Musings on Van Cliburn
He was a phenomenon. He was a larger than life personality. He was a genuine American hero. He was a gifted pianist who brought world attention to American classical music. He was the quintessential Southern gentleman -- a tall Texan who conquered the hearts of the Soviet and American public when both nations stared at each other grimly across a political divide.
He was the first musician to receive a New York ticker tape parade when he returned to the US following his winning the prestigious International Tchaikowsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.
And yet, many musicians and critics felt he never lived to fulfill the potential that lay before him.
He was a gracious, giving personality who easily won the hearts of everyone he met.
He had his quirks: he hated being early for his own concerts, preferring to arrive a few minutes past concert time, doff his coat, stride on stage, sit down at the piano and begin playing the National Anthem. When everyone resumed their seats, he began the concert.
I recall being invited with my mentor, Aaron Richmond, by Van Ciburn's then American concert manager, William Judd of Columbia Artists, to his apartment to hear a young pianist they had signed with the hopes that we might book him in recital. This was in the period just before he left for the Moscow competition. Little did I know what would follow in the next few months.
Within a year or so, we were presenting Van Cliburn in recital in Boston to an adoring public which filled every seat in Symphony Hall with an overflow on the stage, while hundreds of would-be ticket buyers were turned away.
I feel blessed indeed to have had the opportunity to share in presenting Van Cliburn in recital in Boston on over a dozen occasions.
Au revoir, Van -- we loved you dearly.Walter Pierce
Walter Pierce was Executive Director of Celebrity Series of Boston from 1965 to 1996. The Celebrity Series presented Van Cliburn 8 times under his leadership.