Last week, as fans and fellow musicians around the world mourned the death of Van Cliburn, politicians also made their voices heard. At a memorial ceremony, words came from presidents Obama and George W. Bush as well as Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the flurry of press coverage, someone even tracked down Sergei Khrushchev, son of the Soviet premier.
Their presence was a reminder of the combustible mix of politics and culture that, during one heady week in April 1958, ignited Cliburn’s career in the way that no pianist’s career had ever been launched before. Or since.