News / Arts & Entertainment

Classical Pianist Van Cliburn Dies

Van Cliburn performing during at a concert dedicated to the memory of the victims of the recent Beslan school massacre in Moscow, Sept 21, 2004.
Van Cliburn performing during at a concert dedicated to the memory of the victims of the recent Beslan school massacre in Moscow, Sept 21, 2004.
TEXT SIZE - +
Mary Morningstar, Doug LevineKatherine Cole
Classical pianist Van Cliburn died February 27 at age 78 (born July 12, 1934).  The legendary performer was only 23 years old when he captured the world's attention by winning the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. In addition to performing decades of concerts and recording numerous albums, he fostered the careers of young artists by creating several scholarship programs and establishing the annual Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.  

In 1958, Van Cliburn became an instant celebrity when he won the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. It caused a sensation for an American to win a Russian competition during the tense standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union known as the Cold War. Van Cliburn’s triumph in the competition was celebrated not only by Americans, but by Russians. New York Times Moscow correspondent Max Frankel covered the competition and later wrote that “The Soviet public celebrated Cliburn not only for his artistry but for his nationality; affection for him was a safe expression of affection for America.”

Classical Pianist Van Cliburn Dies
Classical Pianist Van Cliburn Diesi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Van Cliburn won the competition on the strength of his performance of the Tchaikovsky's "Concerto No. 1."  

When he returned to the U.S., RCA Records released Van Cliburn’s debut album containing the prize-winning work.  The LP won a Grammy Award and sold more than one million copies, making Cliburn the first American artist to achieve platinum status with a debut release.  Van Cliburn demonstrated his profound love of the music he performed, but felt its popularity went beyond his technical abilities.  

"If you take a great piece of music into your heart, you take it for its great spiritual value," said Van Cliburn. "And when you look at a wonderful piece of music, even though it may enjoy popularity, if you examine its pages very carefully, you will find the reason.  And it will always be a very good reason why it is popular.

President Barack Obama presents a 2010 National Medal of Arts to pianist Van Cliburn, March 2, 2011, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.President Barack Obama presents a 2010 National Medal of Arts to pianist Van Cliburn, March 2, 2011, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
x
President Barack Obama presents a 2010 National Medal of Arts to pianist Van Cliburn, March 2, 2011, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
President Barack Obama presents a 2010 National Medal of Arts to pianist Van Cliburn, March 2, 2011, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana on July 12, 1934, Van Cliburn began studying piano at age three with his mother, herself a talented pianist.  Cliburn made his orchestral debut at age 12 with the Houston Symphony and five years later earned a scholarship to New York's prestigious Juilliard School.  Following graduation, he spent several years performing with various major symphony orchestras, which led to his participation in Moscow's First International Tchaikovsky Competition.  Cliburn brought to his performance not only great musicianship and tremendous technical skill, but a determination to please his audience.

"You always want to play well," he said. "You're always hoping to play well.  And if you don't play well, YOU are the unhappiest person.  So, you want to please your audience and you hope that you're being true to the music and also true to those who want to hear you."

Van Cliburn dedicated many years of his life to helping aspiring young artists by creating scholarship programs at schools and universities throughout the world.  In 1962, he established the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.  Over the years, the competition has enhanced the careers of numerous developing musicians.

"It's been so interesting to see the young people come," said Van Cliburn. "They meet each other and have friendships and musical correspondences.  It's really very exciting.  And it's like the same feeling I had when I went to Russia in 1958.  The warmth and camaraderie - it carried through all through the years."

Critics praised Cliburn throughout his long career for his outstanding technical prowess and sense of lyrical romanticism.  The humble virtuoso offered much of the credit for his success to his peers.

"One of the things that has always been an inspiration to me is to go to a concert and be thrilled,"he said. "And to be inspired by another person's successful concert.  We're all so dependent on another person's success."

Van Cliburn found it difficult to balance his personal life with the demands of constant touring.  In the mid-1970s, he abandoned the spotlight. But after 11 years off the stage, Cliburn began performing rare concert appearances, and toured extensively in the 1990s.

He was the recipient of some of the nation’s highest honors, including a Kennedy Center Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, and a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.  Cliburn’s last appearance was in September at the 50th anniversary of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.  Van Cliburn died Wednesday morning in Fort Worth, Texas. He was 78.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Saxophonist Craig Handy has an exciting new band called 2nd Line Smith, which combines the organ-jazz repertoire of Jimmy Smith with the “second line” rhythms of New Orleans parade music. Craig Handy joins "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten at Washington’s Bohemian Caverns jazz club to talk about the music and perform with the band.