Van Cliburn News

Hear this long-lost recording of famed pianist on Dallas' classical WRR

Hear this long-lost recording of famed pianist on Dallas classical WRR

Van Cliburn c. 1962
Van Cliburn, circa 1962. Wikimedia Commons

A classical music treasure has been discovered in Dallas: It's a long-lost audio recording of a performance by the late concert pianist Van Cliburn, dating back to 1967.

According to a release, the 55-year-old recording was unearthed at the studios of WRR, the City of Dallas' 101-year-old radio station.

The 35-minute tape is a recording of Cliburn performing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium in 1967.

This is the only known recording of the concert. It's believed to have aired once on WRR in 1977.

Dallas city archivist John Slate found the recording with assistant city archivist Kristi Nedderman.

"It’s a delight to turn up a gem like this," Slate says in a statement. "For us, it’s like finding an unpublished Gertrude Stein poem."

Written in 1900, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2 is one of the most popular concertos in classical music, but difficult to play and therefore tackled by only the most skillful pianists.

Cliburn performed the concerto many times and was hailed as among the best pianists to ever perform the piece; aficionados say that his execution "holds up virtually over all others before and since."

A hero in Fort Worth and in the DFW classical music community, Cliburn, who passed away in 2013, earned worldwide recognition when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.

The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, held in Fort Worth, was founded in 1962 and has been held at Bass Performance Hall since 2001. Yunchan Lim, an 18-year-old pianist from South Korea,  just won the 2022 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition on June 18.

The unearthed recording was done in mono audio on 7-inch reel-to-reel tape by WRR staff, and is one of the many arts-related collections in the Dallas Municipal Archives, which includes records of WRR, the South Dallas Cultural Center, the Office of Arts and Culture, and other City of Dallas institutions.

The digital transfer work to preserve the recording was accomplished by George Blood Audio of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, funded by the Friends of the Dallas Municipal Archives. 

"This is a golden example of the worth and value of archives," says WRR General Manager Mike Oakes in a statement. "It shows that preserving this tape adds to the local history of Van Cliburn and the DFW classical music community and the larger picture of Cliburn the international performer."

WRR was recently handed off by the city to KERA to assume management.

The radio station will air the performance — as well as the backstory of the discovery — on Saturday, June 25 at 7 pm on Classical 101.1 WRR.