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Van Cliburn, American Classical Pianist

Wednesday, February 27, 2019 by Mary O'Connor | pianists

cdcovers/tchaikovsky/concerto no 1 van cliburn.jpg

Van Cliburn was just a pianist much the way Neil Armstrong was merely an astronaut. Simply put, the tall Texan's musical talent and successes were out of this world.

Cliburn, who died Wednesday February 27, 2013 at age 78 at his Fort Worth home due to complications from bone cancer, was 23 when he strode into Moscow for the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition, created to showcase Soviet cultural superiority.

Playing with unerring precision and sublime emotion, he took the top prize and was given a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan, the first and last time a pianist won such an honor.

"Imagine galvanizing the attention of the entire world in the pre-Internet, pre-global TV year of 1958," says Howard Reich, who got to know the Texas-based pianist while researching his 1993 biography, Van Cliburn. "As a Texan, he was so emblematic of the United States. But the Russians fell in love with his romanticism."

In many ways, however, that seminal performance both made his name and sealed his fate.

The pieces that won him the competition — Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 — sold countless records (his Tchaikovsky No. 1 was the first classical record to sell more than a million copies) and became required concert staples.

"Playing on that treadmill for the next 20 years led him to burn out, and by 1978 he looked terrible and bowed out of public life," says Reich. "He was a gentle soul, and that harsh public spotlight had a negative effect on him."

It would be nine years before Cliburn performed again, at the White House for Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev. Although he made occasional appearances in the following decades, he spent most of his time overseeing his foundation and a quadrennial competition that bears his name.

"I can't think of anyone who has done more to help promote the instrument and young performers than Van," says Cliburn's friend Yoheved Kaplinsky, chairman of the piano department at New York's Juilliard School of Music, which Cliburn attended. "He was an icon in Fort Worth, and a person of great humility."

Born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. in Shreveport, La., Cliburn started piano lessons at age 3 and immediately showed prowess under the watchful eye of his mother, who had trained on the instrument under a teacher who had studied with Franz Liszt.

After moving to Texas, Cliburn played with Houston's symphony at age 12, and at 17 entered Juilliard. At 20, he performed with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, setting the stage for his triumphant coup in Russia.

No one can imagine a ticker-tape parade for a pianist in this era, but in Cliburn's heyday he was as much an inevitable cultural icon as he was a reluctant political figure. In the late '50s, the Cold War was raging, the Beatles were still practicing and classical music still held sway.

But what truly made Cliburn unique was the humble ease with which he went about seducing the alleged enemy.

"Van marched in full of the musical values of the Old World, full of tremendous sincerity and with a remarkable ability to connect with audiences," says Kaplinsky. "He may have transcended the boundaries of the art world and breached into the political world, but foremost Van was a consummate artist."

That artistry is on display in various YouTube clips of Cliburn reprising his competition-winning form in Moscow in 1962. The pianist's eyes are often closed as massive hands fly across the length of the keyboard. Utterly lost in the music, Cliburn seems almost oblivious to his audience.

"He had more of everything," says Reich. "More height, more smiles, more sweep on the piano."



In his later years, Cliburn collected the usual array of awards accorded cultural heroes. A Kennedy Center Honors tribute in 2001, a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, and in 2004 Russia's equivalent, the Russian Order of Friendship. In 2004, there was a predictable Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1994 a less-expected guest appearance as himself in the TV cartoon Iron Man.

On the personal front, Cliburn was a devout Baptist but also quietly gay; in the late '90s, his longtime partner, Thomas Zaremba, unsuccessfully sued the pianist over compensation claims.

Ultimately, Cliburn will be remembered not just as a performer of startling skill, but also as a global cultural sensation in the age of shortwave radio.

"He did something that no one could have ever imagined back then," says Reich. "He was ubiquitous."

Adapted from USA Today

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My Piano Teacher, Howard Lebow

Saturday, January 26, 2019 by Mary O'Connor | pianists

 

Time Magazine Milestones: Jan. 26, 1968

Died. Howard Lebow, 32, U.S. concert pianist; of injuries suffered in an automobile accident; in Amherst, Mass. One of the youngest and most promising of U.S. pianists, Lebow toured 15 countries after his 1963 Manhattan solo debut, played the works of such modern composers as Edward Levy and Erich Kahn with an adventurousness that sometimes startled the critics but more often won their applause .


Howard Lebow The University of Massachusetts Department of Music has established a trust fund for scholarships to assist both graduate and undergraduate music students in memory of the late Howard M. Lebow, professor of piano and concert artist whose untimely death in an automobile accident in January cut short a brilliant musical career. The scholarships will be awarded to students, selected by a special music committee, who demonstrate musical potential according to the ideals and standards of excellence that Lebow set for himself and for his students.

