Sunday, June 16, 2013

Van Cliburn 2013

Before Van Morrison, Van Halen and Uncle Rico's van, there was Van Cliburn.

Everyone in Fort Worth knows who Van Cliburn is.  Almost everyone in Texas knows who Van Cliburn is.  Anyone the US with a fondness for classical music has heard of Van C.  At the height of the Cold War in the 1950's the Russians knew and feared VC, and I am not talking the Viet Cong.

Harvey Lavan "Van" Cliburn, Jr. was a pianist of extraordinary talent who as a raw 23 year old went to Moscow in 1958 and won the International Tchaikovsky Competition.  Khrushchev was none to happy, grudgingly accepting that a Texan had kicked some Commie butt.  Technically, Van Cliburn was not from Texas (born in Louisiana) but like the rest of us, got here as fast as he could.

After Moscow fame and fortune followed and in 1962, Van Cliburn started an international piano competition in his own name which has gained global renown.  It is held every four years in Fort Worth and this year after seeing a couple of documentaries on the competition, we donned our Sunday best and headed to FW to see one of the preliminary rounds.

First off, it is held in the Bass Concert Hall, a magnificent edifice opened in 1998 as part of the renewal of Fort Worth and Sundance Square.  The Bass Family, Texas heirs to an oil empire not squandered (see review of The Big Rich to follow) own much of the real estate in Sundance Square and have perfected the blueprint for downtown renewal.  The took what was a derelict and dangerous section of old Fort Worth and transformed it into a vibrant center with offices, shops, restaurants, museums and the aforementioned concert hall.

Secondly, our seats were good, maybe too good.  We were almost under the imposing Steinway.  If one of the competitors got a little carried away and did some kind of wild Jerry Lee Lewis maneuver, we would be crushed... but at least the kids would be adopted by the Bass family and Great Balls of Fire would never sound the same...

We got to see two Italians and a Russian and it would be hard to pick a winner.  Where one was brash and loud, the other soft and melodic, etc. There were 30 invited entrants in all, three squaring off each session so the competition goes on over several weeks.  We joked that we should become a host family, just to see the face on the maestro when he / she got a glimpse of our out of tune battered old upright.

None of our three made it past the first round.  The eventual winner was Vadym Kholodenko from Kiev.  The Russians have exacted their revenge - in fact a Russian has won the competition four of the 13 times.

Sadly, VC was not at the 2013 competition.  He passed away in Feb 2013, aged 78.

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