LONG ISLAND CITY, N.Y., Feb. 28, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The House of Steinway & Sons notes with profound sorrow the unfortunate passing of legendary classical pianist and Steinway Artist Van Cliburn. He was 78.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana and a long-time resident of Texas, Cliburn was one of the most beloved and celebrated musicians of the twentieth century and was a devoted friend to Steinway & Sons. He burst upon the classical music scene in the mid-1950s, and one of his most momentous early achievements was winning the First International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow at the age of twenty-three, stunning the world and helping to diffuse American-Soviet Cold War tensions. Upon his return from Russia, he was greeted in New York City with a ticker-tape parade, an honor typically reserved for military heroes and heads of state. He was subsequently featured on the cover of TIME magazine with the headline, "The Texan Who Conquered Russia."
The partnership between Steinway and Van Cliburn is long and storied. In 1958, it was Steinway's head of Concerts and Artists Alexander Greiner who helped Cliburn obtain a $1,000 grant and who encouraged him to use the money to go to Moscow for his history-making win. Greiner died of a heart attack just a week after Cliburn won the competition. Cliburn went on to international stardom in the classical realm, but he never strayed from his roots with Steinway & Sons. His vast collection of Steinway pianos was known to be meticulously tuned to accommodate his individual style and touch.
In 1964, Henry Steinway, great-grandson of founder Henry E. Steinway and then-president of the company, performed to 800 guests in Steinway Hall to honor the tenth anniversary of Cliburn's debut with the New York Philharmonic. Also in the early 1960s, Cliburn became the artistic advisor for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, a contest that now rivals the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in prestige. From the beginning, the competition has been conducted utilizing only Steinway pianos.
"As a young pianist growing up in the United States, I idolized Van Cliburn and what he was able to accomplish," said Ron Losby, President, Steinway & Sons-Americas. "During my years at Steinway & Sons, I got to know Mr. Cliburn well and was thankful to consider him a friend. Often when we get to know our idols, they lose some of their luster. With Van, the sense of awe and admiration that he inspired never waned."
During his five-decade career, Van Cliburn performed all over the world and became one of the most revered performers of our time. More than an entertainer, Cliburn was an agent of diplomacy and global cooperation through the power of music. He appeared at the 1987 White House meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In 2003 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2004 he received the Russian Order of Friendship. He played piano music for royalty, heads of states and every President of the United States since Harry S. Truman.
Diagnosed with advanced bone cancer last year, Van Cliburn lost his battle with the disease early Wednesday morning. We are reminded of the words he wrote in 1957 upon the death of his mentor Theodore Steinway, the company's fourth president, who had been sick for some time: "The end must have been in a sense, a release and a relief on both sides—but that is cold comfort for such a loss."*
Van Cliburn was a resident of Fort Worth, Texas. He will be sorely missed by Steinway & Sons.
*Quote taken from Steinway & Sons, by Richard K. Lieberman. Yale University Press, 1995.
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