Playing the piano at age 5 certainly wasn't Vadym Kholodenko's idea, but after his mother took him to a music school, he quickly grew to love it while growing up in Kiev, Ukraine.
"She thought I had potential in music, but she never pushed me, which is very important in childhood," said Kholodenko, 26, who now attends the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where he also is an assistant teacher.
On Sunday, Kholodenko won the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which is among the top showcases for the world's best pianists.
Beatrice Rana, 20, of Italy, placed second and also won the audience award, and Sean Chen, 24, of Oak Park, Calif., placed third. The other three finalists were Fei-Fei Dong, 22, of China; Nikita Mndoyants, 24, of Russia; and Tomoki Sakata, 19, of Japan.
The winner receives $50,000, a live recording of his or her competition performances, a studio recording and performance attire. The second- and third-prize winners both receive $20,000 and a live recording of their competition performances. The other three each receive $10,000, and all six finalists receive three years of concert management.
The competition held every four years started May 24 with 30 competitors. Some Fort Worth teachers and residents who wanted to honor Cliburn created the contest in 1962, four years after he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. His 1958 victory helped thaw the icy rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, and Cliburn gained worldwide fame and rock-star status.
Cliburn died in February at age 78 at his Fort Worth home after battling bone cancer. He was never a judge in the competition bearing his name but presented awards to winners.
"This competition continues to be what Van wanted: support to young, excellent artists who want to share their art with wider audiences," said Cliburn's president and chief executive Jacques Marquis. "They bring to the classical world a new voice."
People around the world watched performances online, and fans raved on social media about their favorite competitors. During the entire contest, the Cliburn's webcast had about half a million page views, more than twice the amount in the previous competition, in 2009, according to competition officials.
Kholodenko said he was glad his mother in Kiev could watch all of his performances online and his pianist wife could watch as she remained in Moscow with their toddler daughter.
"She tried not to criticize too much because she understood the pressure," he told The Associated Press after winning Sunday night, referring to his wife. "She was supportive, like all of my family and friends. ... Before the Mozart (performance Sunday) I had to turn my phone off because I was getting so many calls and texts."
Kholodenko, who had wowed the audience Sunday with his last performance, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, also won Cliburn awards for best performances of a new work and chamber music. Before entering the Cliburn, he won the International Schubert Competition in Dortmund, Germany, in 2012 and the Sendai International Music Competition in 2010.
Rana also won the Cliburn's audience award, voted on by visitors to the contest website. Rana, who started playing the piano at age 4, graduated from the Nino Rota Conservatory of Music and now studies at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover. Last year she released her first CD of works by Scriabin and Chopin. She won the 2011 Montreal International Musical Competition, the Muzio Clementi and Bang & Olufsen piano competitions. She has performed with several orchestras and performed solo recitals.
Chen, the competition's first U.S. finalist since the 1997 contest, earned two degrees from The Juilliard School after turning down offers to attend Harvard and MIT. He won second place at the 2011 Seoul International Music Competition and has won awards at various competitions.
Chen, who now studies at the Yale School of Music, said he thinks social media and education will help keep younger audiences interested in classical music.
"A lot of my friends who were not in music watched the Cliburn ... and it's because they had me as a friend and I exposed them to it," Chen said. "People don't hate classical music; they're never introduced to it. So education and encouraging the study of it" will help.