Van Cliburn – My Brush with Greatness

Posted on March 29, 2013. Filed under: Music |

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I was sad to hear Van Cliburn passed on February 27th.  I had the pleasure of meeting him in 1994.  He is the world famous pianist who triumphed in the inaugural 1958 Tchaikovsky piano competition in Moscow.  He came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Sunday, August 14, 1994 where he played at the Marcus Amphitheater with the Moscow Philharmonic.  It was truly spectacular.

My husband and I went to the concert and as we were walking out to the car we passed a big garage door.  My husband said, “He’ll probably drive right out that door soon.”  We decided to wait for him!  Sure enough, in just a few minutes, a long black limo drove out that very door.  We got behind and followed.  While driving we discussed how it would be great to get his autograph on the back of the program which had a great logo of him (Bill’s idea, he has a great eye for these things).

We got to a stoplight and Bill said, “I’ll pull up next to the car, you try to get his attention.”  So, although I felt foolish, I rolled down my window and waved the program at the black-tinted windows with pleading eyes.  After a brief delay, the limo window rolled down!!  I jumped out of the car and ran to the door, and there he was against the far corner.  He acted astonished that I was so thankful!  He turned over the program to sign, but I said, “No, please sign the back.”  He said, “The back?”  When I explained that it would be cool to have his signature near the great logo, he understood.  Within seconds the car was surrounded by young people (piano students, I presumed) and he stayed at that stoplight and signed until everyone got their autograph.  He was sweet and humble and really gracious.  Thankfully, it was late and there wasn’t a lot of traffic disturbed by all the stopped cars.

We followed the limo to Giovanni’s Restaurant, a well-known Italian spot which was closed, but apparently available for this special guest.  Later I sent to the newspaper for a copy of the photo used in the review.  I was going to frame the group.  I never did, but reading about Van Cliburn’s passing this past week, I pulled out the papers and had a good reminisce!

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