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Chinese player shares major music award

A TEENAGER from China and a blind pianist from Japan won gold medals at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sunday, making history as the first winners from any Asian country.

Nobuyuki Tsujii, 20, of Japan and Haochen Zhang, 19, of China shared the top prize, only the second time in the 47-year history of the competition that there have been dual winners. Tsujii also made history as the first blind winner.

Yeol Eum Son, 23, of South Korea won the silver medal. All three received US$20,000 and will record a CD.

The competition is named for Van Cliburn, an acclaimed pianist from Fort Worth. After winning a prestigious Moscow music competition at the height of the Cold War in 1958, Cliburn gained international fame and millions of fans.

Zhang said he was "really happy" about being, along with Tsujii, the first winners of the Cliburn from Asian countries.

The other finalists, who each won US$10,000, were Di Wu, 24, of China; Evgeni Bozhanov, 24, of Bulgaria; and Mariangela Vacatello, 27, of Italy. All six finalists received three years of managed concert tours, worth about US$1 million.

The trend of more Cliburn competitors from Asian countries was noticeable in 2005 - nearly a third of those competing. This year, almost half the competitors were from Asian countries.

Zhang, who turned 19 last week, said: "For a pianist my age there is nothing more challenging or stressful than the Cliburn competition."

Zhang moved from China to the United States at the age of 15 to study at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music.

Tsujii, who was born blind and started playing the piano at 2, memorizes music after listening to his teacher's recordings.


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