Van Cliburn has been hailed as one of the greatest pianists in the history of music as well as one of the most persuasive ambassadors of American culture. Cliburn entered the Juilliard School at age 17. At age 20, he won the Leventritt Award and made his Carnegie Hall debut. In 1958, Cliburn’s victory at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War propelled him to international fame.
Cliburn has received Kennedy Center Honors and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He received the Order of Friendship from President Vladimir Putin in 2004, and in 2003 President George W. Bush bestowed upon him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.