July 12, 1934 – February 27, 2013
Here’s one reflection by pianist Jorge Federico Osorio:
It is with great sadness that WFMT marks the passing of one of America’s great cultural icons: pianist Van Cliburn. It was 55 years ago that the soft-spoken Texan rocketed to international stardom, winning the gold medal at the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition at the height of the Cold War. He’s since been a much-loved artist and advocate for young pianists through the piano competition that bears his name, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
Here are some WFMT listener remembrances. Share your story ideas, questions or comments below.
I heard you were asking for stories about Van Cliburn. I danced the Virginia Reel with him!!! In 1961, I was at Interlochen Music Camp, enrolled in the University Division through U of Michigan. Van Cliburn was there performing a concert with the high school symphony orchestra. After the concert, the university division invited him to a little party in our headquarters down by the lakefront. We decided to dance the Virginia Reel and he danced with us. Lots of fun that day!
Another Interlochen story
In the summer of 1964 I was accompanying in the voice department at Interlochen. Our important guest of the summer was Van Cliburn, who was treated like rock stars are now. He graciously, even enjoyably, handed out autographs and chatted with students. He also played concerts, I think twice. He was very gracious, and a magnificent pianist!
The summer of 1958, I drove into NYC to hear Van Cliburn play at Lewisohn Stadium, with the Stadium Symphony Ocrhestra (NYP). I was a junior in high school. There were no advanced ticket sales in those days and the lines went around the block — the whole block! I didn’t get into the concert, but I was standing right next to Cliburn’s limo when it pulled up to the stage door. The limo door opened and I could look right in at him, sitting there, rubbing his hands together. He got out, waved and went inside. I still have the original LP and a few re-issues.
When I was a little girl I often said that I would marry either Van Cliburn or Jacques Cousteau. I thought Van was dreamy and I loved how he played the piano. I used to put his album on and sit at the piano and try to play along with him – which, of course, I could NOT do – but I did throw my head around dramatically and lift my hands up high at the end with a flourish.
I attended a Van Cliburn concert at Orchestra Hall (Reiner conducting) in spring 1963. It was an electrifying performance (for me, at least) and memorable because it was my graduation year from Northwestern University. It was a gift from a fraternity brother, also a June 1963 graduate. He was a journalism major and had lined up a job as a science writer for the Chicago Tribune. I was off to France to study history. It was the last time that we spent time together, The fates (and our jobs) took us in different directions.
I was a young piano student studying with Sister Ann Celeen at Holy Angels Grade School in Gary and I remember hearing Van Cliburn on television. It was perhaps the Ed Sullivan show and he played the Chopin Polonaise, opus 53. It was masterful and inspiring.
I had been practicing the Chopin Military Polonaise on page 32 in my Chopin book, and Van Cliburn was playing the Polonaise on page 36 — the next piece in the book. Immediately I began to practice the opus 53. He truly inspired me that day.
Van Cliburn….A friend and I got 4th row tickets for a Cliburn concert at Wheaton college in the 70’s….keyboard site line. During a selection playing a piece in f#, the F# above middle C came off. He finished that movement, stood up and showed the F# to the audience. With laughter and roar of approval, the technician came on the stage, fixed it, and after a short intermission Cliburn returned. Don’t remember the titles or much else, but he was just laughing as he was holding up the key.
I was a freshman at Wheaton College and Van Cliburn came to perform in one of the Artist Series concerts in Edman Chapel (this would have been 1969 or 1970) It was, of course a thrilling evening of beautiful music. While reading the review of the concert in the Tribune the next morning my dad, who had attended the concert with me, saw that apparently one of the keys on the Steinway became loose during one of the pieces and Van Cliburn seamlessly transposed (mid-piece) to a key which would not require using that particular piano key. Only his mother, who was in the audience and to whom the reviewer allegedly spoke, knew what was happening. I never checked out the story with the piano dept at Wheaton. I’ve often wished I did!
I first heard his recording of the Brahms” 2nd Piano Concerto the summer before I was starting college as a piano major. In the spring of 1994 I met Van Cliburn at the book signing for his biography by Howard Reich. I have a cherished photo taken that day, as well as, the signed LP recording and piano score of the Brahms. For our June anniversary that same year, my husband, Ken, surprised me with front row tickets for the Grant Park concert when Van Cliburn played the Tchaikovsky piano concerto. I think he had a fondness for Chicago especially with his good friends, the Paul Harvey family, living here. The Rachmaninoff 3rd, as well as, the Brahms 2nd, are my favorite Cliburn recordings.
Van Cliburn came on stage, stepped to the footlights, and asked the audience not to applaud after his first number, in order to observe a moment of silence in tribute to the memory of Dimitri Mitropoulos, who had died earlier that day. It was November 2, 1960, at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, where I was a freshman at the University of Michigan. Mr. Cliburn was 26 years old, barely two years after his Moscow triumph.
I certainly knew about Van Cliburn wining the piano competition- everybody did, even little kids whe were just taking piano lessons. Ten years later when I was in college, my roomate’s fiance had an extra ticket to hear Van Cliburn play in St Louis. I don’t remember which pieces he did, but it was my first concert hall experience and , other than my mother playing at home, my first exposure to live classical music.I was hooked. 45 years later and I am still here.
I was present at the two concerts that Cliburn gave in Grant Park. The first was immediately after his Moscow triumph and the second was on the 6oth Anniversary of the festival. It always mystified me how why and how his opening chords of the Tshaikowsky First was so absolutely unique. The obituary in the New York Times made that clear with their movie of him in Moscow during his prize winning concert. Not only were his hands big, but more importantly, he banged them sraight down on the piano. Mystery solved.
I am 64 years old. When I was in 7th grade I took a music appreciation class for a semester. I don’t know that much about Van Cliburn, but during the class we listened and discussed all aspects of 3 pieces of music, West Side Story, New World Symphony, and The Van Cliburn version of the Piano Concerto in Bb minor that won the 1st Tchaikowsky competition in Moscow. I still love all 3 pieces a music, but the only one that I still have in my collection and that I listen to fairly regularly is Van Cliburn. I love the music and the passion with which it’s played. I’ve heard many other musicians play it but none compare to Van Cliburn. I will definitely listen to it sometime today. Good bye dear friend.
I was attending Western Illinois University in 1970 when Van Cliburn gave a concert there. I don’t remember much about the concert exvept that afterwards my friend with whom I attended the concert suggested we try for an autograph. Some how I got pushed to the front of the crowd and had my program autographed. I still have it somewhere!
I have three wonderful memories of Van Cliburn: When he played in Grant Park 54 years ago – I was only 14 then; when he made an appearance at the old Rose Records Store on Wabash, where he, most graciously, autographed all 18 CDs that I have of music he had recorded and his autobiography; and when he appeared at Ravinia, I believe, in the summer of 2005 playing the Grieg op. 16.
R I P Mr. Cliburn.
In the summer of 1961 I attended the Interlochen Summer Camp playing bassoon with the Michigan’s state orchestra. Mr. Van Cliburn was at the camp at the same time we were there. As I walked down the walk on my way to practices, I passed by the cottage that he was either practicing in or staying in. It had large windows on the front that opened out to the walk way. A number of times he was sitting right by the windows at his piano playing away. I was so in awe of his music that I just stood there listening, even risking being late for practice.