Steven Lin in bang action
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Hair Apparent

What’s up with the bangs, curls, and “Bieber hair” on some of the Cliburn’s fine young pianists? We combed Bass Hall for the best ’do’s of the competition, and look back at the past.

published Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tell the truth, now—you thought we were going to talk about the dresses onstage at the Cliburn competition, didn’t you? Nope, not this rodeo. (Although it's hard to resist going even more gah-gah over Lindsay Garritson's Phase II dress.)

This time around, some of the fashion buzz seems to be circling around the guys of the Cliburn, a crop of promising young artists who have turned up in Texas with some fascinating heads of hair. 

Off the top of our heads, then, here are the masculine “do’s” we found most intriguing: 

  • Italy’s Luca Buratto wins the “Steampunk Hipster” award for his delightfully high, feathery crop of curls and long sideburns; they would turn into mutton-chops if he gave them half a chance. Put him in costume, and he could slide right into a role in Wild Wild West or Sherlock Holmes.
  • Russia’s Nikolay Khozyainov’s thick strawberry-blond curls are straight from one of the “teen angels” in a Botticelli painting—or perhaps Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet? (Backstage at the Cliburn, he also has the nickname “Li’l Mozart,” due in part to the hair.)
  • Our music critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs said it first: “Sean Chen has Justin Bieber hair.”This American pianist is the king of the swoopy-bang style, but his “do” is surprisingly versatile: at exciting moments, he can comb it straight back with his fingers into an Asian warrior look.
  • American Alex McDonald’s classic cut reminds us of Robert Redford in The Way We Were. Barbra Streisand would want to brush it back with her hand.
  • Australian/British pianist Jayson Gillham had a red moptop of springy curls in his official photo, like a live-wire young Doctor Who. He’s brushed them smoother for the competition—but they were loosening up nicely during the Chopin in his first preliminary round. Gillham also gets a special award for “Best Fashion Touch” (men’s division) for his classy red shirt in the first preliminary round, a welcome, vivid touch of color in a sea of black and white.
  • Kuan-Ting Lin (Taiwan) and Ruoyu Huang (China) both have a fashionable, brushed-forward hairstyle with spiked bangs cantilevered out over the forehead, but never touching it—a kind of modified “Mod” style.
  • Long, eyebrow-brushing bangs—à la Harry Potter, or maybe the Beatles—seem to be trending, too, with Poland’s Marcin Koziak sporting this style, as well as Chile’s Gustavo Miranda-Bernales and maybe American Steven Lin—though his hair tends to the Bieber-esque as well.
  • Italy’s Alessandro Deljavan sports the popular almost-shaved look, with beard and hair cropped fairly close to the skin. Onstage it’s intriguing, as if he had only the shadow of a hairstyle and beard.

OK, so the Cliburn isn’t about the hair; it’s about the artistry and the music. But this isn’t the first time great pianists and their wonderful locks have made hearts beat faster. A look back:

  • Once pianists emerged from powdered wigs at the end of the 18th century, all hairstyling bets were off. Beethoven’s lion-like mane of hair (our picture shows him on a good day!) was in fashion, but still a style he made his own—natural, strong, a bit untamed, with a touch of the Byronic.
  • Delacroix’s painting of Chopin shows him in long, carefully brushed back curls—a style fashionable yet Romantic. No wonder the ladies wanted to take him home and mother him.
  • Franz Liszt was the Mick Jagger of his heyday in the 1800s: women fainted, and fought over pieces of clothing or broken piano strings. Here he is at the height of his fame, with a sleek bobbed hairdo swept off a glorious forehead.
  • For decades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, moms told their musical sons to “be a Paderewski.” This world-famous Polish pianist’s hair evolved over time, from the feathery curls of his early years (our picture) to the renowned mane of swept-back hair he carried through the prime of his career.
  • And closer to home, Van Cliburn’s signature brushy curls were a sensation in Moscow in 1958. Though not a “rad” hair style, it was a bit out of the ordinary for young American men of the time—and became so famous that a silhouette of his profile and hair were instantly recognizable.

And now, back to the serious business of the Cliburn competition: the music. But this was fun; and now, Cliburn guys, you know how the ladies feel when journalists pick apart their performance dresses.  Turning the tables for once? It’s only hair—or do we mean fair?—play. Thanks For Reading

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Hair Apparent
What’s up with the bangs, curls, and “Bieber hair” on some of the Cliburn’s fine young pianists? We combed Bass Hall for the best ’do’s of the competition, and look back at the past.
by Jan Farrington

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