Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Van Cliburn experience

This Cliburn competition is still a lot of fun even though Eduard Kunz, on whom I had pinned all my hopes, is no longer in it.

As my friend Steven wrote yesterday, you can follow it on the Web site Here is the specific link for Cliburn performances.

Steven writes: "Just look for the MUSIC section on that page and click on the photo/name of the pianist you want to listen to. New performances are being uploaded as the competition progresses."


I am going to be checking that all the time. Which, I am lucky that way. I can sit at work and say hey, I am just doing my job. It is up to me to keep up to date with the classical music world!

Here is what I am wondering. Do the Big Van Cliburn Competition contestants get to go to Van Cliburn's house the way we got to in the first Van Cliburn Amateur Competition? I had fun at Van Cliburn's house. It was the most beautiful house I had ever seen in my life and that included movies. There were tables set up on the terrace and we dined there. Everyone was just floating around.

There were pianos in every room and Van Cliburn did not care if we played them or set drinks on them or what. And from the terrace while you were eating you could look down and there was Fort Worth spread out beneath you, its lights twinkling.

It was funny at the competition because this was all secret. It was not planned. The competition had not even ended, I can't even remember what round we were in, but a bunch of us who didn't even have to play were sitting around listening and gabbing, and the word went around: Pssst, Van Cliburn is inviting us over to his house.

Then we all had to convoy there. You just followed the person in front of you.

And Van Cliburn hugged us all at the door. He said to me: "Oh, you're so beautiful! Oh, you're so sweet. Oh, you're so nice!"

Which I am!

But it was nice of him to say so. What a gracious man he is.

The funniest thing was, my friend Lizzie was with me. She had accompanied me down to Fort Worth. Lizzie is not a musician. She is a prison guard. We have been friends since I was 16. I was not in the clink! Do not even think that. Lizzie was not a prison guard back then.

But the point is, Lizzie does not know a lot about music but she was along for the ride and she was great. She is very outgoing and meets everyone and I made friends with everyone because of her. She was following Van Cliburn around and they were making plans to get together. He loved her. Later Lizzie and I were gloating that Van Cliburn liked us more than he liked anyone else. It was the truth!

Now this is the best. We are all floating around Van Cliburn's house drinking wine and Lizzie gets on her cell phone and calls her parents and she says: "I'm down in Texas with Mary and we're at this pianist's house. It's such a beautiful house! His name is Van. Van Cliburn? I think that's it."

And her dad says: "You're kidding!!!"

Wow, we had fun at that competition! Or contest, to use the word Leonard Pennario preferred. Here, I can prove how much fun I had. Last year, I called the Van Cliburn Foundation about something relating to my book about Leonard Pennario. And their head of P.R. remembered my name!

"Weren't you in our Amateur Competition?" he said. "I remember you!"

That had been eight years before!!

"I can't believe you remember me," I said.

He said: "Yes, I do. You were a lot of fun!"

Ha, ha! No wonder I got knocked out in the first round!

Pennario told me all kinds of stuff about the Cliburn contest because he was a juror for it forever. He had me laughing and laughing. There were only two permanent jurors named to the Cliburn competition. Pennario was one and the other was Lili Kraus.

That is the, ahem, historic jury of the first Van Cliburn Competition pictured above. It was in 1962. Pennario is third from the left in the back row. He is the tanned and good-looking one! The one who looks as if he is having fun.

Which I was, too, as a contestant in the Amateur Competition. I had more fun than I think these contestants are having now.

But still, I will be watching them on!


  1. Could I persuade you to run that jury photo fully captioned? I recognize Jorge Bolet, who is standing to the left of Pennario. The rest I don't know...didn't think I'd admit it, did you?

  2. Lili Kraus is the dark haired lady in the front row, far left.

  3. Thanks, Paladino. She was the other permanent member. Anybody else recognize any of the rest, out there? Mary, might Stephen Manes?

  4. I'll be happy to ID all the jurors. I'm sitting here feeling so blessed that I have friends who want to know! You're right, Steven, Lili K. is the dark-haired lady. And the woman on the right is Yara Bernette. Give me a minute and I'll get you the rest..

  5. I will check back. Thanks. It's like Paul Harvey's The Rest Of The Story.