The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Van Cliburn biopic is in the works with young star Ansel Elgort to play the late, great American pianist. Plus, Madison maestro John DeMain remembers opera maestro Julius Rudel.

July 6, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear sees that something for both the ears and the eyes is coming down the pike.

Hollywood sources have confirmed that a biographical film –- yes, a biopic -– about the American pianist Van Cliburn (below) , who died last year at 78 of bone cancer, is in the works.

Cliburn's hands

That is as it should be, despite what some classical musicians see as shortcomings in Cliburn’s artistry.

Here is a post The Ear did before about the opinions that members of the public and musicians have concerning Cliburn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/classical-music-how-good-was-pianist-van-cliburn/

van cliburn ill

Cliburn was the first classical artist to make a million-selling record -– he played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 — on the RCA label (below and at the bottom). It was the same work with which, at age 23, he unexpectedly won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.

His victory during the height of The Cold War was an event that led to a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York City (bel0w) and a meteoric career, then to premature burn-out and an early retirement from the concert stage. (You can see an archival historic footage at the bottom in a YouTube video. Complete performances by Van Cliburn of the same concerto are also on YouTube.)

Van Cliburn ticker tape parade in 1958

And, if The Ear recalls correctly, Van Cliburn became a phenom or superstar who sold out houses, and was the first classical artist to get paid a fee of $10,000 for a one-night performance.

Cliburn Tchaikovsky LP

Not many classical musicians have the stuff to become the subject of a biopic.

Some composers, especially Ludwig van Beethoven and Frederic Chopin, have lent themselves to such a treatment, several times in the latter case. (We will overlook the case of the mentally ill performer David Helfgott in “Shine,” which seemed more a pathology than a biography.)

But The Ear can’t think of another individual performer, although he remembers more general subjects like “The Competition.”

The young actor Ansel Elgort (below), who The Ear thinks resembles the young Cliburn (who resembles fellow Texan Lyle Lovett), has been cast in the leading role, which focuses on Cliburn’s early years and his victory in Moscow. Apparently, Elgort himself also plays the piano quite well -– but my guess is that he does not play well enough to play it the way that the Juilliard School-trained Cliburn did.

But Elgort’s star is on the ascent, given his performance in the much praised and popular current release (“The Fault In Our Stars,” about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love.

Ansel Elgort

Anyway here are some links to stories about Van Cliburn, Ansel Elgort and the forthcoming movie:

To CBS News:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ansel-elgort-to-star-in-van-cliburn-biopic/

To the Dallas Morning News, in Cliburn’s hometown:

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20140623-ansel-elgort-tapped-to-play-van-cliburn-in-movie.ece

To TIME magazine with a good video accompanying it:

http://time.com/2917530/ansel-elgort-van-cliburn/

To another video with good comparison photos of Cliburn and Elgort:

http://www.hitfix.com/news/ansel-elgort-playing-van-cliburn-in-new-biopic

To Norman Lebrecht’s tweet-like comment on his popular blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2014/06/ansel-is-picked-to-play-van-cliburn-in-biopic/

What other classical music performers would you like to see treated on a biopic?

I nominate the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, a closeted gay man who led a dramatic life including encounters and confrontations with Soviet leaders and his American tour plus his eccentric late-life habits that included touring around Europe in a van playing in schools and old churches and using out-of-tune pianos. And perhaps also the legendary operatic  soprano Maria Callas, who was known for being tempestuous and temperamental as well as supremely gifted in both singing and acting. (There was a Broadway play about her, “Master Class” by Terrence McNally, the same writer who did the “Dead Man Walking,” the opera by Jake Heggie.)

richterwithcross1

Medea Maria Callas

Your nominations?

The Ear wants to hear.

JOHN DeMAIN ON JULIUS RUDEL

And speaking of celebrities, John DeMain (below, in photo by Prasad), the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera, sent in his remembrance of the late, great opera conductor Julius Rudel, who led the now-defunct City Opera of New York and who died a week ago at 93:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Here is a link to the Rudel posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/classical-music-conductor-julius-rudel-longtime-director-of-the-defunct-new-york-city-opera-has-died-at-93/

And here is John DeMain’s remembrance:

“It was my great honor to be chosen for the Julius Rudel Award at the New York City Opera in 1971. The purpose of the stipend was to allow an American conductor to work closely with Maestro Rudel to learn how to become an artistic director of an opera company.

Rudel (below) was far and away the best conductor in the house. His performances were vital, theatrical, and intensely musically expressive. His “Marriage of Figaro” was an unforgettable experience for me. I prepared the auditions of singers for the company, and got to sit in on the casting conversations, and learned the criterion for casting a singer in an opera.

Julius Rudel at home in 2010 NY Times

Rudel was extremely demanding musically, and, of course, expanded the repertoire of the company in all directions. He had great flair for American opera and musical theater.

The bottom line for me, however, was he delivered totally engrossing performances night after night. He also was a mentor to me, and provided counsel and advice as new career opportunities presented themselves to me.

