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Cliburn memorial concert marks anniversary of pianist's death

Van Cliburn Foundation

Exactly one year ago, legendary pianist and Shreveport native Van Cliburn died. Tonight in downtown Fort Worth, where the International Piano Competition named for him is held every four years, past winners will pay tribute by performing at a free, outdoor concert.

A month ago, Cliburn Foundation President and CEO Jacques Marquis says the emails went out to all past finalists of the competition. It was an invitation to play for tonight’s anniversary.

“It’s part of the Cliburn ideology of sharing the music with the larger audience,”Marquis said. “I think that ‘Van vision’ was to share the music.”

Van Cliburn lent his name to the famous competition he considered less a contest and more a festival of classical masterpieces played by some of the world’s most gifted young artists. He gave generously of his time and money over the years furthering the cause of classical music, musical education, and helping up-and- coming musicians.

For 1985 Brazilian-born gold medalist and TCU artist-in-residence Jose Feghali, saying ‘yes’ to tonight’s performance was easy. 

“Oh absolutely, absolutely, yes,” said Feghali, “as soon as I was asked. There was a possibility of a conflict but I got rid of that.”

2001 finalist Alexey Koltakov, originally from the Ukraine, but who now lives in New York, says he had to be here, and definitely wants to perform. The competition helped launch his career as a pianist and teacher because it gave him a chance to perform a lot.

“This is really where every artist learns about himself,” explained Koltakov. “About performance, about being on stage, about how to do that. You can’t learn it in a practice room.”

Koltakov will play music by Lizst that he recently fell in love with and says it will give audiences adequate emotional impact.

But it won’t be too somber, says longtime volunteer, and now cabinet member of the Cliburn Foundation board, Ann Hudson. She’s been with the Cliburn competition since the start, more than half a century ago. She says this will be a celebration.

“It’s a tribute,” Hudson said enthusiastically. “It’s just the happiest way we can salute Van and we will do it many different ways, many times.”

And it will be a reunion. What Jose Feghali calls a Cliburn competition family reunion. Eight pianists in all will play tonight, the oldest medalist winning nearly thirty years ago, the youngest having performed in Fort Worth year just two years ago.

For those listening in Fort Worth and live online, it will be an evening of great works in tribute to a champion of classical music. But Cliburn might say no, it’s a tribute to master composers. Pianists are just the vessels who bring their music to the people.

The Van Cliburn Memorial Concert will take place 5-8:30 p.m. in the new Sundance Square Plaza in downtown Fort Worth.

The event will be free and open to the public, and will be streamed live at http://www.cliburn.org and www.star-telegram.com

background:white">Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at Dallas NPR station KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues. He’s won numerous awards over the years, with top honors from the Dallas Press Club, Texas Medical Association, the Dallas and Texas Bar Associations, the American Diabetes Association and a national health reporting grant from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Zeeble was born in Philadelphia, Pa. and grew up in the nearby suburb of Cherry Hill, NJ, where he became an accomplished timpanist and drummer. Heading to college near Chicago on a scholarship, he fell in love with public radio, working at the college classical/NPR station, and he has pursued public radio ever since.
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