Artist to Watch: Kenny Broberg

The Park University student won a silver medal in the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Kenny Broberg, a graduate student at Park University’s International Center for Music, won the silver medal in the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition this June, one of the most prestigious competitions in the world.

“[Broberg] personified the tradition that mingles the profound elements of classical music with the show-biz aspect Liszt and his disciples cultivated,” described a reviewer for “Theater Jones.”

At 23 years old, he was one of the younger competitors at the event, but he is a seasoned performer, having won international competitions at both Hastings (England) and Dallas, placed in competitions in Seattle, Sydney and New Orleans, and performed with orchestras all over the world, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Sydney Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Dallas Chamber Orchestra and Louisiana Philharmonic, as well as in solo and chamber recitals.

[block pos=”right”] “Music isn’t sound; it uses sound to tell a story of emotional progression.”
— Kenny Broberg [/block]

“I try to think of [competition] as the same as performing,” said Broberg. “You can never really do that, but as much as possible I try to approach it the same as any other performance.”

The competition, held every four years, is an intense two-and-a-half-week event with four rounds of elimination and six personal performances, including solo recitals, chamber music and concertos with full orchestra. Broberg entered the competition at the suggestion of his teacher at ICM, Stanislav Ioudenitch, who won the gold medal at the Cliburn in 2001.

“He believes in me probably more than I believe in myself, so he wanted me to trust myself and do what I naturally do.”

Ioudenitch went with Broberg to Fort Worth before the competition started, giving him lessons and advice, but then had to fly to Austria to adjudicate a different competition. During the first round, Broberg’s teacher from Houston, Nancy Weems, was in the audience to support him, and his teacher from Minneapolis, Joseph Zins, came for the second round, while thousands more watched the live broadcast on medici.tv. Ioudenitch made it back to Texas for Broberg’s final concerto, coming straight from the airport to the performance.

Despite the stress and hubbub of the event, Broberg kept his focus. He skipped the parties and social events, going to Bass Hall to perform and then back to his host family’s home to practice.

But he enjoyed himself, too, venturing to admit that he felt like he was “creating music” during his performance of Franz Liszt’s Sonata in b minor, high personal praise for a necessarily self-critical artist.

[block pos=”right”] Winning silver isn’t just about bragging rights. The prize includes $25,000, three years of management, a promotional package with a website and social media presence, and a recording deal. [/block]

For Broberg, it is so much more than being note perfect every time. “When I really feel like I’m telling a story . . . that’s what music is.

“Music isn’t sound; it uses sound to tell a story of emotional progression.”

Broberg plans to keep Parkville as a home base, at least for the foreseeable future, continuing to study with Ioudenitch and practice in the Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel, attending shows at the Kauffman Center or the Green Lady Lounge (he doesn’t play jazz, but he loves to listen to it). The curriculum at Park is designed to be flexible and facilitate budding careers, so paper deadlines don’t get in the way of practicing or, say, an international concert performance.

Winning silver isn’t just about bragging rights. The prize includes $25,000, three years of management, a promotional package with a website and social media presence, and a recording deal. “It’s really a very good situation for me because it helps me to grow into a concert career,” Broberg said. “The Cliburn is very careful about not giving you too much or overloading you right at once.”

It’s the start of a career, but a continuation of the goal Broberg has had since he was six years old. “I always wanted to be a musician. I was never really interested in anything else,” said Broberg. “I originally wanted to be a composer and play for kings and queens, like Mozart did.” He credits his early exposure to his grandfather’s love of classical music. “I used to get in his lap and listen to opera when I was a couple years old,” he explained. “I loved it and I was curious about it. I wanted to learn more.”

He will also rely on Ioudenitch’s mentorship to navigate other elements of a career, including wardrobe. (Before the competition, Ioudenitch determined none of Broberg’s suits was good enough, so he loaned him his specially-made Armani tuxedo. They planned to fly to Italy in August to get Broberg his own bespoke attire.)

He spent a few weeks in July at home in Minneapolis, to celebrate and recuperate with family, taking in a Twins game, but his commitments for the Cliburn started right away. Cliburn flew him to New York City right after the competition for a performance at WQXR and he had more appearances during July and August.

Local audiences’ first chance to see him perform is a Sept. 10 solo recital at the Folly Theater, as part of the International Center for Music’s concert series.

Kenny Broberg will perform at 4 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Folly Theater. For more information and tickets, www.follytheater.org

Above: photo by Jim Barcus

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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