LAKE PLACID - After a bit over 40 years, the celebrated pianist Val Cliburn performed a return engagement in Lake Placid on Sunday evening thanks to the combined efforts of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, the Lake Placid Sinfonietta, the Adirondack Film Society, and the Lake Placid-North Elba historical Society along local resident Richard Rodzinski.
The last time Van Cliburn's musical skills were showcased live at the Lake Placid Club and this time through a documentary, news feature, and a rare, never-seen-before, home movie of his triumphant return to Russia and rehearsal for a concert filmed by Rodzinski.
Van Cliburn rocketed to fame as the unexpected winner of the first International Tchaikovsky Competition held in Moscow, a feat unimagined by Russians and Americans alike. Held in 1958, when Cold War tensions were at their peak and characterized by the downing of a US spy plane nearly at the same time, his artistic skills and genuine affection for the music-loving Russians broke open doors and transcended politics.
After a grueling international performance schedule, and within a couple years of his performance in Placid, Van Cliburn stopped giving concerts in the early 1970s. It was a call from the president Ronald Reagan to perform at the Whitehouse for visiting Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988 that broke the ice, which was followed by an invitation for a return performance in Moscow.
Rodzinski, who was then working with Van Cliburn to establish the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, had the good fortune to be invited to go along, and for the benefit of the rest of us, took a brand new Super-8 video camera. Rodzinski filmed his arrival at the airport and National Hotel, leaving his suite for the ride over to the performance hall, his welcome there, the rehearsal for the concert, the encore performances, and an impromptu performance held back at the hotel room in the early hours of the morning.
Rodzinski and Emmy-winning director Peter Rosen's commentary and Q&A session added many marvelous details. Fascinating was watching and hearing the dialogue between the conductor and Van Cliburn, and the back and forth musical explorations as they and the musicians sought to get it right. The Art Center audience had the good fortune to watch and hear a major piece of music flower and burst into life before them a rare opportunity. No less of interest was gaining an appreciation for Van Cliburn's mother's role in his development as well as building audiences for classical music, and witnessing the deep affection between Van Cliburn and his audiences.
"This was Betsy Lowe's idea," said Rodzinski. "She simply said, 'Why don't you do something about Van Cliburn?' Betsy is quite an instigator of ideas."
"I took piano lessons growing up and, of course, heard of Van Cliburn," said Lowe. "I knew about Riki's long association with the Van Cliburn Competition and was so impressed by all his work. We were collaborating on some North Country project about the time that Van Cliburn passed away. We got talking about co-hosting a tribute with all these arts organizations and agreed that the income should be split between them."
"I first met Van Cliburn back in 1966 at the Oak Bar in New York," said Rodzinski. "We later met at several other events, I started working with him and we became very close friends. He is the godfather of my two children. He loved the concept of service. He said if he was to come back he would want to come back as a waiter. His father believed that those who wish to receive a service should first learn how to serve others. He saw is role as a musician as one of service of performing the music of great composers to others."
"We are very pleased to work with the other cultural organizations to present this performance, to let the public know what we and they do, and that we and the other arts organizations work collaboratively," said Jennifer Tufano.
"I can remember as a kid listening to the radio and hearing Van Cliburn," said Doris Kane. "He was so fantastic. I still have some of his records. When I get home I am going to listen to them tonight."
"This touched my soul," said Barbara Erickson, president of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta. "I was thinking, thank you Riki for filming him and bringing so much joy to the hundred or so people that are here. Tonight brought back memories. It was so moving it brought tears to my eyes. The Art Center is a gem. The diversity of the arts was on display tonight."
"I knew that this would be good, but tonight was more than good, it was special," said Betsy Lowe.
"I was concerned about the home footage," said Ridzinski. "I really appreciated the response from the audience."
"I liked best Riki's home movies," said Adirondack Film Society Chairman John Huttlinger. "I liked seeing the documentary, then the news special, and then seeing Riki's home movies. They added a whole new dimension."
"We love this spirit of collaboration people coming together to celebrate the work of Van Cliburn and the artistic resources of our community," Said LPCA director James Lemon. "People can expect more such collaborations in the future."