Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Van Cliburn made his first appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on April 7 and 8, 1960, performing Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Fritz Reiner conducting. On April 12 he was soloist in Schumann’s A minor concerto with the Orchestra, also with Reiner on the podium.
“Van Cliburn cannot be accused of looking for the easy road to success,” wrote Donal Henahan in the Chicago Daily News following the first performance of Brahms’s concerto. The twenty-five year-old pianist gave “a performance of glitter and grace, and one that was breathtakingly well played . . . perhaps no one but Horowitz today could play those double-note scales in both hands with as much apparent ease.”
Cliburn would appear four more times during Reiner’s tenure, and their performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in April 1963 were Reiner’s last public appearances. Cliburn later appeared in Chicago under Jean Martinon as well as at the Ravinia Festival with Georges Prêtre, Seiji Ozawa, Donald Johanos, Bruno Maderna, and James Levine. His final appearance with the Orchestra was on July 16, 2005, at Ravinia in Grieg’s Piano Concerto, under festival music director James Conlon.
On the RCA label, he made several recordings with the Orchestra, including Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth concertos, Brahms’s Second, Rachmaninov’s Second, and Schumann’s concerto with Reiner; and MacDowell’s Second and Prokofiev’s Third concertos with Walter Hendl.
Image above: Van Cliburn’s program biography for April 7 and 8, 1960
A complete list of Van Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found here.
This article also appears here.