American pianist Van Cliburn dies aged 78
28 February 2013
Van Cliburn, pianist, 12 July 1934-27 February 2013
By Alex Stevens
Van Cliburn, the American pianist, has died aged 78. He was awarded the US’s National Medal of Arts in 2010 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, and was one of the world’s best-known performers of classical music.In 2004, he received the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation from Russian president Vladimir Putin, reflecting the cultural impact of his playing throughout his career. He was a popular figure on both sides of the Pacific for most of the second half of the 20th century, a rare feat during the Cold War. Cliburn was taught by his mother, Rildia Bee Cliburn who in turn had been taught by Arthur Friedheim, a pupil of Franz Liszt and Anton Rubenstein and she was his sole teacher before, at the age of 17, he began studies at the Juilliard School in New York, where he studied with the great Rosina Lhevinne. At 20, he had played with the New York Philharmonic and most of the country’s major orchestras.
The quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was organised by a group of music teachers and citizens from Fort Worth, Texas in 1962 to commemorate Cliburn’s victory at the 1958 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow, at the age of 23. Speaking at its 50th anniversary in September 2012, he said to the crowd: ‘Never forget: I love you all from the bottom of my heart, for ever’. It was his last public appearance.
The Tchaikovsky victory, coming in the middle of the Cold War, was a historic achievement which led him to be nicknamed ‘the American Sputnik’ by US media. He was honoured on his return to the country by a ticker-tape parade in New York. It was this success, rather than particularly strong support from the pianist himself, which allowed the competition to become the well-funded and prestigious institution it is today.
After the initial flurry of success, Cliburn’s career did not progress so easily. Doubts about classical music prompted forays into jazz and conducting which were not wholly successful and he underwent a self-imposed exile from public life from 1978 to 1987. His high-profile return to the stage saw him performing to presidents Gorbachev and Reagan at the White House, but in the subsequent decades the number of his appearances, despite being well attended, went steadily downhill. After collapsing on stage in 1998 at the inaugural concert of the new Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, he appeared even less.
‘Van Cliburn was an international legend for over five decades,
a great humanitarian and a brilliant musician whose light will continue to
shine through his extraordinary legacy,’ said his publicist and friend, Mary
Lou Falcone. ‘He will be missed by all who knew and admired him, and by
countless people he never met.’
Pianist Stephen Hough told the BBC that Cliburn was ‘one of the most charming and lovely men’ he had known. ‘He was very modest, gracious and generous. He was very tall, very imposing, and all of this came through in the playing and he was a major personality when he played, and he really towered over the stage in every sense.’
Harvey Lavan Van Cliburn, 12 July 1934-27 February 2013
In-depth assessments of Van Cliburn's contribution to pianism will be published in upcoming editions of International Piano magazine
New quality seal to identify German-made pianos
20 February 2013
The German Association of Piano Manufacturers (BVK) has created a new system to distinguish German-made pianos from copycat instruments. The move comes as an increasing number of manufacturers are falsely claiming instruments to be European made, when in fact many are produced in the Far East.
‘Of the more than 300 companies active worldwide in the piano industry, 95 per cent claim their products are manufactured in Germany,’ said Burkhard Stein, chief executive of the BVK. ‘In fact, there are only 13 German companies that still manufacture high-quality uprights and grand pianos. These companies are distinguished by a high level of manual craftsmanship, centuries of experience and tradition, successful design, prestige and the particularly excellent sound and playing quality of the instruments they manufacture. This makes the slogan ‘Made in Germany’ desirable for piano manufacturers worldwide and entices them to mislead customers and suggest that they are choosing an instrument made in Germany, although it is not the case.’
The ‘Made in Germany’ certificate was recently unveiled during a music trade fairinShanghai.Inordertoacquirethe certificate, the piano manufacturer must be a member of the BVK and prove that various production stages take place in Germany. These include work such as fitting casting plates, the installation of the musical mechanisms, and tuning and intonating the instruments.
The logo of the German Chamber of Commerce will also appear on the ‘Made in Germany’ mark.
Coming soon: London International Piano Symposium
2 January 2013
A trio of three-day piano conferences
will begin in February, hosted by London International Piano Symposium (LIPS),
founded by Cristine MacKie, and held in association with Steinway & Sons. IP is the Symposium's media partner.
The event welcomes everyone interested in the performance of piano music: artists, scientists, academics, teachers and fans. The symposia will provide an opportunity to hear papers, lecture recitals and debates on the art and science of piano performance by distinguished researchers and practitioners.
During the first The LIPS Conference, which takes
place 8-10 February at London’s Royal College of Music, leading researchers and
practitioners will examine interdisciplinary, evidence-based directives to
enhance modern piano performance practice, assess research into inspirational
performers and teachers past and present, and present scientific models of
performance that will reflect recent developments in performance science,
including neuroscience, the human movement sciences, psychology and physiology.
Piano season on the BBC
11 September 2012
Piano Season on the BBC is a six-week season (15 September until 6 November) celebrating all things piano. The season will explore the piano’s
wide-ranging influence from the 1700s to the present day, as well as
delve into the lives of the people behind the piano and the music
created for it.
Highlights include coverage of The Leeds International Piano Competition, a Jazz Battle live from Trinity Laban College Greenwich, a downloadable A-Z of the piano, Peter Donohoe’s 50 Greats, an online masterclass for budding pianists and personalities such as Woman’s Hour’s Jane Garvey and Olympic medal winner Samantha Murray taking up the challenge of learning the piano for the first time, with eight of them taking part in the season finale, a Gala Concert in Cardiff on the 29 October. The season will culminate on 6 November with a special episode of Imagine on BBC One focusing on Lang Lang as he turns 30.
Monday nights will be 'Piano Night' when BBC Radio 3’s Live in Concert will offer listeners a series of piano recitals, from different corners of the nation, given by an array of international artists. Past Leeds finalist Sunwook Kim will play Beethoven and Schubert and Russian Evgenia Rubinova presents a programme of music from her native country; Ukrainian Alexei Grynyuk plays Chopin and Liszt; Pascal and Ami Rogé play French music for two pianos; while Radio 3 New Generation Artist Igor Levit performs Rzewksi’s celebrated and fiendishly difficult Variations on The People United Will Never Be Defeated; Ashley Wass and Huw Watkins team up to perform Robin Holloway’s pianistic tour-de-force The Gilded Goldbergs.
Fazil Say faces trial over Tweets
10 September 2012
Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say, 42, has been charged with insulting Islamic religious values in comments he made on Twitter. The pianist denies the charges and faces trial on 18 October.
The case has captured the attention of pianists worldwide, including fellow Turk AyseDeniz Gokcin, who played Say’s piece Alla Turca Jazz on 50 different street pianos in London during July to show her support of the artist. The pianos were presented by the City of London Festival as part of the ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ project created by British artist Luke Jerram, that has been touring internationally since 2008.
Gokcin says that the project ‘represents my wishes for a more democratic and tolerant Turkey in which artists, writers and intellectuals can think and speak freely.
‘Music represents freedom. It is everywhere just like the
air we breathe, and as long as the universe exists, it cannot be destroyed, nor
can its freedom be taken away... Because the power of the notes is stronger
than anything you can ever imagine. I wish artists, authors and thinkers in
Turkey, my home country, could also be as free.’ The video can be viewed here.
Say, who has frequently criticised the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party government over its cultural and social policies, publicly defines himself as an atheist – a controversial admission in Turkey, which is overwhelmingly Muslim. He could face a maximum one and a half years in prison if he is convicted.