28 Feb 2013

Death of US classical pianist

4:28 pm on 28 February 2013

American pianist Van Cliburn, who awed Russian audiences during the Cold War with exquisite Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff concertos, has died.

He was the surprise winner of the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 after receiving an eight-minute standing ovation in the finale.

The judges reportedly had to ask Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for permission to give the top prize to the American, then aged 23.

Cliburn's triumph helped spur a brief thaw in US-Soviet relations and made him an overnight sensation in the United States, where his name was known even among those who did not follow classical music, Reuters reports.

"It was he that was the symbol of peace for the Cold War," publicist Mary Lou Falcone said.

"He was embraced by both Eisenhower and Khrushchev in the 1950s and the only musician to have a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan."

Cliburn, 78, died at his home in Fort Worth, Texas on Wednesday. He had bone cancer.