Chapter 3

An International

Return Concert at Carnegie Hall

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.

A Best-Selling Classic

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.

Growing Friendship with Russia

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.

A Natural
Guest Star

Van was a guest on a variety of television shows including, What’s My Line, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and The Ed Sullivan Show.


Van's Happiest Night

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.

Ensuring a Great Legacy

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.

Performing on the World Stage

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.

Van with Harry S. Truman.

Van with his mother and John F. Kennedy.

Van with Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa.