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Famed Pianist Van Cliburn Dies at 78

Michael Yurieff  | Published on 2/28/2013
The Associated Press reports that famed American pianist Van Cliburn, who achieved worldwide recognition in 1958 at the age of 23, when he won the first quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War, died of bone cancer at his home in Fort Worth, Texas today. The April 11, 1958 file photo at left shows the young Van Cliburn performing in the final round of the competition in Moscow. Cliburn's performance at the competition finale of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 earned him a standing ovation lasting eight minutes. When it was time to announce a winner, the judges were obliged to ask permission of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to give first prize to an American. "Is he the best?" Khrushchev asked. "Then give him the prize!" Cliburn returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time the honor has been accorded a classical musician. His cover story in Time proclaimed him "The Texan Who Conquered Russia."

The photo at left of Van Cliburn and Russian Gift of Life Executive Director Michael Yurieff was taken at the 2012 Russian Nobility Ball at the Pierre Hotel, where Van Cliburn made one of his final public appearances.

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