Farewell to: Van Cliburn, American Classical Pianist

Van Cliburn and James Levine

Van Cliburn and James Levine, playing together the piano at a very young age

Last Wednesday, February 27th, 2013, famous pianist Van Cliburn passed away at his home in Fort Worth, Texas. He was 78. Van Cliburn became a huge sensation in 1958, when at age 23 he won the first place in the First International Tchaikovsky Competition – Piano category in Moscow. This is one of the most reputable piano competitions in the world. This was viewed then as an American triumph over the Soviet Union at the peak of the cold war.

Van Cliburn developed an international career as a concert pianist, and in 1962 the First Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was held in Fort Worth, Texas, created by teachers in his honor. Van Cliburn himself was until his death the Director of the Van Cliburn Foundation, who hosts this internationally renowned competition. Held every 4 years, 13 editions have taken place since 1962, with the 14th being planned for 2017. By looking at the list of winners, we can mention Radu Lupu and Ralph Votapek, among others.

Van Cliburn gave concerts througout all his life, although his concert performances were very sporadic after the late 1970s when his father and his manager died. He left many great recordings, and will always be remembered for them, and for being a cultural hero. The Wall Street Journal once called him “the rare classical musician who enjoys rock star status”.

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