It was 1958. In the midst of the Cold War, the inaugural Tchaikovsky International Competition took place in Moscow. Amid a climate of fear and mutual suspicion between Americans and Russians, a 23-year-old Texan named Van Cliburn performed a breath-taking rendition of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.
The Russian crowds cheered. The young American was awarded first place, and with that, he became a rock star of the Russian and international classical music scene.
Van Cliburn was received as a hero at home too. At a time when Americans were still reeling from the sense of defeat from the Soviet launch of Sputnik, one of our own defeated Russia's musical greats, proving the cultural and musical greatness of the US.
Van Cliburn passed away Wednesday at the age of 78.
Jeffrey Spurgeon, morning host of WQXR, discusses the life and legacy of Van Cliburn.