I consider Julius Rudel’s time at the City Opera as the “golden age” of that company. It was during that time that Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Norman Treigle, Beverly Sills, and many other greats were singing on that stage.

I’m grateful to have had him in my life.

Julius Rudel middle age conducting NPR

 


Classical music: Van Cliburn Competition winners remember the award’s namesake after his death last week at 78; plus, here are some more obituaries and features about the “Leonard Bernstein of the Piano” and also his gay life. Also, the Lawrence (University) Chamber Players perform on “Sunday Live From the Chazen.”

March 9, 2013
1 Comment

ALERT: On Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen,” which airs live statewide tomorrow, on Sunday, March 10, from 12:30 to 2 p.m., the Lawrence Chamber Players (below) from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, will perform. The faculty string ensemble will consist of violins, viola, cello, bass, piano and classical guitar.  The Lawrence Chamber Players will perform music by Miroslav Tadic and Astor Piazzolla as well as the famed Brahms Piano Quintet.

Lawence Chamber Players

By Jacob Stockinger

Last week, in a popular posting, The Ear offered obituaries for the American superstar classical pianist Van Cliburn, who died of bone cancer at 78.

Here is a link to that initial post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/classical-music-pianist-van-cliburn-an-icon-of-american-classical-music-died-today-at-78/

Since then many more obituaries, features and analyses have appeared.

One of the best comes, not unexpectedly, from “Deceptive Cadence,” the terrific classical music blog on National Public Radio.

NPR asked pianists who have won the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Competition -– where several months ago Cliburn (below, performing in 1993) made his last public appearance — to remember the namesake, who emerges once again as a modest, gracious and warm personality as well as world-class pianist.

rememberingcliburn

The medalists such as Olga Kern (below top), Jon Nakamatsu (below middle), Andre–Michel Schub and Joyce Yang (below bottom) have their own big names and reputations now, and they mention specific performances and specific piano pieces, some of the memories and accounts are quite moving and emotionally stirring.

Olga Kern

Jon Nakamatsu

Joyce Yang

The blog posting also feature some of Cliburn’s best recordings as well as one of the medalists’ own playing:

See for yourself and maybe leave a memory of your own here or on the NPR blog or, thanks to copying and pasting on both:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/03/01/173241759/thank-you-for-that-gift-memories-of-van-cliburn-from-medalists

And here are more obituaries and commentaries:

From the blog “Music Beat” at The Voice of America:

http://blogs.voanews.com/music/2013/03/01/remembering-van-cliburn/

From the Dallas-Morning news with information about where to send memorial gifts and donations:

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dallasmorningnews/obituary.aspx?n=van-cliburn&pid=163401322&fhid=6322#fbLoggedOut

From the New York Times, that places Cliburn within his outstanding generation of American contemporaries, sort of the Leonard Bernstein of the Piano in terms of changing the debate from Europe and Russia to America:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/28/arts/music/van-cliburn-pianist-dies-at-78.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

For a view from abroad, here is the obit from The Guardian in Great Britain:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/mar/03/van-cliburn

van cliburn old

An analysis about how Cliburn’s live-in friend was treated and how the issue of Cliburn’s being gay and the subject of a palimony suit was ignored or finessed:

http://www.kennethinthe212.com/2013/02/nyt-obit-notes-pianist-van-cliburns.html

How the LGTB magazine The Advocate treated The Gay Van Cliburn:

http://www.advocate.com/society/obituaries/2013/02/28/watch-remembering-gay-pianist-van-cliburn

How the LGBT Washington Blade reported on the gay side of Van Cliburn:

https://www.washingtonblade.com/2013/03/07/classical-closet/?utm_source=https://www.washingtonblade.com/2013/03/07/classical-closet/&utm_medium=Website&utm_campaign=RelatedLinksInside

There are many more. Just go to Google and plus in Van Cliburn obituaries or “Van Cliburn and homosexuality.”

And here is a wonderful video and audio remembrance put together by PBS’ The Newshour and arts reporter Jeffrey Brown:


Classical music: Pianist Van Cliburn, an icon of American classical music, died today at 78.

February 27, 2013
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

These days, “icon” is an overused word.

But it certainly applies in the case of American pianist Van Cliburn (below). For five decade, he was ever-present in the mind of classical music fans ever since he won, against all odds, the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1958, held in Moscow during the height of The Cold War.

Cliburn's hands

I have written before about Cliburn, who died today at 78 after a long battle with bone cancer.

Here is one posting about the controversy that surrounded his playing:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/classical-music-how-good-was-pianist-van-cliburn/

Here is the most important blog posting, and be sure to reader the many intelligent and deeply felt comments by readers:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/classical-music-american-pianist-van-cliburn-is-diagnosed-with-advanced-cancer-the-ear-returns-cliburns-playing-of-the-beautiful-and-touching-liszt-schubert-song-dedication-to-honor-him/

There are many reasons to like him and his playing. Not for nothing was he the first classical musician to ask and get a concert fee of $10,000 for one night;s performance.

