Saturday, October 29, 2016

by Nigel Cliff 

Russia and the United States have always had a love-hate relationship. The only thing they really had in common was that both of these nations were world powers at the same time. Ideologically, though, they were complete opposites. America promoted freedom and Russia believed in autocracy. The Cold War era was especially tense between them. 
Into this midst of turbulence (1958) entered a tall, gangly, twenty-three-year-old piano prodigy from Texas named Van Cliburn. He was brought to Russia's attention when he took a trip to Moscow to compete in the First International Tchaikovsky Competition. But, the Soviets had no intention of letting an American win. In their minds, Americans could not possibly understand how to play their music. They had already chosen one of their own, anyway, to win the coveted prize. That all changed when Cliburn began to play. He swept the Soviets off their feet by his stupendous talent, his passion, and his intense love for the music. They thought he was better than their own Russian pianists. The adulation was endless and every time he performed, the crowds just swooned. They couldn't get enough of him. What a love affair! Cliburn's life would never be the same again.
Moscow Nights is a terrific portrait of one incredible musician who brought classical music to millions of people. Author Nigel Cliff is a masterful storyteller and keeps you riveted to the pages. It's fascinating to read about all of the presidents that Cliburn performed for and how much Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had such a soft spot for him (he thought of Cliburn like a son). The very engrossing prose leads you through Russian history (sometimes this can be deadening, but not at all here) and the Cold War. Through it all, one humble, patriotic, and inspiring man with impeccable manners was able to bridge the gap between two hostile entities by his music.
Very highly recommended.