The recent death of pianist Harvey Lavan Cliburn, Jr. (Van Cliburn), winner of the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, resonates deeply with those of us who heard him in this country and who remember the Cold War era.
During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy and United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson spoke to the Russian power elite in tough language they could understand. No less effectively, Van Cliburn had reached the classical music-loving Russian people, whose enthusiasm was beamed back to America, awakening a whole generation of Americans to the beauty of concert music.
Having had the importance of the "space race" and the "arms race" dinned into their heads by their leaders for years, Russians and Americans of that period must have been gratified to share a human activity like music, for which arriving first at the finish line is hardly a consideration. (Only for the most non-musical among us is the "goal" of a performance the end of the piece.) Genuine music lovers, like the truly religious, value content rather than time frame.
Today, we hear a great deal about cultural diversity. Artists like Van Cliburn recall the more profound importance of cultural continuity among nations. Only a common cultural base can provide a soft place to land should genuine peace and good will ever break out.
John Clem, Edinburg