International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition

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Van Cliburn Wins the First International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition[edit]


Van Cliburn was an American pianist who won the finals of the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Concert in Moscow 1958. Van Cliburn had been playing piano his entire life and it was at the age of 23 when he was announced as the winner of the Tchaikovsky competition. His performance earned him a standing ovation that lasted for eight minutes, and when it was time to announce the winner, the judges were obliged to ask permission from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, as to whether or not the first prize could be gifted to an American. When asked, Khrushchev replied, "Is he the best? Then give him the prize". When Cliburn came home, he was welcomed by a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time such an honour has been bestowed upon a classical musician. In his speech of gratitude he spoke of the honour being bestowed on not just him but on classical music in general. Cliburn winning the prize was an important event during the cold war, an event that lived long in people's memories. Many years later, in 1987, Cliburn was invited to perform at the White House for President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. He later received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the US and the Russian Order of Friendship. Following his death, The Wall Street Journal hailed Cliburn as a "cultural hero" who "rocketed to unheard-of stardom for a classical musician in the U.S." The Associated Press called him "the rare classical musician to enjoy rock star status". The success of Cliburn gave a clear demonstration of how culture and music can ease tensions in even the most volatile of situations.