A Web vote for Cliburn pianists

Times Staff Writer

If you’re a classical music aficionado envious of the “American Idol” viewers who get to vote on their favorite contestants, your time has come.

Inspired not by “Idol” but by Popsearch 2007, an online talent search sponsored by the Boston Pops, the Van Cliburn Foundation has taken its competition into cyberspace with its first YouTube contest for amateur classical pianists.

The celebrated Cliburn Competition, which leads to lucrative recording and performance contracts for medalists and finalists, will continue to select participants based on a traditional application and audition process. But for its next amateur competition, to take place in Fort Worth in 2011, the foundation will make room for one competitor who will be selected via popular vote based on YouTube videos provided by 41 hopeful pianists who are older than 35.

Anyone with an e-mail account has until May 15 to visit and cast a vote on the videos, which became available to viewers Thursday and run five to 10 minutes each. The winner will gain automatic entry into the next competition, and the foundation will waive the entry fee of about $80.


Cliburn Foundation spokesman Sevan Melikyan acknowledges that voters will probably not watch all 41 videos before voting.

“We are aware of the fact that this competition can very easily become a popularity contest. We are not going to hide from the fact that if you have a lot of friends out there, they are going to vote for you,” he said Thursday. But he said that, in classical music, entrants as well as voters are likely to be self-selecting, and he believes it unlikely that a performer without merit will end up on the competition stage.

Because the Cliburn Competition takes place only every four years, Melikyan said the YouTube prequel provides potential competitors with “something to keep their chops going” between events. The foundation plans to continue the competitions for the next three years, he said, sending several winners to the 2011 event. “It keeps them focused,” he said.

Melikyan added that YouTube access also provides an important bridge for potential classical music fans. “We have to keep this art form alive, and what better way than to play it at home?”