Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 28, 2013

Van Cliburn and Interlochen: A special relationship

“An artist can be truly evaluated only after he is dead. At the very 11th hour, he might do something that will eclipse everything else.”

That quote often is attributed to world famous pianist Van Cliburn, who died Wednesday. Jeff Kimpton, president of Interlochen Center for the Arts, remembered Cliburn for an unforgettable living moment.

“At his last Interlochen performance in 2006 he stayed for two hours after the audience had left,” Kimpton recalled. “It was a hot summer day and uncomfortably warm backstage, but instead of escaping to the air conditioning, he took time to speak with every student in the World Youth Symphony Orchestra about their life and music. That is the type of person that Van Cliburn was.”

Cliburn had a long and special relationship with the Interlochen Center for the Arts. He was elected a trustee of Interlochen in 1963 and served on the board until 2004.

“He first came to Interlochen 50 years ago for what was supposed to be a one-time performance, but he became a lifelong friend and advocate for Interlochen and arts education. Today is a very sad day for the Interlochen community and the entire world of music,” Kimpton said.

Cliburn’s first visit to Interlochen was on July 29, 1961, when he came to perform a benefit concert to provide financial aid for scholarships, center spokesman Chris Hintz said. Cliburn had gained instant celebrity three years before by winning the first international Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Over the next years, he would play in 18 annual benefit performances. When he no longer could come, he sent prize winners from the international competition he had started in Fort Worth.

In 1964, National Music Camp and Interlochen Arts Academy founder Joseph Maddy launched the first Interlochen Arts Festival with inaugural performances by the Texas-born pianist. Maddy believed Interlochen students and music campers needed to see the world’s best artists performing side-by-side with them.

The summer-long music festival established arts center as one of the first regional presenters to bring the world renowned artists to outdoor performance venues. It will celebrate its 52nd year this summer.

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