Lebow was graduated from the Juilliard School of Music in 1957, received his master's degree in 1959, and was the winner of the school ' s highest pianistic honor, the Morris Loeb Memorial Prize. He studied at the State Academy of Music in Hamburg, Germany; the International Institute for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany; and the Mozarteum Summer Academy in Salzburg, Austria.

He studied under Edward Steuermann, a pupil of composer Ferruccio Busoni, and became well-known for his performances of Busoni ' s works. Lebow came to the University of Massachusetts in 1965 to assume his position as Assistant Professor of Piano. Internationally acclaimed as a remarkable pianist by music critics, Lebow was widely recognized as having a faultless technique, a richly varied touch, and a distinctive feeling for style. " It is only Lebow, " said the Darmstaedter Echo, " who puts every fiber of his body and soul into the keys and truly performs with the utmost clarity, transparentness and plasticity. " Dr. Philip Bezanson, head of the department said, " The music department feels this memorial fund is a most fitting way to perpetuate the memory of Howard Lebow. He was actively interested in trying to develop scholarships for the music department. Because of his genuine interest in talented students it is most fitting that talented students should continue to receive help in his name. "

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Howard Miles Lebow was an accomplished concert pianist and composer who was first celebrated during his tenure as a student at Julliard School of Music where he earned both his BA and MFA. While at Julliard, Lebow studied under Edward Steuermann, a pupil of composer Ferruccio Busoni, and was acclaimed for his performances of Busoni’s works. Lebow exceled as a pianist, performing in fifteen countries across Europe and the Americas. Appointed to the post of Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Massachusetts in September 1965, Lebow lectured and performed until his untimely death in 1968 at age 32. Although known for his interpretations of contemporary music, Lebow was equally at home in the entire piano literature; one of his last and most memorable recitals was devoted to the music of Franz Liszt, another artist whom he had studied and whom he greatly admired. After his death, the Howard M. Lebow Scholarship Fund was established (1968).

http://www.nyyouthsymphony.org/concerts/1964-1965/orchestra/spring-concert


Howard Lebow

The University of Massachusetts Department of
Music has established a trust fund for
scholarships to assist both graduate and
undergraduate music students in memory of
the late Howard M. Lebow, professor of piano
and concert artist whose untimely death in an
automobile accident in January cut short a
brilliant musical career. The scholarships
will be awarded to students, selected by a
special music committee, who demonstrate
musical potential according to the ideals
and standards of excellence that Lebow set
for himself and for his students.

Lebow was graduated from the Juilliard School
of Music in 1957, received his master's
degree in 1959, and was the winner of the
school's highest pianistic honor, the
Morris Loeb Memorial Prize. He studied at
the State Academy of Music in Hamburg,
Germany; the International Institute for New
Music in Darmstadt, Germany; and the
Mozarteum Summer Academy in Salzburg, Austria.
He studied under Edward Steuermann, a pupil
of composer Ferruccio Busoni, and became
well-known for his performances of Busoni's
works.

Lebow came to the University of Massachusetts
in 1965 to assume his position as Assistant
Professor of Piano.

Internationally acclaimed as a remarkable
pianist by music critics, Lebow was widely
recognized as having a faultless technique,
a richly varied touch, and a distinctive
feeling for style. "It is only Lebow," said
the Darmstaedter Echo, "who puts every fiber
of his body and soul into the keys and truly
performs with the utmost clarity,
transparentness and plasticity."

Dr. Philip Bezanson, head of the department said, "The music department feels this memorial fund is a most fitting way to perpetuate the memory of Howard Lebow. He was actively interested in trying to develop scholarships for the music department. Because of his genuine interest in talented students it is most fitting that talented students should continue to receive help in his name."

https://archive.org/stream/index1968univ/index1968univ_djvu.txt

 

http://scua.library.umass.edu/umarmot/lebow-howard/

 

 

Howard Lebow was my piano teacher my freshman year at UMass.  I was devastated over Christmas break to learn that he had died in a car crash.  He had been walking on campus and was hit by a driver. :(

Happy Birthday, Alfred Brendel

Saturday, January 5, 2019 by Mary O'Connor | pianists

brendel


Alfred Brendel was born in 1931 in Wiesenberg, Czech Republic.

After World War II, Brendel composed music, as well as continuing to play the piano, to write and to paint. However, he never had more formal piano lessons and, although he attended master classes with Edwin Fischer and Eduard Steuermann, he was largely self-taught after the age of six.

He made his debut in Graz (1948), and has since performed widely throughout Austria, where he lives.



He is known for his interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, and Schoenberg. He tours internationally and has written many essays on music.

A short insight from Alfred Brendel on his recording career: