Few Insights into Van Cliburn

By Philip Kennicott. Philip Kennicott writes on classical music from New York. | The Christian Science Monitor, May 21, 1993 | Go to article overview

Few Insights into Van Cliburn


Philip Kennicott. Philip Kennicott writes on classical music from New York., The Christian Science Monitor


VAN CLIBURN By Howard Reich, Thomas Nelson, 428 pp., $24.99.

IT has been 35 years since Van Cliburn was welcomed with a New York ticker-tape parade to celebrate his stunning victory at the 1958 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition at the height of the cold war. In that time, Cliburn has both exceeded and disappointed the artistic expectations he raised.

Some of the key players in his career are gone - Khrushchev, Eisenhower, the impresario Sol Hurok, and the pedagogue Rosina Lhevinne. But enough of the people who made him a legend remain, certainly enough to research and write a critical biography of the artist.

Howard Reich's "Van Cliburn" is not that book. It is one of the worst pieces of music journalism to surface in a long time. It is a sycophantic exercise that is adulatory to an embarrassing degree. But it does point to what went wrong with Cliburn's career as one of this country's greatest pianists.

It must not be easy to write about Cliburn. Although known for his generosity, he is apparently an emotionally cautious and retiring man. Reich's book includes material from several interviews with the artist, but most of what he says might have come from his press agent. It reveals nothing about his emotional, spiritual, or private life. …

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