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Renowned concert pianist Van Cliburn has passed away of bone cancer. He was 78.
Cliburn was a child prodigy who enrolled in Juilliard at 17 and made his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 20.
But Cliburn took the world by storm in 1958 when he won the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. The competition was intended to show Soviet supremacy in music but Cliburn’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachimaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 made a fan even of Nikita Khrushchev.
Upon his return to the United States, Cliburn received a ticker tape parade and the cover of Time Magazine (when the cover of Time actually meant something). His recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 went triple platinum. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Cliburn’s popularity rivaled that of Elvis Presley. Yet Cliburn was equally popular in the Soviet Union and performed there and throughout the world over the next 20 years.
After a decade long absence, Cliburn was brought out of retirement by President Reagan who invited him to the White House in 1987 to perform during Mikhail Gorbachev’s first visit to the United States. He subsequently returned to active performing and made a new generation of fans in both the West and the East.
I leave you with Cliburn performing the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
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