On April 13, 1958, American pianist Van Cliburn won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Soviet Union (now Russia). A classical music competition may not seem like headline news, but Cliburn’s victory was a major thaw in the Cold War.
The competition, overseen by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, was intended to demonstrate Soviet cultural superiority. Cliburn performed two pieces by Russian composers (Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s notoriously difficult Concerto No. 3). His performance was legendary, earning him an eight-minute standing ovation and enthusiastic support from the normally taciturn Soviet audience—including Khrushchev.
Cliburn, nicknamed the “Texan Who Conquered Russia,” instantly became a celebrity. He earned a ticker-tape parade when he returned to the U.S., and his recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto was the first classical album to sell more than a million copies. He was the recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of Friendship, the highest civilian honors bestowed by the United States and Russia, respectively.
Cliburn continued to perform to American, Soviet, and Russian audiences until his death in 2013.
to present or give as a gift.
city where a region's government is located.
person who is not in the military.
(1947-1991) conflict between the Soviet Union (and its allies) and the United States (and its allies). The two sides never confronted each other directly.
a person who writes music.
piece of music written for an orchestra and one or more soloists.
to show how something is done.
to expect or aim to do something.
famous, heroic, or celebrated.
well-known for negative reasons.
person or organization that receives something.
(1922-1991) large northern Eurasian nation that had a communist government. Also called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR.
better than something else.
quiet or uncommunicative.
to melt, or turn from ice to liquid.
parade honoring a person or group of people, in which confetti, shredded newspapers, or (originally) torn stock-market ribbons are dropped onto the parade route from tall buildings.