Van Cliburn (and a democratic anecdote)
Missing visits to the symphony during this plague year brought to mind the great pianist Van Cliburn. He came to fame in the late 50s when he stunned the world by winning the quadrennial piano competition in Russia. The story is the decision went all the way up to Kruschev who said"If he is the best then he should get the medal". This was the height of the cold war. Cliburn came home to a rapturous welcome. He is the only classically musician to receive a ticket tape parade through New York's canyon of heros. He went on for a decade as a soloist with the world's symphonies. In particular, he had a collaboration with conductor Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony.
One day he was flying into Washington DC to do a concert when he discovered the luggage with his evening dress was missing. He decide to make a call to the one person in the city who would have a white tie outfit to fit his tall frame. The answer came back right away."Van, you come over right away. We'll have the outfit ready when you arrive". Cliburn had the class to invite his cab driver in with him as they entered the White House to be greeted by President Lyndon Johnson, white tie outfit in hand.
Cliburn retired from the soloist career in the 70s and was rarely seen in public. He did start his own quadrennial piano competition in Texas. He was called out of retirement in the 1980s by President Reagan to entertain at a gala dinner for Russian premier Gorbachev. I remember the video on the news of Cliburn playing 'Moscow Nights' and singing the words in the original Russian. The expressions on the faces of Gorbachev and his wife were a sight to behold.
Only in the last years of his life did he return to the concert stage. That was when I saw him at Tanglewood performing with the Boston Symphony. Normally at that venue I would get lawn tickets and have a picnic. But for this concert I bought tickets in the vast music shed. The later reviews said he made some mistakes and that his vast powers were fading. You couldn't tell by me. I was the first to leap up and give him a standing ovation. To me he was a great hero.
excerpts of old performers.
It sounded great...