Maryland pianist named first winner of Van Cliburn YouTube contest

By Chris Shull

May 30, 2008- FORT WORTH — Classical music fans can go to YouTube.com, the popular video Web site, to see performances by Van Cliburn, Lang Lang, Arthur Rubinstein and other famous pianists.

Now Christopher Shih, a physician who lives in Maryland, has a pretty big presence on the site, too. Friday, he was named winner of the Van Cliburn Foundation’s first YouTube Piano Contest.

Shih, 35, was among 41 amateur pianists ages 35 to 70 who submitted performance videos to the Cliburn’s first-ever Internet competition. (Participants had to be at least 35 to enter.) YouTube users were invited to vote for their favorites, and during online voting May 1-15, Shih’s performance of Los Requiebros from Goyescas by Enrique Granados received 701 of the 2,389 votes cast. (To watch his performances, go to YouTube.com and search for “Christopher Shih.”) His performance of Los Requiebros can be seen below.

Shih’s prize is automatic entry into the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs to be held in Fort Worth in June 2011.

“These things are really just for fun,” Shih said in a phone interview. “But even though it is fun, I do strive to play at the highest possible artistic level.”

Shih, a gastroenterologist, is married to Maya Shih, a violinist; they have two daughters, ages 6 and 3. He was a contestant at the Tenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1997 — he took a year off from medical school to prepare — but did not advance past the preliminary round. He was named winner of amateur piano competitions in Washington, D.C., in 2006 and in Boston in 2007. Shih said entering contests and competitions keeps him motivated to practice.

“I always intended to become a doctor, but I’ve always loved music and have done it as a hobby,” Shih said.

Sevan Melikyan, director of marketing at the Cliburn Foundation, said Internet sites such as YouTube and MySpace are great tools to promote classical music. “You create an immediate [online] community — by the dialogue you create, by the opinions you express, by ratings,” Melikyan said.

During the Cliburn’s YouTube Contest, contestants’ videos were accessed more than 60,700 times. Shih’s clip received more than 3,000 page views. The Cliburn will hold another YouTube Contest in 2009.

“It’s a way for us to get to share our playing with each other, a way of getting people to listen to our piano music,” Shih said. Also online: www.cliburn.org

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