Van Cliburn

Van Cliburn

Van Cliburn

From winning the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto in Moscow at the age of 23, Van Cliburn was one of the few classical musicians to achieve 'rock star status.'

  • Van Cliburn's pianist mother discovered him at the age of three mimicking one of her students at the piano. She began teaching him immediately.
  • At the age of 12, Cliburn won a statewide piano competition, which enabled him to debut with the Houston Symphony Orchestra.
  • He entered the Juilliard School in New York at the age of 17 and made his Carnegie Hall debut at 20.
  • At the height of the Cold War in 1958, Van Cliburn won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. He received an 8-minute standing ovation. 
  • Cliburn returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time the honour has been accorded a classical musician.
  • His performance in Moscow was added to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry on 21 March 2013 for long-term preservation.
  • Cliburn's recording of the Tchaikovsky first Piano Concerto became the first classical album to sell more than 1 million copies. It was the best-selling classical album in the world for more than a decade, eventually going triple-platinum.
  • Van Cliburn played for royalty, heads of state, and every U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama.
  • In 1987, he was invited to perform at the White House for President Ronald Reagan and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, and afterwards was invited to open the 100th anniversary season of Carnegie Hall.
  • Cliburn died on 27 February 2013 from advanced bone cancer at the age of 78.
  • The Wall Street Journal called Cliburn a "cultural hero" who 'rocketed to unheard-of stardom for a classical musician in the U.S.'

Did you know?

Cliburn was known as a night owl. He often practiced until 4:30 or 5 a.m.

Van Cliburn: 50 years of music making