By Shreveport Times
Our nation – indeed the world – lost one of its most talented musical messengers last week when famed pianist Van Cliburn died at age 78 Wednesday in his home in Fort Worth, Texas, following a battle with bone cancer.
In a career spanning for more than half a century, Cliburn proved time and again that music is “stronger and more penetrating than words can ever be” through performances that exuded his passion, that reverberated his confidence and that beamed from his presence.
Cliburn’s elegant sense of artistry brought audiences worldwide along on his personal musical journey powered by the ebony and ivory keys of a grand piano.
Though Cliburn spent most of his young life in Kilgore, Texas, then later called Fort Worth home, he was born in Shreveport and maintained many close contacts there. He was born Harvey Lavan Cliborn Jr., the son of oilman Harvey Cliburn Sr. and Rildia Bee O’Bryan Cliburn.
He began studying piano at age 3 with his mother who was also an accomplished pianist who had studied with a pupil of 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt.
But his worldwide classical music superstar status was solidified in 1958 when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the age of 23.
He triumphantly returned to a New York City and a Time magazine cover proclaiming him “The Texan who Conquered Russia.”
With that one triumph, Cliburn proved the power of the arts in bringing the world together.
Since then he has performed before millions, his recordings have become best sellers and most recently (in 2010) President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts “for his contribution as one the greatest pianists in the history of music and as a persuasive ambassador for the American culture.”
Cliburn was a musical treasure to the world and now enters the realm of legends like Liszt, Schubert, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky (the artists whose work he loved to perform).