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Remembering Pianist Van Cliburn

Photos: L: Van Cliburn performs for a capacity audience including “stage seating” in Hill Auditorium in March 15, 1968. R: UMS president Ken Fischer with Van Cliburn during his visit to Ann Arbor for the first Ford Honors Program in 1996.

When Penny and I were teens at Interlochen in 1961, we had the thrill of accompanying this ‘rock star’ of classical music as members of the National High School Orchestra when he performed the Tchaikovksy piano concerto in the Kresge Auditorium at Interlochen. It was this piece that sealed his winning the first Tchaikovsky competition in Russian in 1958 at the height of the Cold War between Russia and the U.S.

I served on the Interlochen board with Van in the early 1970s. He maintained a long relationship with Interlochen for many years and provided scholarship support to many students.

He received the UMS Distinguished Artist Award at the inaugural Ford Honors Program on May 11, 1996. The photo above was taken of Van and me outside of Sloan Plaza in Ann Arbor where Van stayed in the apartment provided by Don Chisholm. I gave him a photo I had taken the previous November when I was in Moscow’s Red Square. It’s a photo of St. Basil’s Cathedral taken in a snowstorm.

UMS commissioned Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Dave Barrett to produce a 4-minute video on Cliburn’s career that we showed at Ford Honors. Barrett set the video to the music of “One Shining Moment,” the famous sports song that Barrett wrote and that has accompanied the highlight film following CBS’s coverage of the NCAA National Championship basketball game for the past 27 years. The song has been performed by such artists as Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Jennifer Hudson, and Barrett himself. It’s Barrett who performs it in the video.

Van Cliburn had “One Shining Moment” at the Tchaikovsky competition so it seemed appropriate to use this music with a few word changes as a backdrop to the video. The images in the video are from a 1996 documentary directed by Peter Rosen titled “Van Cliburn: Classical Pianist.”

I will remember Van as a warm, gracious person who loved people, loved the arts, and loved life.