Okay, so this is probably the last post I’ll make (for awhile at least) about the 1958 Van Cliburn Tchaikowsky competition. Not only had Russia just launched Sputnik six months earlier at the height of the Cold War, but this was also the very FIRST Tchaikowsky competition ever.
In an interview, Van Cliburn said that he was greeted at the airport by a very nice Russian woman who mispronounced his name – so in Russia, he was known as “Van CLEE-BURN.”
In addition, he said to the interviewer that it was an incredible jury which included world-famous musicians: Dmitry Kabalevsky, Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter and chaired by the composer, Dmitri Shostakovitch! Apparently, there were some shenanigans in the scoring that went on as described in the article below – wherein certain jurors were scoring the American with mediocre marks (15s & 16s out of 25.)
Sviatoslav Richter caught on to this and began giving Van Cliburn all 25s, perfect marks while scoring everybody else with zeroes! “Either they have it or they don’t!” Richter was quoted as saying. The jury approached Khrushchev to get his approval for them to declare their choice of Van Cliburn as the winner. On the way home, the stewardess on the plane showed the pianist a copy of TIme Magazine with a pastel portrait of Van Cliburn on the cover.
Liu Shu Kun was a Chinese pianist who placed second in the 1958 Tchaikowsky competition when Van Cliburn won the gold medal. As a pianist, I was introduced to Liu Shu Kun when I visited Beijing in the 1970’s. AND he visited my home in Lexington, MA. in the 1980’s during a trip to the States. Small world, right?