Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Van Cliburn

I had a fun class at Mountain View College in Dallas this morning, but in the middle of it, I learned via news on my smartphone that local pianist and icon Van Cliburn had passed away.  He'd suffered with bone cancer for the past view months, so his passing was expected but still sad.

Van Cliburn first came to prominence in 1958 when he did what was previously thought impossible:  he, an American, won the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.  I attended a concert on December 31, 1990 in which he played with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, and the experience of seeing him play his signature piece, Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, live is something that I will never forget.  I also attended the first official baseball game ever played at the Texas Rangers' Ballpark in Arlington in 1994, and Van Cliburn and the Fort Worth Symphony played the National Anthem before the game.  That remains the most amazing rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" that I've ever heard.

And some time in 1998, I was shopping for DVDs at a BestBuy close to my apartment.  When I turned to look at another rack, I was surprised to see Van Cliburn standing next to me.  I said, "Excuse me, but you look just like Van Cliburn."  He smiled, offered his hand, and said, "That's because I am Van Cliburn."  We had a nice little conversation, and I told him about the times I had seen him play.  He remembered that New Year's Eve concert very fondly.

Here's video of Van Cliburn playing the first ten minutes of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, taken in Moscow during his return trip there in 1962.  I wish I could find video of the entire piece, but this will have to do.  Rest in Peace Van Cliburn.

ADDENDUM:  I know I posted this last week, but I have to add an addendum here.  I found a video of that National Anthem performance at the opening of the Ballpark in Arlington, attached to the article here:

1 comment:

  1. He was a big deal when I was a kid. Van Cliburn and Leonard Bernstein introduced me to classical music.