Just received a very cool e mail from a friend ~
Hi ya all
I was reading about the international Van Cliburn classical piano competition that is being held now in Fort Worth, Texas. Impressed with the dedication of these young people, it led me to go back and refresh my memory about Van Cliburn himself.
And what a story it was! The year was 1958, in the middle of the "Cold War" between the US and Russia. The McCarthy hearings were looking for Communists under every bed, while the Russians had just won the "Space Race" by launching their Sputnik satellite ahead of the Americans. It was at this time that the First International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition was being held in Moscow. And a tall, gangly, naive young Texan who loved and had been trained in the romantic Russian tradition was on his way to compete.
The 23-year-old Van Cliburn seemed oblivious to any political tensions. His mother, a classical pianist herself, had taught him from a young age, and at 17, he had then gone on to train with a Russian teacher at Juilliard. He connected so closely and genuinely with the Russian musical spirit that the Russians responded in kind.
By the time of his third and final round in the competition, all tickets were sold out, there was no standing room, and people were thronged outside in the streets. The Russians gave him a standing ovation that lasted 8 minutes. Worried about giving the prize to an American, the judges consulted Premier Kruschev himself, who asked, "Is Cliburn the best?" They replied that he was. "Then, in that case, give him the Prize!" declared Kruschev.
When Van Cliburn returned to the US, for the first time in history, New York City gave a classical pianist a ticker-tape parade. Cliburn was featured on the cover of Time magazine as "The Texan Who Conquered Russia." But this was no political victory. It was a victory of the spirit. It was Van Cliburn's "naivete," his openness, and willingness to connect to his art that transcended all boundaries. This is a trait we all need to develop and keep alive. So let your light shine.