gesture and regained his composure so fast, that he was already out the door before anyone backstage could fully process the moment. It was all the crew could do to not burst out laughing as music began to fill the hall.
Many months earlier I had asked Vadym to play Balakirev’s infamous and extremely virtuosic Islamey. As life would have it, my son unfortunately became ill on the evening of the performance and I missed the second half of the program which ended with Islamey. The next morning as I drove Vadym to Winona State University so he could practice for a few hours before his afternoon flight (we actually followed the piano being moved for the next MBF concert), we talked about his performance. He had heard what happened with my son, and I finally asked him if he might be willing to play Islamey for me since I had missed it. He said it would be his pleasure to do so, and once the piano was set up, he sat down and proceeded to play for me, not only Islamey, but the entire second half of his recital program. My own personal performance – what a treat!
– Ned Kirk, Artistic & Managing Director