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“It’s not cut-throat, like the big Cliburn,” says Jacques Marquis, president

and CEO of the Van Cliburn Foundation, soon to mount the International Junior Piano Competition at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. “Everybody can play everything.

The kids are so good, so young. We don’t launch careers. We put an atmosphere around them and let them grow.

We give them an international perspective and vision, and do everything we can to open their minds to the real life of touring [while] practicing every day. They are like a big sponge.”

All this “raw talent,” as Jacques puts it, 24 competitors in all, plus 14 additional participants in the festival, ages 13 to 17,

will pitch camp on or about May 31 in dormitories on the campus, the better to create a real community.

Friendships are likely to last well beyond the final concert on June 8, 2019,

when the top three winners will play at the Meyerson Symphony Center with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra,

conducted by Ruth Reinhardt, a winner herself who’s well on her way to an important career at the podium.

“We want the surrounding to be perfect for the musicians,” Jacques insists. With Ruth Reinhardt and the DSO in the Meyerson it will be.

There will be master classes and chamber groups for the visiting prodigies

(many having begun serious piano study sometimes as young as age four, according to Jacques, and no later than nine)

along with sessions on stagecraft, social media, and how to meet donors after the show.

For fun, they’ll hit venues such as NorthPark Center and Klyde Warren Park, where the final round will be simulcast,

and host families will also make sure the kids sample some Texas eateries.

But the main attraction is music. For that, Jacques Marquis has assembled a jury from around the world.

“I chose the jury members,” he tells me at his office in downtown Fort Worth, “and I want them nice.” Moreover, he adds, “they give all their comments to the kids afterwards.”

The idea is to be as helpful as possible. That’s what nice means.

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