In 1958 American pianist Van Cliburn traveled to Russia and surprised the world by winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Time magazine featured him on the cover with the headline of “The Texan who conquered Russia.”
55 years later, Russians still fondly remember the tall American boy who conquered their hearts. When Cliburn passed last week due to cancer, Russian PresidentVladimir Putin took time to express sincere condolences on behalf of the Russian people to Van Cliburn’s family and friends. President Vladimir Putin noted that Van Cliburn’s work brought together and united people of different nations living on different continents for many years, during the most complex periods of history and expressed confidence that Russians will always remember Van Cliburn as a sincere friend of the Russian people.
Van Cliburn was from Fort Worth, Texas and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an interview with Sergei Khrushchev, son of then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The younger Khrushchev was at the concert with his father in 1958 and the two young men began a friendship that lasted through the years. In the early 1960s Nikita Khrushchev invited Cliburn to return to Moscow and the young Texan was a guest at Khrushchev’s dacha outside Moscow.
You can read the full interview here.
In May of 1972, Cliburn returned to Moscow where he gave a concert at Spaso House, the residence of the US Ambassador to Russia. Audience members at the time included President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State William Rogers hosting Soviet government officials. He traveled to Moscow in September 2004 to be awarded the Russian Federation “Order of Friendship” by President Vladimir Putin.