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Van Cliburn Reflects on 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition

Master pianist Van Cliburn reflects on his historic victory at the 1958 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow and on the vitality of the classical arts.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    April 1958, a young Texan named Van Cliburn is the surprise winner of the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow.

    Coming just six months after the Soviets launched Sputnik, amid a mounting arms race and heightened Cold War tensions, the performance galvanized the nation and received worldwide attention.

  • NARRATOR:

    New York City adds its own “bravo” to the worldwide crescendo of applause for Van Cliburn.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    On his return to the U.S., the 23-year-old Cliburn was given a ticker-tape parade down Broadway, the only classical musician ever so honored.

  • VAN CLIBURN, Classical Musician:

    I was amazed. And I said, “Well, I think this may be — not for me — but this may be hopefully the grandest moment or a grand moment for classical music.”

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Fifty years later, Van Cliburn lives in a grand home just outside Fort Worth, still very much the tall Texan, as he was so often described back then. He was recently feted by friends with a grand anniversary gala.

  • VAN CLIBURN:

    Classical music, classical art is forever.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And, he says, he remembers every detail of his experience in Moscow.

  • VAN CLIBURN:

    I got off the plane. And there was this very lovely, gracious, nice lady, Henrietta Vileava (ph). And I still know her to this day. And she said, “Mr. Van ‘Clee-burn’?” And I thought, “Yes?” “Welcome to Moscow.”

    So all the time I was there, I never told them that in this country we pronounce it “Van Cliburn.” So have two names, “Van Clee-burn” and Van Cliburn.

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