Thursday, November 7, 2013

Van Cliburn's mother: 'Make it sing, honey'

Researching something just now, I stumbled on "Glimpses of Van Cliburn," in the New Yorker the day he died last February.

A writer recalls joining the Cliburns for the celebration of his mother's 94th birthday party. He wrote that the mansion was decorated "as if an inauguration were about to take place."

When Cliburn sat down to play "Happy Birthday," his mother said, "Make it sing, honey."

There is also an interesting section where Cliburn is young and the reporter sits down with him in Manhattan, in the Oak Room, and Cliburn talks about fame and his strange situation.

What a weird story Cliburn was, you know? I am glad I met him. I can't believe I was in that house, where they had that birthday party. How generous he was to invite us. I have pictures of myself with Cliburn from that week when I was in his amateur competition but they were pre-digital camera. One of these days when all my deadlines are met I will have to find them.

Meanwhile here is a picture I love, of Howard talking with Cliburn. 

And here we all are together along with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's concertmaster, Michael Ludwig. I have shared these pictures before and will do so again.

Ah, memory lane. I met Leonard Pennario a couple of weeks later. I wore that same dress! It was my favorite dress that fall. Anytime I had to meet anyone important I wore it.

Cliburn was a very interesting artist but, and I thought this through once, you would have to worry about this big gap in his life when he was not playing very much. Writers get around that by writing chapters in which he philosophizes, or they philosophize about him.


  1. These big gaps happen. Recently to Maxim Vengerov. How about Carlos Kleiber? He was notorious for hardly working. There are others,of course, who have taken extended leaves - Sabbaticals if you will. Vladimir Horowitz, too. Bronislaw Huberman took three years off from the stage after his first Russian tour. On the other hand, Mozart could never afford to do anything like that and he might never have done it anyway.

  2. It bothers me when musicians take extended leaves. I don't know why, and it probably isn't fair, it just seems spoiled to me ... Cliburn might be an exception. Maybe that sudden fame messed him up. But I just think if you have gift it should be hard-wired into you to want to use it.... You're right about Mozart. For whatever reason, I can't imagine him taking a break!