But if you asked me to sum it up, I would say: Van Cliburn made every note come from some place and go to another place, and he always developed a logic – melodic, harmonic or rhythmic — to a particular phrase or passage.

van cliburn playing

His Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 (below, the first classical recording to sell 1 million copies) and his Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 remain for me the best, the absolute best, versions ever recorded.

Cliburn Tchaikovsky LP

I didn’t like his Brahms or Schumann so much, but I liked much of his Chopin — hear the Nocturne he plays at the bottom in a YouTube video — and I adored his playing of Edward MacDowell‘s Piano Concerto No. 2, which also remains definitive for me.

His personal and professional story proved fascinating and courageous as well as inspiring to many young musicians, including myself. (Below is the 23-year-old Van Cliburn in the ticker tape parade he received in New York City after his win in Moscow.) 

Van Cliburn ticker tape parade in 1958

Here are links to some important obituaries and stories. You’ll find many memorable quotes and many unforgettable facts as well as some wonderful photos from all stages of his life and career:

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/28/arts/music/van-cliburn-pianist-dies-at-78.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

van cliburn ill

From the Associated Press:

http://entertainment.time.com/2013/02/27/van-cliburn-american-classical-pianist-dies/

From The Dallas Morning News:

http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/arts/headlines/20130227-pianist-van-cliburn-dies-at-age-78.ece

From the Houston Star-Telegram, the first a story and the second, a life in photos:

http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/02/27/4647640/van-cliburn-dies.html

http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/02/27/4647679/van-cliburn-dead-at-78.html

From National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/02/27/173061668/remembering-van-cliburn-a-giant-among-pianists-and-a-cold-war-idol

From The Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-van-cliburn-obit-20130227,0,6919189.story

From The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/american-pianist-van-cliburn-whose-1958-triumph-at-a-moscow-competition-impressed-world-dies/2013/02/27/8d8a1dec-8100-11e2-a671-0307392de8de_story.html

From CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/27/showbiz/van-cliburn-obit/?hpt=en_c2

From USA TODAY:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2013/02/27/van-cliburn-american-classical-pianist-dies/1951217/

What would you like to say on Van Cliburn’s passing? Leave a COMMENT.

What is your favorite recording of Cliburn’s?


Classical music: American pianist Van Cliburn has been diagnosed with advanced cancer. The Ear dedicates Cliburn’s playing of the beautiful and touching Liszt-Schubert song “Dedication” to honor the pleasure, joy and inspiration he has given to so many.

August 29, 2012
14 Comments

 

By Jacob Stockinger

Judging from news reports, an icon of American classical music is living out his final days.

American pianist Van Cliburn (below, in a photo taken by Ross Hailey for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram), now 78, has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer . The very consistent stories, clearly taken form the same press release, do not say whether it is Stage III or Stage IV (there is no Stage V) but the word “advanced” suggests it is one of them and is probably beyond any hope of a cure or even a long survival.

As a young pianist, Cliburn was a superstar sensation with the public, the first classical musician to sell one million LPs (of his live recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1) and the first classical musician to get $10,000 a night. Sviatoslav Richter, one of the giants of 20th century Russian pianism also thought Cliburn so gifted that he handed Cliburn all his votes to seal Cliburn’s win in the first International Tchaikovsky Competition (below).

But Cliburn has also had his detractors, critics who found his performances uneven and lazy, especially as he aged and seemed to grow bored with his art. And some people including The Ear, also wish that he had come out publicly, despite his conservative politics and apparently deep religious beliefs.

For myself, in his prime I found most of his performances very good and several of his performances stupendous, including his Tchaikovsky First and Rachmaninoff Third concertos, but also his MacDowell Second Concerto.

Anyway, in an earlier post I asked: How good was Van Cliburn?

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/classical-music-how-good-was-pianist-van-cliburn/

And here are links to the latest story from The Associated Press about Cliburn and his diagnosis of cancer:

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2012/08/28/arts/ap-us-cliburn-illness.html?_r=1&ref=arts

http://www.spinner.com/2012/08/28/van-cliburn-cancer/

http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/story/2012-08-27/van-cliburn-cancer-diagnosis/57355752/1

I don’t know if Cliburn reads The Well-Tempered Ear, but if he doesn’t now maybe he will if there are enough hits or somebody forwards it to him.

So leave a message in the COMMENTS column.

And tell us about your favorite Van Cliburn moments or performance.

One of mine is his playing of Franz Liszt’s transcription of Robert Schumann‘s song  “Widmung” (Dedication) — which was a favorite encore of Cliburn in his heyday and which is meant to honor the joy, the beauty and the inspiration he provided to so many young listeners and players, including me.. (Many more such moments, including Chopin, Brahms  and Debussy can be found for free on YouTube. Tear yourself and listen to a few).

 


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