In 1958, Van’s return concert at Carnegie Hall with Kirill Kondrashin and the Symphony of the Air, repeated his award-winning program from the final round of the Tchaikovsky Competition. This was broadcasted over WQXR in New York for all to hear.
In 1958, RCA Victor signed Van to an exclusive contract, and his recording of the Tchaikovsky First Concerto sold more than one million copies within a year. The same record won the 1958 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance, was a certified gold record by 1961, and went on to become the first classical album to go platinum in 1989. It held the role of being the best-selling classical album for over a decade and eventually went on to become triple platinum.
Van performed on tour in the Soviet Union despite the on-going tensions of the Cold War. The mutual love among Van and the Soviet people prompted his return visits. Van’s performances were even televised.
Van was a guest on a variety of television shows including, What’s My Line, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and The Ed Sullivan Show.
In 1962, on his tour back to the Soviet Union, Van had his mother perform Moszkowski and Liszt during his encore in Moscow. “That was one of the happiest nights of my life,” Van stated.
In 1962, the first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was held. The Competition quickly established itself as an event that inspires and engages the local community, while gracing the international stage. This unique legacy demonstrates how classical music has the appeal to reach across all borders.
Van Cliburn played for every sitting US president from Dwight D. Eisenhower through Barack Obama and was also welcomed in Russia and in capitals around the world.