In 1958, a young American musician arrived in Moscow to give the concert of his life. Classically trained pianist Van Cliburn was a 23-year-old Texan who stunned a team of Soviet judges with his flawless execution of pieces by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Cliburn’s tour de force performance launched a successful musical career and a string of visits to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Van Cliburn died yesterday at age 78.
Michigan State University music professor emeritus Ralph Votapek is also a world-renowned pianist. In 1962, he was the first musician to win the performance award that bears Cliburn’s name. Current State’s Kevin Lavery asks Ralph Votapek to reflect on Cliburn’s career and their personal friendship.