Van Cliburn Appreciation

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Van Cliburn never made the story, or the glory, about himself.

While the world considered his triumph at the 1958 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow a global cultural achievement -- a transcendence of political boundaries that helped thaw Cold War relations -- the soft-spoken 23-year-old told interviewers, "... I never thought about all that. I was just so involved with the sweet and friendly people [Russians] who were so passionate about the music."

When someone first suggested the idea of a piano competition bearing his name, he was embarrassed by the gesture. (His mother told him not to worry. She was sure there would be just one.)

The legendary pianist who called Fort Worth home remained, to his core, a humble, gracious man who seemed just as elated to meet fans at Bass Hall as he was to shake the hands of foreign dignitaries and Hollywood celebrities.

"His legacy is that of a person who personified grace, humility, talent, kindness and sincerity," says Veda Kaplinsky, head of the piano department at the Juilliard School. "He was a human being first and foremost. He never lost that."

Cliburn passed peacefully at his home the morning of Feb. 27, less than a week before the announcement of the names of the 30 top pianists who will come to Fort Worth in May to compete for the prestigious title of "Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner."

It was always his custom to step out of the spotlight during the competitions, to let the young pianists and their music be the stars. Even so, the empty seat in his box at the performance hall will be a somber reminder that the world has lost a great talent and a great man.

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