Digestion doctor wins first YouTube piano contest

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May 31, 2008 – Dr. Christopher Shih, a gastroenterologist who also knows his way around the works of Chopin and Bach, won the Van Cliburn Foundation’s first YouTube piano contest for amateurs aged 35 and over, the organization said yesterday.

Shih’s winning entry, posted on Google Inc.’s YouTube, was a video of his solo piano performance of Los Requiebros from the piano suite Goyescas written by Spanish composer Enrique Granados.

Shih received 701 votes out of the 2389 ballots cast online, the Fort Worth, Texas-based foundation said.
There were 41 contestants.

The entry was taped last year at the Boston International Competition for Exceptional Amateurs, where Shih won first prize.

“I was very pleased to hear I won,” Shih, 35, a specialist at the Maryland Digestive Disease Center, said in a phone interview.

“I try to play at the highest possible level because this music is wonderful, complex literature that has been composed by geniuses. We owe it to ourselves.”

The Van Cliburn Foundation is best known for its competition for professional pianists started in 1962 to find and nurture young classical musicians.

The foundation’s International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs began in 1999 and is held every four years. Shih’s win gains him automatic entry to the next one in 2011.

The YouTube contest was launched in February to allow non-professionals to compete more regularly, said Sevan Melikyan, a foundation spokesman, in a phone interview.

The prize doesn’t come with a cash award.

The foundation is named after Cliburn, a Louisiana-born prodigy who won the first Tchaikovsky competition for piano in Moscow in 1958 and returned to the US a hero.

Shih, a Chicago native who now lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, about 20 minutes from Baltimore, started playing piano when he was 5 years old.

He graduated from Harvard College in 1993, attended medical school at Johns Hopkins University and went to the University of Pennsylvania for a residency in internal medicine.

He took a decade-long break from the piano after his medical studies because of his rigorous training schedule.

The father of two daughters, Shih said he doesn’t have time to practice for hours a day but will go into cram mode if he has a performance coming up.

Currently, he plans to perform two to three times a year and may play at the Sorbonne in Paris in October.

Yet Shih is not ready to put away his medical instruments to become a full-time musician.

“I’m always going to be a doctor,” Shih said. “Pianists have a hard time finding professional engagements, and I’m limited in what I can accept.”

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