The Van Cliburn competition is an event that was started in 1962 in honor of Van Cliburn, a young Texan, who rocked the world by winning the International Tchaikowsky Piano Competition in Moscow, Russia in 1958 at the height of the Cold War. Van Cliburn was embraced by the Russian people and many feel that his accomplishment there, helped to thaw some of that ice that had built up between the United States and Russia (then called the U.S.S.R.). So the Van Cliburn competition was started and has continued to this day with some of the finest pianists in the world coming every four years to compete for the highest prize.
In 1997, Jon Nakamatsu, a “local” who lived in Sunnyvale, CA won the first place prize. His journey of getting to that prestigious place was unconventional to say the least, having essentially studied with only one teacher and not training in a Conservatory setting. He studied German and secondary education and at the time of the competition and was teaching German in a local high school in Sunnyvale. What I didn’t know was the back story which is told in the clip that I am sharing with you. Jon Nakamatsu describes to an audience at the Van Cliburn competition, where he was a judge for that year, all the failures that he experienced before his triumphant moment in 1997. Sometimes when we only see the final end of something we don’t think about all the steps and failures along the way, and we forget the effort that it takes to accomplish anything of lasting value. I hope you enjoy his perspective and find it as inspiring as I did.