February 27, 2013

CIM Mourns the Loss of Legendary Pianist Van Cliburn

Van Cliburn, hailed as one of the most persuasive ambassadors of American culture, as well as one of the greatest pianists of all time, passed away on February 27 at the age of 78 after battling bone cancer. Just last spring, he was presented with an honorary doctorate at CIM’s 87th Commencement Ceremony.

“Van Cliburn will be missed by all who treasure the power of the lyrical in music and in our world,” said CIM President Joel Smirnoff. “Breaking through barriers of international mutual suspicion in the 1950s, Mr. Cliburn’s exalted artistic expression was filled with a love for music and for humanity. We at the Cleveland Institute of Music feel proud to have had the opportunity to honor him in his final year and to share his wisdom and sweet self with our students.”

With his historic 1958 victory at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War, Mr. Cliburn transcended politics by demonstrating the universality of classical music. The American-born pianist received a ticker-tape parade, the only time a classical musician has ever been honored with the highest tribute possible by New York City and was featured on the cover of Time magazine (May 1958) with the headline "The Texan Who Conquered Russia." He quickly became a household name to people of all ages and, most significantly, in homes with no previous connection to classical music.

Mr. Cliburn performed for every President of the United States since Harry Truman, for royalty and for heads of state in Europe, Asia and South America. He received Kennedy Center Honors, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and, in a 2004 Kremlin ceremony, the Order of Friendship from President Vladimir Putin. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2003 and the National Medal of Arts in 2011 from President Barack Obama.