(K. Brent Tomer),
Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story—How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War. By Nigel Cliff. Harper; 452 pages; $28.99. To be published in Britain in November; £20.
ONE night in April 1958, the cold war was broken by a gap-toothed smile. The jury of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow had reached a near-unanimous decision and the audience was going wild over the likely winner: a 23-year-old Texan called Van Cliburn. But Stalin was barely five years dead and no one was going to risk a spell in Siberia by awarding first prize to an American. So a nervous Emil Gilels, a pianist, was dispatched to see the minister of culture, and the minister went trembling to report to the Communist Party chief, Nikita Khrushchev, who was just back from reimposing Russian terror in Budapest.
“We don’t know what to do,” bleated the minister, presenting the jury’s report.
“Is he the best?” Khrushchev demanded. “In that case, give him the first prize.”
The Soviet leader followed up with a beaming public bear-hug for the victorious Cliburn, who towered a head…Continue reading