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Asian Pianists Sweep Van Cliburn Competition

A young, blind pianist from Japan and a newly turned 19-year-old from China both claimed gold medals in the .)

Youngest participant a seasoned performer

Kaplinsky called the other gold medalist, Chinese musician Haochen Zhang, "a pure, honest pianist, who's all about the music."

"Everything flows naturally, good taste, amazing facility and the ability at the age of 19 to withstand the grueling aspects of this competition and to play his best at the very end."

Zhang's last piece was Prokofiev's challenging Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16. (.)

Zhang, who gave his debut recital at the Shanghai Music Hall at the age of 5, says this competition was so tough that little from here on out will seem tougher. He's looking forward to returning to a normal life, but he knows it will not be the same because of this award.

"Even though I'll get a lot of attention, I hope I can be myself," he said. "And I hope this would not do anything to change me negatively. I want to have a good attitude to music. Be always humble before music, before the great masters."

Zhang says only if you are humble can you improve yourself and continue to learn. Tsujii and Son made similar comments. All are looking forward to the next three years of concerts, the biggest part of their prize.

Everyone's a critic

But many critics, some of whom didn't want to be named, aren't so eager to hear these winners. Gil French, concert editor for American Record Guide, was disappointed. He disagreed with the judges. He says they picked the safe players, who were note perfect but lacked that special something, "something that sweeps me away, that changes my pulse and by breathing, hits my heart, and when it's over I realize I can't talk, because I'm choked up."

French says Zhang did that for him, but only once.

That's one critic's assessment. The public can decide on their own. The gold medalists will play a concert in Germany later this month and go on to Aspen, Colorado, Poland and Beijing as they begin their three-year-long series of performances.