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A South Korean musician wins the prestigious Van Cliburn piano competition

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A South Korean musician has won the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. This past weekend's event in Fort Worth, Texas, also saw finalists from two countries at war. A Russian and a Ukrainian take silver and bronze. Bill Zeeble with member station KERA reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BILL ZEEBLE, BYLINE: This 17-day international piano competition featured fast fingers and bright musical minds.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ZEEBLE: However, hovering over all the music-making was the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. So just before the awards ceremony to name the winners, 2013 Cliburn gold medalist Vadym Kholodenko of Kyiv solemnly performed Ukraine's national anthem at the grand piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ZEEBLE: Kholodenko teared up as the packed concert hall stood.

(APPLAUSE)

ZEEBLE: Cliburn officials bucked international trends and allowed seven Russians and a Belarusian pianist to compete and didn't back down. In the end, 18-year-old South Korean Yunchan Lim became the youngest Cliburn winner ever. Lim said he lives to play and was humble in victory. He spoke through an interpreter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YUNCHAN LIM: (Through interpreter) I feel the burden of receiving this great, honorable award, so I will just push myself to measure up to the honor that I received today.

ZEEBLE: Lim wins $100,000 and three years of concerts and artistic management. Silver medalist, 31-year-old Anna Geniushene, was born in Russia. She, her husband and child fled their home for Lithuania earlier this year after Russia invaded Ukraine. Geniushene, who's 6 1/2 months pregnant, is glad the Cliburn let her compete and said it's old-fashioned to think musicians represent countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANNA GENIUSHENE: We're representing probably different schools of music but not really countries 'cause, you know, we are not athletes. We are not sponsored by government.

ZEEBLE: Geniushene's employment picture just improved with $50,000 cash and three years of concerts and management. The Russian hugged her fellow medalist, 28-year-old bronze winner Dmytro Choni from Ukraine.

I'm Bill Zeeble in Fort Worth. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues. Heâââ