Classical Pianist Van Cliburn’s Legacy

Classical pianist Van Cliburn dies at age 78

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AP   The Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Feb. 27 2013, 12:56 PM EST

Last updated Wednesday, Feb. 27 2013, 1:01 PM EST

Van Cliburn, the internationally celebrated pianist whose triumph at a 1958 Moscow competition helped thaw the Cold War and launched a spectacular career that made him the rare classical musician to enjoy rock star status, has died. He was 78.

Cliburn died early Wednesday at his Fort Worth home surrounded by loved ones following a battle with bone cancer, said his publicist and longtime friend Mary Lou Falcone.

Cliburn made what would be his last public appearance in September at the 50th anniversary of the prestigious piano competition named for him. Speaking to the audience in Fort Worth, he saluted the many past contestants, the orchestra and the city.

“Never forget: I love you all from the bottom of my heart, forever,” he said to a roaring standing ovation.

Cliburn skyrocketed to fame when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at age 23 in 1958, six months after the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik embarrassed the U.S. and propelled the world into the space age. He triumphantly returned to a New York City ticker tape parade – the first ever for a classical musician – and a Time magazine cover proclaimed him “The Texan Who Conquered Russia.”

But the win also proved the power of the arts, bringing unity in the midst of strong rivalry. Despite the tension between the nations, Cliburn became a hero to music-loving Soviets who clamoured to see him perform and Premier Nikita Khrushchev reportedly gave the go-ahead for the judges to honour a foreigner: “Is Cliburn the best? Then give him first prize.”

In the years that followed, Cliburn’s popularity soared, and the young man from the small east Texas town of Kilgore sold out concerts, caused riots when spotted in public and even prompted an Elvis Presley fan club to change its name to his. His recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Russian conductor Kirill Kondrashin became the first classical album to reach platinum status.

Time magazine’s 1958 cover story quoted a friend as saying Cliburn could become “the first man in history to be a Horowitz, Liberace and Presley all rolled into one.”

Cliburn performed for royalty, heads of state in Europe, Asia and South America, and for every U.S. president since Harry Truman.

“Since we know that classical music is timeless and everlasting, it is precisely the eternal verities inherent in classical music that remain a spiritual beacon for people all over the world,” Cliburn once said.

But he also used his skill and fame to help other young musicians through the Van Cliburn International Music Competition.

Created by a group of Fort Worth teachers and citizens in 1962, the competition, held every four years, remains a pre-eminent showcase for the world’s top pianists. An amateur contest was added in 1999.

“It is a forum for young artists to celebrate the great works of the piano literature and an opportunity to expose their talents to a wide-ranging international audience,” Cliburn said during the 10th competition in 1997.

President George W. Bush presented Cliburn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honour – in 2003. In 2004, he received the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I still have lots of friends in Russia,” Cliburn said at the time. “It’s always a great pleasure to talk to older people in Russia, to hear their anecdotes.”

After the death of his father in 1974, Cliburn announced he would soon retire to spend more time with his ailing mother. He stopped touring in 1978.

He told The New York Times in 2008 that among other things, touring robbed him of the chance to enjoy opera and other musical performances. “I said to myself, ‘Life is too short.’ I was missing so much,” he said. After winning the competition, he added, “it was thrilling to be wanted. But it was pressure too.”

Cliburn emerged from his sabbatical in 1987, when he played at a state dinner at the White House during the historic visit to Washington of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev leapt from his seat to give the pianist a bear-hug and kisses on the cheeks.

The 13th Cliburn competition, held in 2009, made history when a blind pianist from Japan, Nobuyuki Tsujii, and a teenager from China, Haochen Zhang, both won gold medals. They were the first winners from any Asian country, and Tsujii was the first blind pianist to win. And it was only the second time there were dual first place winners.

Cliburn was born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. on July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, La., the son of oilman Harvey Cliburn Sr. and Rildia Bee O’Bryan Cliburn. At age 3, he began studying piano with his mother, herself an accomplished pianist who had studied with a pupil of the great 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt.

The family moved back to Kilgore, Texas, within a few years of his birth.

Cliburn won his first Texas competition when he was 12, and two years later he played in Carnegie Hall as the winner of the National Music Festival Award.

At 17, Cliburn attended the Juilliard School in New York, where fellow students marveled at his marathon practice sessions that stretched until 3 a.m. He studied under the famed Russian-born pianist Rosina Lhevinne.

Between 1952 and 1958, he won all but one competition he entered, including the G.B. Dealey Award from the Dallas Symphony, the Kosciusko Foundation Chopin Scholarship and the prestigious Leventritt. By age 20, he had played with the New York Philharmonic and the symphonies of most major cities.

Cliburn’s career seemed ready to take off until his name came up for the draft. Cliburn had to cancel all shows but was eventually excused from duty due to chronic nosebleeds.

