Van Cliburn RIP

Van Cliburn, the internationally celebrated pianist whose triumph at a 1958 Moscow competition helped thaw the Cold War and launched a spectacular career that made him the rare classical musician to enjoy rock star status, has died. He was 78.

23 replies
  1. 1
    BGinCHI says:

    Another one of those moments when you find out news like this and think, “wow, I thought that dude/lady died years ago.”

    I was at MLA one year when I was a grad student and was riding an escalator at the hotel. I came to the top and this very old man was about to go down the wrong side and so I helped him over to the other side. I looked at his name tag and it said “Cleanth Brooks.”

    It was like seeing a ghost.

  2. 2
    Don says:

    I recall playing in the orchestra with Cliburn as the soloist, when he was at his prime. He played very well, and was able to deal with the “blue haired ladies” so essential to the arts, then and now. He never forgot his roots, and helped a number of your musicians to take that next step. Peace to his memory.

  3. 3
    Yutsano says:

    Not to be creepy, but I think this was playing in my headset during my last MRI.

  4. 4
    Jewish Steel says:

    @BGinCHI: Me too! And I’m supposed to know this kind of thing.

    Look at all the rapt ladies swarming around the front of the stage. Pretty typical concert for me.

  5. 5
    BGinCHI says:

    @Jewish Steel: Same as when I’m teaching. It’s like the Beatles at Shea every day.

    Honestly, I get tired of being so lusted after.

  6. 6
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @BGinCHI: Welcome to my world.

  7. 7
    Jewish Steel says:


    Nobody knows the kind of restraint guys like us deploy. Is it my narrow shoulders? My crooked teeth? Who knows. Martyrs.

  8. 8
    BGinCHI says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:
    @Jewish Steel:

    Why can’t they just treat us like people?

    I put my pants on both legs at a time just like everybody else, when I choose to put pants on, which is not all that often.

  9. 9
    Jewish Steel says:

    My eyes are up here!

  10. 10
    Comrade Mary says:

    I feel so guilty just reading your comments, guys. I will slink away, rename myself “Seth”, and lust no more.

  11. 11
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Comrade Mary: Oh god, that would be horrible. Why would you do something like that? Have I gained weight – is that it? As soon as the snow goes, I’ll be back on my bike again; until then, I am running when I have a chance.

  12. 12
    Comrade Mary says:

    I can make an exception for cyclist legs :-) You don’t even have to shave.

  13. 13
    Beauzeaux says:

    Van Cliburn’s victory in Moscow did not help thaw the cold war. It was viewed as a triumph for USism against the foul Redskis. The coverage at the time was one long neener neener–we beat you at your own game!!

    Cultural exchanges had begun to happen but everything Russian was still viewed with the gravest suspicion.

    I vas der, Sharlie! (Only people older than me will know that reference.)

  14. 14
    patroclus says:

    His legacy will live on – the Van Cliburn competition continues every 4 years on the campus of TCU in Ft. Worth and it remains a huge event on the piano prodigy calendar with good attendance and press coverage.

  15. 15
    handsmile says:


    Performing with Cliburn at that time in his career must have been a wonderful experience for you, though i expect you played with a number of celebrated soloists. His recording of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Chicago Symphony was one of my first classical music albums (given its acclaim, that was probably the case for a lot of young people in the 1960s).

    As for all you other naughty boys on this thread: behave! or you’ll have to listen to that record when we get home.

  16. 16
    Ash Can says:

    Music has lost a giant, and the world has lost a humanitarian. May he rest.

  17. 17
    BGinCHI says:

    @handsmile: Don’t hate us because we are beautiful.

  18. 18
    Anna in PDX says:

    So sorry to hear about this, he was wonderful, and we so need classical folks to be able to communicate with the outside world…

  19. 19
    Ash Can says:

    @Anna in PDX: Classical folks are communicating just fine. It’s not their fault if the rest of the world doesn’t listen.

  20. 20
    handsmile says:


    That’s enough lip out of you, young man! Show some respect for the dearly departed.

  21. 21
    handsmile says:

    @Ash Can:

    But as I trust you know well, it’s those lines of communication that are becoming increasingly faulty, if not dead already. The professional classical music world is in grave condition.

  22. 22
    dance around in your bones says:

    I had a co-worker (ok, she was my superior) whose husband was a classical pianist….we would go to parties at their house where he would play for us and I’d think to myself “I could die and go to heaven listening to this guy play piano – or at least have a mighty O before I died”.

  23. 23
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    I have no way to prove this, but I may just be the only person in the world, or more likely, one of the very few, to have conducted separate, in-depth interviews with both Van Cliburn and the winner of the very first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, one Ralph Votapek.

    When I interviewed him for the NPR station I worked for, Cliburn was exceedingly gracious (although not happy with his concert performance — one of his last, I believe). This was in the mid or late ’70s, and his mother, the unique and ineffable Rildia Bee, was present throughout. Wish I had had the presence of mind to interview HER!!

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