Steinway Owners’ Magazine: The Van Cliburn At 50

As seen in the Issue One 2013 edition of the Steinway Owners' Magazine.

After Van Cliburn defied the odds and made history at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958, the founding of a new contest in his native Texas seemed an obvious way to keep the legacy of that moment alive. In 1962 the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was held for the first time, in Fort Worth. Over the years its top prize has been scooped by such artists as Radu Lupu, Steven De Groote, Alexei Sultanov and Olga Kern.

The Cliburn’s half-century anniversary competition begins on 24 May 2013, with prizes to be announced on 9 June. And these days the event is much more than a piano contest. High-profile competitions such as this can become focal points for the entire community within which they take place. Fort Worth is blessed with some superb facilities, but lacks the cultural advantages of New York or San Francisco — so the Cliburn has become a hub of activity at every level. It is a source of local pride, a draw for those eager to offer sponsorship and hospitality and, above all, a feast of great music making for its audience.

The competition has grown to encompasses an extensive education project, offering after-school piano lessons to local children and a programme entitled Musical Awakenings to introduce classical music to young audiences, presenting live piano recitals for second, third and fourth grade pupils. It has also introduced an Amateur Piano Competition, established in 1999, aiming to show the joys of music as part of everyday life, as well as to uncover some amazing talent in the more unlikely echelons of non-musical professions.

The Cliburn uses Steinway pianos exclusively and has had a special relationship with the firm for some years. Jenn Gordon, Manager of Concert and Artist Activities at Steinway & Sons in New York, explains how it works. “We try to ensure that all of the competition’s piano needs are met, so the competitors who come for this prestigious event are sure to have wonderful, concert prepped instruments ready for them to play,” she says. “We want to see that every competitor can do their job with the right equipment and the greatest ease — it’s hard enough to take part in a competition without having to worry about the piano!

Steinway provides all technical services: we have technicians on staff who are tuning the pianos regularly, voicing them and working with the competitors on a daily basis to ensure that the piano is just right for them when they’re performing.”

The pianos experience a good deal of wear and tear during such an intense competition. “Having a technician there at all times is essential, to make sure that the instruments are constantly ready to be performed on and to handle the load they go through,” says Gordon. “We send instruments from our Concert and Artist inventory in New York and we have a local dealer in Dallas that’s providing Steinways direct as well. So we’re serving all their needs.”

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