Van Cliburn rehearsing the Beethoven 4th Piano Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in the newly built Berlin Philharmonie (Philharmonic Hall).

Van was a good friend of myself and my roommate, Anthony Strilko, during Juilliard. The week before he went to Russia for the famous contest, he came over to our apartment, where Tony had a superb Steinway piano, and played through all the non-orchestral-accompanied works required for the contest for invited guests. After he played, we served a supper. When supper was over, it was quite late. But Van then sat down at the piano and played through the night into the early morning hours. It was an inimitable experience, the highlight 
of which was Chopin's Sonata in B Opus 58. When he came to the grand statement of the great theme in the last movement, he didn't finger the melody. He held his thumb firmly against his third finger and played the melody with his whole arm and body. It was just amazing, and spectacularly thrilling. I was sitting next to him on the piano bench, and I have never seen anything like that.

Oddly, a couple of weeks later, the great pianist Raymond Lewenthal, who had had his fingers broken by hoodlums, came by to visit. His hands had recently healed, after many months, and he also sat down to the piano to play for us....and played the same Chopin Sonata. It was different, but Lewenthal was also quite thrilling. But the point of this is that, in my experience, there are no coincidences in this world.

When Van came to Berlin, we were in touch, and he invited me to come to his rehearsals. These are the result.


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