SOME DAY in the next few years you may hear a radio announcer
introduce a new recording of "The Van Cliburn Piano Sonata" played,
of course, by Van Cliburn.
Currently, though, it's unfinished, and until now, he has not
talked about it publicly.
"I'm composing a piano sonata in three movements; it's fairly
close to being finished," Cliburn said in a phone interview from
his Fort Worth office. "It is in traditional sonata form and begins
with an allegro movement. It's my musical thoughts. . . . The human
voice is my great inspiration. A great singer teaches you how to
phrase and breathe and how to project a melody line."
This should help clear up some of the mystery about what the
reclusive Cliburn, who is single and lives with his 98-year-old
mother, has been doing with his time. Until recently, he had given
only seven concerts outside his home state of Texas since 1978,
shortly after his father's death. Though he was the first classical
music recording artist to "go" platinum, most of his CD releases
have been from the 1970s or before.
Since 1962, he has managed the Van Cliburn International Piano
Competition, one of the most prestigious in the country - it's held
every four years. The son of a Texas oilman, Cliburn is said to be
a whiz at Texas real estate. He attends opera performances across
the country, and his Fort Worth mansion is said to brim with books,
including many poetry volumes.
Sunday evening's concert at the Fox Theatre marks the first
time in 16 years Van Cliburn has played in St. Louis. He will play
the same concertos by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff that he played
in the 1958 Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition, and he'll be here with
the same band that backed him up at the contest - The Moscow
His victory there, at age 23, helped skyrocket him to
international stardom. A welcome home included a New York
ticker-tape parade and an audience with then-President Dwight D.
Eisenhower at the White House. His picture appeared on the cover
of Time magazine.
Cliburn and The Moscow Philharmonic are on a 17-city tour with
a remarkable and exhausting program. In addition to playing
Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff's Piano
Concerto No. 3, he will narrate Copland's "Lincoln's Portrait."
He'll even play "The Star-Spangled Banner," he said.
The tour is a birthday celebration. Cliburn turned 60 on
Tuesday. Since 1978, when he announced "an intermission" in his
career, most of his public performances have been for special
occasions, and many have had a Russian connection. After total
public musical silence for nine years, he performed at a White
House state dinner honoring Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 at the
request of the Reagans. Later that year he won rave reviews for
"Vanya, Vanya" at The Moscow Conservatory's Great Hall - the site
of his victory at the first Tchaikovsky Competition.
The idea for the summer tour developed over a jolly
after-midnight dinner in New York. The Moscow Philharmonic
conductor, Vassily Sinaisky and Sinaisky's wife dined with Cliburn
after he had narrated Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" with the Moscow
orchestra earlier that evening.
"Vassily suggested we do (`Lincoln's Portrait') in South
America or Europe," said Cliburn. …