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Van Cliburn
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Van Cliburn

Cliburn playing in the final round of the First International Tchaikovsky's Piano Competition

Van Cliburn, (born July 12, 1934) is an American pianist who achieved worldwide recognition in 1958 when at the age of 24 he won the first Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War.

Cliburn was born Harvey Lavan Cliburn, Jr. in Shreveport, Louisiana. When he was six, his family moved to Texas, where he won a music competition when he was twelve. Cliburn made his orchestra debut in 1947 with the Houston Symphony Orchestra In 1948, at age 14, he gave a recital in Carnegie Hall. He attended The Juilliard School for three years starting at age seventeen.

Cliburn and USSR President Nikita Khruschev

It was his recognition in Moscow which propelled him to international fame. He returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City. TIME put him on their cover, proclaiming "The Pianist Who Conquered Russia." RCA signed him to an exclusive contract, and his first recording of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, the concerto which won him the award, went platinum. It was the best-selling classical album in the world for more than a decade, selling over three million copies.

In 1962, he became the artistic advisor for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The competition was founded by a group of Fort Worth, Texas music teachers and volunteers, and is held every four years.

Cliburn performed and recorded through the 1970s, and essentially dropped out of sight in 1978. Towards the end of the 1990s, he started performing in public again. He was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the 2004 Grammy Awards.