US pianist Van Cliburn, Cold War music hero, dies
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US pianist Van Cliburn, who won a world competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War and whose music transcended the decades-long standoff, died at age 78 on Wednesday, his foundation said.
Cliburn achieved worldwide fame by winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958, becoming an acclaimed cultural ambassador at a time of intense ideological competition and nuclear threats.
The 23-year-old Cliburn was welcomed back with a ticker-tape parade, and was seen as an American hero who had temporarily erased the humiliation of the Soviet Union's Sputnik launch six months earlier by winning a competition intended to highlight Moscow's cultural superiority.
But rather than bask in patriotic glory, Cliburn invited Kirill Kondrashin, the Russian conductor who had performed with him in Moscow, to give concerts in New York's Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Their recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, made during the visit, was the first classical album to go platinum and has since sold more than three million copies.