Goodbye to a Legend
Van Cliburn, the legendary pianist whose eponymous competition has been bringing world-class musicians to Fort Worth for more than 50 years, died on Wednesday. He was 78.
Cliburn was born in Shreveport to an oil company executive father and a classically trained pianist mother. He was raised in Kilgore, where he graduated from Kilgore High School. He attended Juilliard and made his debut with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in 1954.
He became world famous in 1958 when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition at the tender age of 23; Time magazine dubbed him "The Texan Who Conquered Russia." His bravura performance in a Moscow concert hall brought the audience of Russians to their feet and made him a hero of the Cold War era.
Americans, who felt outclassed by Russia, which had launched the Sputnik capsule to lead the race to explore space, declared a cultural victory with Cliburn. He was dubbed the "American Sputnik" and honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York and fan clubs across the nation.
Four years later, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was created to honor the fame that Cliburn had achieved and to give opportunities to other talented pianists to achieve their own fame. The 14th quadrennial competition will be held May 24-June 9, 2013.
Cliburn, who moved from New York to Fort Worth in the 1980s, performed for every American president, starting with Harry S. Truman. He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2003 and the National Medal of the Arts by President Barack Obama in 2011.
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cliburn died at his mansion in Fort Worth; he had been suffering from advanced bone cancer. He made what may have been his last public appearance last September at a concert honoring the 50th anniversary of the Cliburn Competition.
Do you have a favorite Van Cliburn moment or memory? Let us know in the comments.