From the Cliburn: Catching up with Lindsay Garritson

From the Top is very proud to have six alumni competing in the Van Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, one of whom, Sean Chen, has advanced to the semi-finals round.  Nick Romeo, the author of “Driven: Six Incredible Musical Journeys,” is covering the competition and got a chance to speak with competitor Lindsay Garritson, who appeared on From the Top Show 19 when she was just 12 years old.

Lindsay Garritson at the Cliburn
by Nick Romeo

Lindsay Garritson competes at the Cliburn

Lindsay Garritson competes at the Cliburn. Photo: The Cliburn/Ralph Lauer

Lindsay Garritson is one of six From the Top alumni in the prestigious Cliburn competition this year. Although she did not advance beyond the preliminary round of 30, she found the competition a very positive experience. We caught up by phone after she flew back to New Haven, where she works as an accompanist for the string department at the Yale School of Music.

Q: What was the best part of your experience at the Cliburn?

“The preparation for any big competition really pushes you to refine your playing and expand your repertoire. At the Cliburn, just knowing that I would be playing for a huge international audience motivated me to be at the highest level possible. I really gave it my all. The best moments were when I was in the moment, performing, and I felt that connection and sense of communication with the audience. And I loved all the people I met. My host family was very generous and welcoming. I’m so glad I was part of it.”

Q: What was your preparation like?

“I found out at the end of February that I would be competing. My job as an accompanist is very demanding; I’m responsible for quite a bit of repertoire. So before May, I was probably practicing 4 to 5 hours a day for the competition. After May, it was more like 8 to 10 hours.  You can’t show up prepared for just the preliminary. If you’re prepared for all the rounds, it’s about four hours of music that has to be at a concert level.”

Q: What do you think of competitions in general?

“I did five competitions in the past year. They are very helpful but they also have drawbacks. They give you exposure, lead to connections and concerts, and help you build a career. I feel like I’ve become such a better pianist through all the preparation. It can be frustrating when you have jury members with students in the competition. Even if the voting process accounts for this, it makes you wonder. To be as fair as possible, no jurors should have students in the competition. The other jurors know when a juror has students. I find it hard to believe that there’s no influence.  It’s really hard to just have a career these days, and even winning a huge competition doesn’t guarantee a lasting career. A very small percentage of concert pianists have a full-time career. So competitions can be great to kickstart a career, but they might not sustain one.”

Q: You appeared on From the Top when you were 12. What do you remember from that experience?

“Being on From The Top was an amazing experience. I had never played on the radio before. I loved it. It was definitely a high point growing up. Playing at a high level for a national audience was a big thing for me. It paved the way for playing for wider audiences.”

Q: What are you looking forward to in the next few months?

“I’m going to the Steans institute at Ravinia outside Chicago this summer for five weeks. I will focus on chamber music.”

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not making music?

“I love swimming and being outdoors. I’m also big reader. I like history in particular. I just read a book called Americans in Paris about Americans living during the occupation in Paris.”