Van Cliburn Dies at 78

Van Cliburn, July 12, 1934 – February 27, 2013

Pianist Van Cliburn won the inaugural 1958 Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. An American win at the height of the Cold War was a stunning upset.

The New York Times’ obit describes the reactions:

When Mr. Cliburn returned to New York, he was given a ticker-tape parade in Lower Manhattan, which offered the sight of about 100,000 people lining the streets and cheering a classical musician. In a ceremony at City Hall, Mayor Robert F. Wagner proclaimed that Mr. Cliburn’s accomplishment was “a dramatic testimonial to American culture” and that “with his two hands, Van Cliburn struck a chord which has resounded around the world, raising our prestige with artists and music lovers everywhere.”

That was just over 50 years ago. It’s not hard to  imagine a ticker tape parade down Broadway today for somebody winning a classical piano competition. It’s impossible.

The clip above is Van Cliburn’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 during the competition. I am not familiar with how concert audiences react in general, but the applause and Van Cliburn’s reaction seem overwhelming.

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