A Surprise in Texas borders on what a documentary can offer an audience. On one level the movie offers up renditions of some of the best solo and group piano performances captured on film. On the other hand the film telegraphs ahead of time the very aspect that makes it somewhat suspenseful. A Surprise in Texas revolves around the unique contest of piano perfection known as the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

The young musicians come from around the world assemble for the finals in Fort Worth Texas. If I were in the audience when the contestants are going through the melodic rounds, and there are three, it would be a listener’s delight. As it stands the piano excerpts in the movie are the highpoint. The players include blind Nobuyuki Tsujii from Japan, Haochen Zhang and Di Wu from China, Yeol Eum Son from South Korea, there are others.

Director Peter Rosen has filmed other Cliburn events and he alternated between the live presentations, talking head shots of the contestants that are accentuated by flash frames like they’re saying something cool when they’re not, and the side story of Nobuyuki’s patron parents. There’s far too much footage of this well meaning but ultimately boring couple.

As the movie revolves more and more around Nobuyuki it comes as little surprise that he wins. Kind of, the grand prize is a two-way tie. Music lovers and piano players will appreciate a Surprise in Texas best.

— Michael Bergeron