Everything You Never Wanted to Know About the New, Very Cool Piano Competition at SMU

With the Van Cliburn piano competition approaching and the recent death of its namesake, there's a lot* of talk in North Texas these days about classical piano competitions. This week the Dallas Chamber Symphony gets in on the action with its first annual "DCS International Piano Competition." All rounds are free and open to the public.

Here, we answer a few IAQs (Infrequently Asked Questions) about what to expect if you pop in on the competition, which -- you'll have to trust us on this -- you should.

*It's all relative, OK?

Q. What kind of prizes are we talking about here?

A. In the world of classical music, there are a few good reasons to enter this kind of competition; namely, performance opportunities, recognition and cold, hard cash. This competition is brand new and doesn't have the kind of cash backing yet as, say, the Van Cliburn (which awards over $100,000 in cash prizes), but winners of the inaugural DCS competition can still walk away with up to $1,500. In addition, the winner will perform a concerto (duet between orchestra and piano soloist) with the Dallas Chamber Symphony on April 30 and give a recital at SMU this Saturday.

Q. Who judges this thing? J-Lo?

A. No, actually, the jury panel is made up of three highly respected musicians, including pianists on faculty at both UNT and UT Arlington. Which is a shame, really, because its highly unlikely that any members of this esteemed jury will be wearing sequins.

One unique aspect of this competition is that the judges are allowed to interact with the contestants, meaning they can interrupt the performance and ask the pianist to skip ahead to a different section or go back and repeat something.

Q. Whenever I'm around a piano, I play the intro to Coldplay's "Clocks". Can I enter?

A. Not this time, kiddo. The level of playing at this piano competition is sure to impress. While some applicants are in school, others are professional musicians. The only restriction is that they be 35 or younger. The 20 people competing this weekend have been selected from a larger pool of applicants and are serious, well-trained musicians seeking to launch performance careers. They will all be playing really difficult, showy classical music meant to impress.

Q. How long are the performances? Put another way: How long do I have to sit still and be quiet? I get antsy, you know?

A. The first round of the competition runs from 9 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. today at Caruth Auditorium at SMU. But the great thing about watching this kind of contest is that each contestant only has 20 minutes to prove they deserve to advance to the next level. You can pop in and out throughout the day and hear as much or as little as you want (in 20-minute chunks).

The semifinals start on Friday at 9 and run til a little after noon, and the finals take place Saturday from 3-5 (all in Caruth auditorium). You can get the complete schedule here.

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