Iconic Pianist Van Cliburn Returns to Ravinia after 30-Year Absence

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Byline: Bill Gowen

The next two Saturdays should be very special evenings at Ravinia, with one of America's music icons the guest artist on Saturday, and the following week (July 23), a concert presentation of one of the greatest operas ever created.

On Saturday as the centerpiece of "A Legendary Evening," Ravinia's 2005 gala fund-raising concert, the great American pianist Van Cliburn will return to the North Shore after a 30-year absence as the most highly anticipated guest soloist of the summer.

He will join Ravinia music director James Conlon and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a performance of Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16.

Cliburn, at age 23 the winner of the gold medal at the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, had a spectacularly successful international career through the mid- 1970s, when he went into semi-retirement. He turned his attention to the nurturing of young musicians, mainly through the Van Cliburn Foundation and its major event, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. It is held every four years (most recently this spring) in Fort Worth, Texas.

Cliburn began studying piano with his mother at age 3. He made his debut at New York's Carnegie Hall at 14. At 17, Cliburn enrolled at New York's prestigious Juilliard School of Music, which soon brought him to international attention when he won several major competitions in America and abroad over the following years, climaxed by the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition.

Saturday's concert will open with Franz Schubert's Overture to "Rosamunde," followed by the "Dance of the Hours" from Amilcare Ponchielli's "La Gioconda," and the famous "William Tell" Overture by Gioacchino Rossini.

Reserved-seat Pavilion tickets for Saturday's concert are $50 and $75, with lawn admission $10. Because of the popularity of this event each year, check with Ravinia's box office for availability, which includes lawn tickets.

Remember, this concert begins at 7 p.m., a half hour earlier than this season's usual 7:30 p.m. Saturday starting time. Musicians from the Steans Institute for Young Artists will present a preview concert at 4:45 p.m. in Bennett-Gordon Hall, with the park grounds opening at 4 p.m.

The July 23 concert will continue Ravinia's long tradition as a major summer opera center, when at 7:30 p.m. …