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Publisher's Summary

April of 1958 - the Iron Curtain was at its heaviest, and the outcome of the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition seemed preordained. Nonetheless, as star musicians from across the globe descended on Moscow, an unlikely favorite emerged: Van Cliburn, a polite, lanky Texan whose passionate virtuosity captured the Russian spirit.

This is the story of what unfolded that spring - for Cliburn and the other competitors, jurors, party officials, and citizens of the world who were touched by the outcome. It is a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most remarkable events in musical history, filled with political intrigue and personal struggle as artists strove for self-expression and governments jockeyed for prestige. And, at the core of it all: the value of artistic achievement, the supremacy of the heart, and the transcendent freedom that can be found, through music, even in the darkest moments of human history.

©2017 Stuart Isacoff (P)2017 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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I Expected Better

As a professional musician from Texas, I was very interested in the subject of this book, Van Cliburn. While the focus of the book is the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958, the book provides a full biography of Van both before and after his earth-shattering win in Moscow. I must admit, however, that this book delves into details that I was less interested in: the bios of Van’s competitors, what the ambassador’s daughter ate at a reception in Moscow, etc. Others may be more interested in this level of detail. But what completely ruined this book for me was the narrator. Perhaps he was selected for this recording because of his ability to pronounce Russian names, but his other talents weren’t suited to this book. First, he has an extremely, almost unnaturally, low voice. I found this quite distracting, especially since most of the book centers on Van’s youth. I would have liked a higher, younger voice. I also thought his Texas accents were horrible, and his attempts to mimic historical figures fell flat. Other national accents fared no better and were inconsistent. The narrator had a bad habit of building to a point in a paragraph, then immediately segueing into the next paragraph without pause. This confused me, as the subject of the next sentence was unclear. Quotes frequently were not set off from the author’s commentary, so that I couldn’t tell what was quote from what was opinion. But the most unforgivable sin of this narrator was his mispronunciations of the names of historical figures. “Wreck-It-Ralph” Vaughn Williams and “Lang Lang” (take a guess) were bad enough, but Leonard Bern-STEEN was mentioned about twenty times, causing me to grind my teeth. In 2017, with all that has been written about how Bernstein changed the pronunciation of his name, with interviews and television appearances available, and within the living memory of those who knew him, making a professional recording and not using the correct pronunciation of Bern-STINE is unpardonable.

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Inspirational biography of Van Cliburn

I am not a musician, nor a classical music devotee; I remembered the name of Van Cliburn, and am glad I read this book.

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