New Nonfiction: Moscow Nights – Nigel Cliff

Baby Boomers will remember this remarkable Cold War story of a young piano prodigy from Texas who traveled to Moscow and won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition. The Russians had no intention of giving this prize to anyone but a Russian—but when the 23-year-old American prodigy began to play he galvanized the nation finally leading Soviet Premier Khrushchev to demand that the judges give Van Cliburn the prize—music forming a bridge between the two superpowers and temporarily dialing down tensions in a world on the brink of nuclear war.

(Ticker tape parade in in NYC after the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition – NYT/file)

“Cliff brilliantly weaves together the politics, personalities, and pianism surrounding the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. This portrait of a Cold War moment focuses on two remarkable people. The first is Van Cliburn, the courtly, eager 23-year-old from Kilgore, Tex., who combined a winning American openness with a heartfelt love of Russian music. The second is Nikita Khrushchev, an eccentric peasants’ son who survived Stalin and went on to undo the worst of his oppressions….Cliburn’s mother and teachers had instilled in him a love of Russian repertoire that Moscow audiences grasped from round one….This is a well-researched, fascinating look at a special relationship between Van Cliburn and the U.S.S.R. that lasted through low points (the downed U-2, the Cuban missile crisis) and high ones, all the way up to the 1987 summit that resulted in eliminating most of the world’s strategic nuclear arsenal.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A sympathetic yet rounded portrait of the pianist…Highly recommended for readers interested in music (especially classical music and the piano) and the history of the Cold War.”
Library Journal (starred review)

A thrilling delight…compulsively readable…It’s Vanya all the way in a biography for music lovers, Cold War devotees, and all readers seeking a true feel-great story.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A rousing, well-researched biography… Throughout the author vividly reprises major historical events…Sweeping history combines with a sensitive rendering of Cliburn’s extraordinary passion.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story-How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War (9780062333162) by Nigel Cliff. $28.99 hardcover. 9/20/16 on sale.

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