September 29, 2001 will be a night to remember as legendary pianist Van Cliburn takes the stage of the Orpheum Theater with the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Stephen Rogers Radcliffe for the Symphony's season opening performance.
Van Cliburn will perform his signature piece, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concert No. 1, for the third time with the SCSO. The previous performances were in October 1965 and May 1975 at the Municipal Auditorium under the direction of Maestro Leo Kucinski. Cliburn's blossoming career skyrocketed to super-stardom in 1958 when he won the Gold Medal in the First Tchailkovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow during the depths of the Cold War. Upon his return, he was given a hero's welcome with a ticker tape parade in New York- the only classical musician ever so honored. He is also the first classical musician to have a record go Platinum: the recording with Russian conductor Kiril Knodrashin of his prize-winning concertos, which has now sold over three million copies.
Cliburn's Moscow victory wasn't merely the United States' answer to Sputnik. With his personal charm and expressive playing, he immediately won the hearts of the Russian people. His competition performances sold out, the audience was wild with applause, and he even moved members of the August jury to tears. He sincerely loved the Russian people and became an unofficial ambassador between two countries who were deep political enemies.
Shortly after Cliburn's Moscow triumph, the National Guild of Piano Teachers decided to establish a major international piano competition in his name. The First Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was held in 1962 in Cliburn's hometown of Fort Worth, Texas and has been held every four years at Texas Christian University ever since. The competition has launched the careers of many major international artists including Christopher O'Riley, Radu Lupu, and Barry Douglas. The 11th competition just completed in May 2001 made history when, for the first time, two Gold Medals were awarded; 1997 Gold Medalist Jon Nakamatsu will perform with the SCSO in March 2002.
After 16 grueling years of concertizing around the world, Cliburn decided to retreat from the footlights. The deaths of his father and his manager and close friend in 1974 forced him to reorient his priorities. After fulfilling his last concert engagement in 1978, an exhausted Cliburn began what became a nine-year sabbatical. He attended performances of his friends, went to the opera, and bought a mansion in Fort Worth. He also increased his involvement in the competition which bears his name and played chamber music with friends.
Cliburn returned to the concert stage in 1987 at a White House dinner for Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. His first public performance came two years later at a benefit from the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia with conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Philadelphia Orchestra before an audience of 10,000. One week after this performance, on Gorbachev's invitation, Cliburn returned to the USSR for a third concert tour. Since then, he has kept a limited concert schedule, performing from important orchestras' anniversaries.
The concert is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Gardner Foundation. The orchestra will also perform Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and Symphony No. 1 by Gustav Mahler. Patrons are encouraged to park in Ramps D (5th and Douglas Streets) and B (5th and Jackson Street).