In 1958, 23-year-old American pianist Van Cliburn won the International Tchaikovsky Competition and became an idol in the Soviet Union and in the United States at the same time. With this victory, he proved that music has no boundaries, that art is above political contradictions. In a sense, Van Cliburn has become a symbol of a warming relationship between the two superpowers.
Van Cliburn before his first trip to Moscow
Van Cliburn (full name - Harvey Laban Cliburn) was born in 1934 in the United States in Shreveport, Louisiana. However, soon his entire family moved to Texas (and it was this land that the musician eventually considered his small homeland).
The first music lessons for the boy from the age of three were given by his mother - she herself was a pianist. When the gifted young man turned seventeen, he managed to enter the prestigious Juilliard School, where the famous Rosina Levina became his music teacher (by the way, she was educated at the Moscow Conservatory). In 1954, Van Cliburn graduated from his training course, won the Leventritt Competition, and was given the opportunity to play with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Then the young pianist toured the country for about four years. His performances were undoubtedly talented, but this was not enough to gain really great popularity.
The phenomenal success of the American pianist
In 1958, Van Cliburn's teacher Rosina Levina helped win him a scholarship to travel to the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. And this largely predetermined the further biography of the musician.
Van Cliburn's performance at this competition of works by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff amazed both the audience in the audience and the respected jury. As a result, he was unanimously awarded first place. And this despite the fact that the competition was held at the height of the Cold War, and the pianist came from the United States. He received his winner's medal from the hands of Dmitry Shostakovich himself.
When Van Cliburn returned to his home country, he was given a ceremonial ride in a roofless convertible in New York. At the same time, numerous fans showered the happy musician with flowers and confetti.
In 1958, the RCA Victor label signed a contract with the pianist and released his album with the recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Soon, this album received platinum status and was awarded a Grammy award.
From 1960 to 1972, Cliburn toured the USSR as many as four times, and these tours always had a huge stir - the Soviet audience adored this lanky Texan. And he, in turn, also treated the Soviet Union and its inhabitants with warmth.
Of course, among the fans of the pianist were not only ordinary listeners, but also the mighty of this world. Van Cliburn has spoken for several US presidents over the course of his career, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, as well as heads of state in Asia, Latin America and Europe.
Career decline, final years and death
At some point, interest in the work of Van Cliburn began to fade. This was due to the relative scarcity of the repertoire, the lack of noticeable growth, and a number of other reasons. In 1978, after the death of his father, the musician and his mother (by this time, by the way, he had not married, and he also had no children) moved to a fashionable mansion in Texas and practically stopped concert activity.
After that, Van Cliburn, as before, continued to engage in various charitable projects. In 1989, it was he who gave the first funds to organize the New Names program in the USSR, aimed at supporting young musicians.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Van Cliburn visited Russia several times. For example, in 2004 he performed in our country with several concerts dedicated to the memory of victims of terrorism. During this trip, he also met with Vladimir Putin - the Russian President awarded the famous pianist with the Order of Friendship. In 2009, Van Cliburn gave a music master class in Moscow, and in 2011 he arrived in the capital of the Russian Federation to head the jury of the very Tchaikovsky Competition, which he once, back in 1958, won brilliantly.
In 2012, the musician was diagnosed with advanced bone cancer during examination. And in February 2013 he died from this serious illness. About 1,500 people attended the Van Cliburn funeral service at the Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.