Van Cliburn autographed photograph in a recording session with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra
In June of 1986, I was living in Dallas, Texas, a year out of college. I had mentioned to a friend of mine who was well connected in Dallas that I might like to re-start my ambition to become a concert pianist after a hiatus of 6 or so years. He immediately had an idea, I should play for his dear friend Van Cliburn. Now that was mighty ambitious I thought, but with a ridiculous amount of encouragement from my friend, I started to prepare a few Chopin Waltzes for the occasion. A month later, it was July, the date of the appointment had arrived. You see, July is the hottest months in Dallas, one can literally fry an egg on the sidewalk. So I am standing nervously in my friends home, pieces prepared and conversely, his wife had prepared a spread in their living room. Up the driveway comes the limousine. The door is opened by the driver and out pops Van Cliburn's mother, his constant companion at the time, wearing a full length red sable coat and then out came the Maestro himself. They all went in the house, I nervously shook his hand in complete reverence and got the surprise of my life, a cold, clammy, dead fish handshake in return. Oh well, I pressed on and played for Cliburn, he was very complimentary and recommended at professor at North Texas State University, which for those who do not know, was in Denton and quite a schlep; so nothing ever came of it. When Van Cliburn passed away last week; the first thought that came to mind was the memory of that cold, wet fishy handshake and his Mom in her full length fur in July. Rest in peace, Maestro.