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"After a magical Moscow spring in 1958, Mr. Cliburn's fame eclipsed even those musical contemporaries, rivaling that of another young superstar of his time, Elvis Presley."

Van Cliburn, Classical Music’s “Elvis,” Dies at Fort Worth Home

The pianist, who has been battling bone cancer for months, died this morning at his home outside Fort Worth. He was 78. From the Star-Telegram obituary:

Van Cliburn’s talent alone might have earned him a place among the 20th-century giants of his instrument, alongside classical pianists like Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz. But after a magical Moscow spring in 1958, Mr. Cliburn’s fame eclipsed even those musical contemporaries, rivaling that of another young superstar of his time, Elvis Presley.

Mr. Cliburn was “The Texan Who Conquered Russia,” according to aTime magazine cover. At the height of the Cold War, the lanky 23-year-old from East Texas traveled to Moscow and won the first Tchaikovsky International Competition, an event created to showcase Soviet cultural superiority. Mr. Cliburn’s unlikely triumph was thus said to bring a thaw in tensions between the rival superpowers and created a mythic parable about the power of art to unite mankind.

The 14th installment of the piano competition named after the musician kicks off this May.

Here’s the release from the foundation:

VAN CLIBURN HAS DIED PEACEFULLY IN HIS FORT WORTH HOME

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Fort Worth, Texas, February 27, 2013-It is with great sadness that Carla Kemp Thompson, chairman of the Van Cliburn Foundation, acknowledges the death of Van Cliburn. Mr. Cliburn died peacefully in his home in Fort Worth, Texas, surrounded by loved ones, on February 27, 2013.

The cause of death was bone cancer. Van Cliburn was 78 years old (born July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, Louisiana – died February 27, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas). He is survived by his friend of long standing, Thomas L. Smith.

Said Thompson: “Van was a treasured member of the Fort Worth community who belonged to the world. His legacy is one of being a great humanitarian, a great musician, a great colleague, and a great friend to all who knew and loved him. Van is iconic, and we at the Van Cliburn Foundation join the international community in mourning the loss of a true giant.”

The Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano, taking place May 24-June 9, 2013, at Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall, is dedicated to the memory of Van Cliburn.

For funeral information: Thompson’s Harveson & Cole, 702 8th Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas 76104, 817.336.0345

ABOUT VAN CLIBURN
Van Cliburn is an American hero. He was hailed as one of the most persuasive ambassadors of American culture, as well as one of the greatest pianists in the history of music. With his historic 1958 victory at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War, Van Cliburn tore down cultural barriers years ahead of glasnost and perestroika, transcending politics by demonstrating the universality of classical music.

Returning home from Moscow, Mr. Cliburn received a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time a classical musician was ever honored with the highest tribute possible by the City of New York. Upon Mr. Cliburn’s invitation, Kiril Kondrashin, the conductor with whom the pianist had played his prizewinning performances, came from Moscow to repeat the celebrated concert program with Van Cliburn at Carnegie Hall in New York, at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, and in Washington, D.C. Their recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, made during Kondrashin’s visit, was the first classical recording ever to be awarded a platinum record and has now sold well over three million copies.

Following his triumph in Moscow, Mr. Cliburn played in several cities in the Soviet Union. From that time on, he toured widely and frequently with every important orchestra and conductor, in the most renowned international concert halls. Mr. Cliburn toured the Soviet Union many times between 1960 and 1972 for extended periods. He made numerous timeless and beloved recordings, including many major piano concerti and a wide variety of solo repertoire.

Early in his career, a group of friends and admirers began the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition as a living legacy to Mr. Cliburn’s constant efforts to aid the development of young artists. The first competition was held in 1962.

In 1987, at the invitation of President Ronald Reagan, Mr. Cliburn performed a formal recital in the East Room of the White House during the State Visit honoring Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s general secretary. Two years later, and 31 years after his triumph at the Tchaikovsky Competition, Mr. Cliburn returned to the Soviet Union to perform at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory and in the Philharmonic Hall of Leningrad.

Carnegie Hall requested that he play for its 100th anniversary season as soloist with the New York Philharmonic. Over the years, Mr. Cliburn opened many U.S. concert halls, including the famous I. M. Pei Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas; Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth; the Lied Center for the Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska; and the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Springs, California.

Mr. Cliburn was an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London. He received more than 20 honorary doctorate degrees. He provided scholarships at many schools, including The Juilliard School, the Cincinnati Conservatory, Texas Christian University, Louisiana State University, the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and the Moscow Conservatory.

Mr. Cliburn performed for every President of the United States, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, and for royalty and heads of state in Europe, Asia, and South America. He received Kennedy Center Honors and the Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award. In a 2004 Kremlin ceremony he received the Order of Friendship from President Vladimir Putin, and in 2003, President George W. Bush bestowed upon him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Barack Obama honored Mr. Cliburn with the National Medal of Arts in a ceremony at the White House in 2011. Watch the video here.

Van Cliburn was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on July 12, 1934. His father, Harvey Lavan Cliburn, was an executive with Magnolia Petroleum, now ExxonMobil. At the age of 3, he began piano studies with his mother, Rildia Bee O’Bryan Cliburn, a talented student of Arthur Friedheim, who was a pupil of Franz Liszt. He was 12 when he made his orchestral debut with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. After graduating from Kilgore High School in the spring of 1951, we went on to study with Madame Rosina Lhevinne at the famed Juilliard School in New York City.

Prior to his win at the Tchaikovsky Competition, Van Cliburn won the Levintritt Competition in 1954, which had not awarded a first-place prize since 1949. The prestigious Levintritt Competition offered important appearances with such major orchestras as Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, as well as a coveted New York Philharmonic debut with the great Dimitri Mitropoulos, which took place in Carnegie Hall on November 14, 1954.

For more information on Van Cliburn and the Van Cliburn Foundation, visit Cliburn.org.

 

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