Can I Get a Drink With That?

The Greatest Day

Cliburn I don't make a habit of citing historical references on FoM, but this is one for the books: exactly fifty years ago today, pianist Van Cliburn won the First International Tchiakovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. He subsequently became the first - and only - musician of any stripe to be feted with a ticker-tape parade in downtown NYC. Sure, it was all good propaganda that never would have happened if it weren't the height of the Cold War, but I'd argue that there's never been a bigger event in the history of classical music in this country. Many Americans - including my parents - had little exposure to concert music before Van Cliburn.

And, the parade was just the beginning: Cliburn's subsequent recording of the Tchiakovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 - with which he won the competition - went triple-platinum, elevating him to rock-star status. (My mother told me she used to get in trouble with my grandmother for playing it really loud at home.) Then, less than six months later, Leonard Bernstein became music director of the New York Philharmonic, launching the televised Young People's Concerts that opened up the world of classical music to anyone and everyone, regardless of income or social status. In 1958, the whole game was changed. Forever.

To mark the occasion, here's a clip of Cliburn in Moscow, playing the final movement of the Tchiakovsky.