Over the next few years, Cliburn’s international popularity continued as he recorded pieces ranging from Mozart to a concerto by American Edward McDowell. Still, having been trained by arguably the best Russian teachers in the world, Cliburn’s heart was Russian, with the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff concertos.

After 1990, Cliburn toured Japan numerous times and performed throughout the United States. He was in the midst of a 16-city U.S. tour in 1994 when his mother died at age 97.

Cliburn made his home in Fort Worth, where in 1998 he appeared at the opening of the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall, both in recital and as soloist with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. He endowed scholarships at many schools, including Juilliard, which gave him an honorary doctorate, and the Moscow and Leningrad Conservatories.

In December 2001, Cliburn was presented with the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors Medallion at the televised tribute held in Washington.

Until only recently, Cliburn practiced daily and performed limited engagements.

 

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Saxophone Choir from UK performs Bach’s Toccata, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and more…

A 20 piece sax ensemble -also check out their version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody -Freddie Mercury would be amused I think!
Visit www.saxchoir.com to learn about the 9 different saxophones used in this ensemble: soprillo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, tubax, contrabass

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Children make beautiful music out of recycled landfill items

Children discover Mozart in Paraguay landfill, playing instruments made from recycled garbage

I think the following article, by Pedro Servin, dated Dec. 15, 2012 from the Ottawa Citizen, beautifully illustrates the creativity of the human spirit, in spite of tremendous adversity!  Of course these children still live in extreme poverty beside a landfill in Paraguay, but hopefully enough international attention will cause people to make a lasting  difference in these children’s lives.  Tim

ATEURA, Paraguay – The sounds of a classical guitar come from two big jelly cans. Used X-rays serve as the skins of a thumping drum set. A battered aluminum salad bowl and strings tuned with forks from what must have been an elegant table make a violin. Bottle caps work perfectly well as keys for a saxophone.

A chamber orchestra of 20 children uses these and other instruments fashioned out of recycled materials from a landfill where their parents eke out livings as trash-pickers, regularly performing the music of Beethoven and Mozart, Henry Mancini and the Beatles. A concert they put on for The Associated Press also featured Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and some Paraguayan polkas.

Rocio Riveros, 15, said it took her a year to learn how to play her flute, which was made from tin cans. “Now I can’t live without this orchestra,” she said.

Word is spreading about these kids from Cateura, a vast landfill outside Paraguay’s capital where some 25,000 families live alongside reeking garbage in abject poverty.

The youngsters of “The Orchestra of Instruments Recycled From Cateura” performed in Brazil, Panama and Colombia this year, and hope to play at an exhibit opening next year in their honour at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

“We want to provide a way out of the landfill for these kids and their families. So we’re doing the impossible so that they can travel outside Paraguay, to become renowned and admired,” said Favio Chavez, a social worker and music teacher who started the orchestra.

The museum connection was made by a Paraguayan documentary filmmaker, Alejandra Amarilla Nash. She and film producer Juliana Penaranda-Loftus have followed the orchestra for years, joining Chavez in his social work while making their film “Landfill Harmonic” on a shoestring budget.

The documentary is far from complete. The kids still have much to prove. But last month, the filmmakers created a Facebook page and posted a short trailer on YouTube and Vimeo that has gone viral, quickly getting more than a million views altogether.

“It’s a beautiful story and also fits in very well with this theme of ingenuity of humans around the world using what they have at their disposal to create music,” said Daniel Piper, curator of the 5,000-instrument Arizona museum.

The community of Cateura could not be more marginalized. But the music coming from garbage has some families believing in a different future for their children.

“Thanks to the orchestra, we were in Rio de Janeiro! We bathed in the sea, on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. I never thought my dreams would become reality,” said Tania Vera, a 15-year-old violinist who lives in a wooden shack by a contaminated stream. Her mother has health problems, her father abandoned them, and her older sister left the orchestra after becoming pregnant. Tania, though, now wants to be a veterinarian, as well as a musician.

The orchestra was the brainchild of Chavez, 37. He had learned clarinet and guitar as a child, and had started a small music school in another town in Paraguay before he got a job with an environmental organization teaching trash-pickers in Cateura how to protect themselves.

Chavez opened a tiny music school at the landfill five years ago, hoping to keep youngsters out of trouble. But he had just five instruments to share, and the kids often grew restless, irritating Chavez’s boss.

So Chavez asked one of the trash-pickers, Nicolas Gomez, to make some instruments from recycled materials to keep the younger kids occupied.

“He found a drum and repaired it, and one thing led to another. Since he had been a carpenter, I asked him to make me a guitar. And so we just kept at it,” Chavez said.

Come April, the classical stringed instruments that Gomez has made in his workshop alongside his pigs and chickens will be on display in Phoenix alongside one of John Lennon’s pianos and Eric Clapton’s guitars.

