Pianist Van Cliburn Diagnosed with Cancer

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 12:00 AM

Renowned classical pianist Van Cliburn has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer and is resting comfortably at his Texas home, his publicist said Monday.

The 78-year-old Cliburn is under excellent care and his spirits are high, said longtime friend and publicist Mary Lou Falcone.

Cliburn skyrocketed to fame in 1958 when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at age 23. He triumphantly returned to a New York ticker tape parade, the only one ever for a classical musician, and a Time magazine cover proclaimed him "The Texan Who Conquered Russia."

In the years that followed, Cliburn's popularity soared, and the young man from the small east Texas town of Kilgore sold out concerts, broke record sales, caused riots when spotted in public and even prompted an Elvis Presley fan club to change its name to his.

But he tired of years of performing mainly the same pieces that made him famous - such as Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1," which had sealed his Moscow win - and took a sabbatical in 1978, feeling emotionally drained from nonstop touring. Cliburn later moved from New York to Fort Worth, where he currently lives and where he remained active in the arts and social scenes. He began playing publicly again in the late 1980s.

Until only recently, Cliburn practiced daily and performed limited engagements.

He has performed for every president since Harry Truman, and for years has devoted his time to the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Founded by Fort Worth music teachers in 1962, it's held every four years and considered among the world's premier piano competitions.

Cliburn won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.

He was already an accomplished pianist before winning the 1958 competition in Moscow. He started taking piano lessons from his mother at age 3, then debuted with the Houston Symphony Orchestra at age 12. He studied at Juilliard, won the famed Leventritt Competition and performed with several orchestras across the country - including the New York Philharmonic. - By ANGELA K. BROWN

 

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Comments [5]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

IN LIEU OF ALL THE MACHINATIONS OF ERSTWHILE PUBLIC FIGURES WHOSE CLAIM TO FAME IS SOME EYE OR EAR CATCHING SPACED OUT COMMENTARY, WE SHOULD REMEMBER HOW RARE VAN CLIBURN WAS TO HAVE ACHIEVED SO MUCH WITHOUT RAISING RANCOR OR SELF ADVANCING HIMSELF. HE DID NOT HAVE ANY ENEMIES, THOUGH MANY MAT HAVE BEEN JEALOUS OF HIS ATTAINMENTS. HE WAS A REAL "MENSCH."

Mar. 09 2013 01:32 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

ALL THE WORLD ADMIRED VAN CLIBURN FOR HIS GREAT TALENT AND HIS WARM OUTGOING PERSONA. A JUILLIARD ALUM MYSELF BEFORE HIS LANDMARK TSCHAIKOWSKY TRIUMPH, I, WITH HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS, WATCHED HIS TICKER TAPE PARADE AND MY MOM , BROTHER DR. BEN LANE, AND I ATTENDED HIS CARNEGIE HALL CONCERT AND SPOKE WITH HIM AFTERWARDS BACKSTAGE. THAT TALL , LANKY HANDSOME TEXAN DID MORE FOR A FRIENDLIER RELATIONSHIP WITH THE RUSSIANS THAN ANY POLITICIAN. THE COLD WAR THREATENING PEACE WAS MADE LESS MENACING. R.I.P. VAN CLIBURN. THE WORLD MOURNS YOUR PASSING.

Feb. 28 2013 09:13 AM
Penny Payne from New York City

Whenever I hear the name Van Cliburn, or see Mr.Cliburn's photograph, I am immediately transported back to my first year at the National Music camp at Interlochen, MI - 1967 - when he visited and performed in Kresge, a unique open-sided auditorium, seating thousands, set on a beautiful lake...

The lake and pine trees framed the stage on each side, and Van Cliburn's performance impressed me as a young girl, because he made the vast space seem intimate with his playing.

Afterwards, some of us fortunate campers were chosen to me Mr.Cliburn in a receiving line..
His hands were the softest I have ever felt - before or since - like butter, and his eyes twinkled with kindness.

A moment in time long ago that will always stay with me.

Penny Payne

Aug. 29 2012 10:54 AM
Anonymous from NJ

The young Van Cliburn's win in the '58 Tchaikovsky competition, combined with a fine young pianist studying at Julliard and a member of our high school senior class, turned our entire high school into music lovers and brought our local piano teachers more students than they could handle. I wondered if he'd realized what a lovely effect he'd had on young people.

Aug. 28 2012 05:23 PM
Jose Aldaz from New York, NY

I am truly upset to find out the news about Van Cliburn's bone cancer.
When I saw him in New York last May we had a wonderful reunion of sorts at the events surrounding the auction of some of his objects at Christie's.
Was at the New York Public Library for his recorded interview and dinner afterward, never imagining that he might be ill.
I am most grateful for his frienship of more than forty years, and for his great pianism.
My best wishes to him always,

Jose Aldaz

Aug. 28 2012 01:43 PM

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