February 27, 2013 - Interlochen has lost a longtime friend. If we consider the scholarship dollars that he helped bring to Interlochen through his benefit concerts, Van Cliburn would rank high among Interlochen’s many special benefactors. But there’s more to the story than the numbers, and since his quiet manner protected his privacy, few fully understand the extent of his many and varied contributions.
He gave joy to audiences and inspired campers for 18 consecutive summer concerts, but his gift of time and talent is even greater when you consider that he played each of these concerts twice: first in the afternoon for the enjoyment of the Camp family and then again in the evening to raise scholarship funds for young artists. His music spoke louder than his words but he was still a wonderful communicator. From giving a testimonial to a great Michigan governor to introducing Lorin Maazel for Interlochen’s 60th birthday to greeting the Fort Worth Orchestra for the last time, he always managed to find the right words to elegantly and simply express his appreciation, gratitude and love. On a more personal level, he found great happiness in talking to students, listening to their aspirations and encouraging them to follow their dreams.
I have written previously about Van Cliburn’s role in the first Interlochen Arts Festival, performing with and conducting the students one night and playing a different concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra two days later, but there’s a side story rarely told because so few of us are still here to share in it. For me, this story is a small window into Van Cliburn’s personality. It was a chance for me to see that his private manner perfectly matched his public persona as he showed graciousness, confidence and skill in a situation that would have caused many other musicians to panic.
I arrived at Interlochen for my fifth year on the staff and I was thrilled to read the plans for the Arts Festival, which was scheduled to debut in August. The program promised exciting music - the Britten War Requiem alone would be spectacular - but also included Les Préludes, the International Youth Symphony, and five concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra. I also read that Van Cliburn was also scheduled to conduct the Festival Choir … and then it hit me: his concert was scheduled two days after most of the singers in the Festival Choir - campers, faculty and staff - would have left for home. There was also the matter of lining up a few solo singers that hadn’t been addressed either!
I was the first to break the news of the scheduling problem to Van Cliburn and I was amazed at how calmly he met the challenge. He seemed unfazed, pointing out that we didn’t need a large choir - we could draw together the few dozen remaining staff members and put out an S.O.S. to some additional local singers. We had a fine tenor in Waldie Anderson, who had been a stage and ensemble manager for a several summers and a fine young bass, John Mack Ousley. We only needed to find a soprano soloist.
Van Cliburn got on the phone and contacted Nancy Jaynes, a young university student, and asked her if she could travel to Interlochen to perform and record for RCA Victor. She assumed at first that the call was a friend making a practical joke, but she eventually realized that the caller was indeed Van Cliburn inviting her to perform - and she quickly agreed!
Under Van Cliburn’s confident guidance, the performance and recording came off very well. Paired with Dr. Maddy’s performance of Deems Taylor’s suite, "Through the Looking Glass," the performance made for a happy union of our founder at the twilight of his career and an inspiring young musician still in the dawning of his.