“I only studied until the fifth grade because I had to go work breaking rocks in the quarries,” said Gomez, 48. But “if you give me the precise instructions, tomorrow I’ll make you a helicopter!”

The museum also will display wind instruments made by Tito Romero, who was repairing damaged trumpets in a shop outside Asuncion until Chavez came calling and asked him to turn galvanized pipe and other pieces of scavenged metal into flutes, clarinets and saxophones.

“It’s slow work, demanding precision, but it’s very gratifying,” Romero said. “Chavez is turning these kids of Cateura into people with a lot of self-esteem, giving them a shield against the vices.”

Ada Rios, a 14-year-old first violinist, greeted the AP with sleepy eyes and a wide smile at her family’s home on the banks of a sewage-filled creek that runs into the Paraguay River.

“The orchestra has given a new meaning to my life, because in Cateura, unfortunately, many young people don’t have opportunities to study, because they have to work or they’re addicted to alcohol and drugs,” she said.

Her little sister Noelia announced with the innocence of a 12-year-old that “I’m famous in my school thanks to being in the orchestra.”

Their 16-year-old aunt next door, Maria Rios, 16, also is a violinist.

“My mother signed me up in teacher Chavez’s school three years ago. I was really bothered that she hadn’t asked me first, but today I’m thankful because she put my name in as someone who wanted to learn violin,” Maria said.

Her mother, Miriam Rios, who has 14 children in all, said Maria was born when she was 45.

“My neighbours said she would be born with mental problems because I was so old, but an artist was born!” Rios said, her voice breaking with pride as she brushed away tears.

The children gathered in a schoolyard to perform for the AP, sharing their pride as they tuned their instruments.

Victor Caceres, playing a cello made from a red-and-white drum, said “this recycled instrument has no reason to envy those that are, apparently, more proper. It comes out with an impeccable sound.”

Standing beside him, 15-year-old Brandon Cobone supported a double bass violin made from a tall yellow barrel. He said the instrument always draws curious attention, “but it sounds marvelous.”

The kids played without complaint for 40 minutes in 100-degree (38-degree Celsius) heat and humidity. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and “New York, New York” led to Mozart’s “A Little Night Music” and some Paraguayan polkas.

Chavez’s kids will be performing at Asuncion’s shopping centres during the holidays.

“We’ll get some money, not very much, but it will help these families from Cateura,” he said. “They’ll be able to enjoy a good Christmas dinner.” ___

Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff in Phoenix, Arizona, and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.

El Sistema Youth Orchestra: transforms economically challenged youth

This post is based on the article, “El Sistema settles in, surprisingly, down east,” by William Littler, music critic for The Toronto Star (March 23, 2012).  Littler recounts the amazing transformation of troubled Canadian children and youth through the El Sistema orchestra program, that began in Venezuela.

In Moncton, New Brunswick, the El Sistema centre provides an opportunity for economically challenged youth to “discover the human benefits of self-control and cooperation.”

The fantastic Venezuelan conductor Antonio Delgados, who himself was a product of El Sistema, settled in New Brunswick in 2010 to direct the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra and its Sistema project.  Delgados impresses his audience and students alike with positive energy and his caring and patient nature.  The free orchestra-based musical education system was founded in 1975 by the musician-economist Jose Antonio Abreu in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela.  El Sistema has captivated the attention of some of the world’s foremost musicians. Sir Simon Rattle, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, says of El Sistema, “if anyone asked me where there is something really important going on for the future of classical music, I would simply have to say -in Venezuela.”

Toronto now has its first El Sistema centre in Parkdale.  And the Moncton and Saint John centres in New Brunswick are projects of the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra.

The New Brunswick Youth Orchestra was honoured to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2003.  And in 2011 they came first in the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Competition and played in the prestigious Musikverein Concert Hall in Vienna, Austria.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvY4VgCfdEk  NBYO Vienna performance

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBKwTdAx- eU&feature=BFp&list=FLliPUHNkJPt_x5-ho40jbUA  Sistema NB rehearsal

http://www.nbyo-ojnb.ca/about/previous-tours NBYO website

http://www.toronto.com/article/719109  William Littler’s Toronto Star article

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Lang Lang -what I admire

I recently read the pianist Lang Lang’s autobiography Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story, c. 2008 Spiegel & Grau.

I have heard some of Lang Lang’s recordings on CD, and watched him on YouTube,  and one day hope to hear him live.  He is a phenomenal performer, with so much passion for playing the piano.

I admire Lang Lang’s drive to succeed, despite growing up in Shenyang (an industrial city in northern China), with limited access to the great piano teachers of his country. His father sacrificed his career (he quit his job as a police officer) to be Lang Lang’s chaperone when he and Lang Lang moved to Beijing to study at the Conservatory.

To make a long story short, Lang Lang competed in many international competitions, and after winning was accepted to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, United States. He is now an international sensation, playing to sold out audiences around the world with world famous orchestras.

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