This month’s Time Capsule commemorates the 50th anniversary of Van Cliburn’s legendary triumph at the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow.
Juilliard alumnus Van Cliburn won worldwide fame when he received the gold medal at the inaugural Tchaikovsky Competition in the Soviet Union on April 14, 1958, at the height of the Cold War. He was among 50 pianists from 19 countries who went to Moscow to compete in front of a jury that included Russian pianists Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter, and composers Dmitri Kabalevsky, Sir Arthur Bliss, and Dmitri Shostakovich, who was chairman of the competition. At the contest’s finale, Cliburn’s performances of two Russian warhorses—Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3—won him a standing ovation lasting eight minutes.
Upon Cliburn’s return to New York, the 23-year-old Texan was honored on May 20, 1958, with a ticker-tape parade up lower Broadway to City Hall, the first time a classical musician ever received such a welcome home greeting. At the post-parade ceremonies, Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. presented Cliburn with the city's scroll and medal, and an award was also given to Rosina Lhévinne, Cliburn’s piano teacher at Juilliard. Among the speakers on the occasion were Juilliard President William Schuman and alumnus Richard Rodgers.
Van Cliburn began studying at Juilliard in 1947 and received a Diploma in piano in 1954. He studied piano with Mme. Lhévinne in the School’s Regular Division, and with Ernest Hutcheson and Carl Friedberg at the Summer School.