FORT WORTH – The classical music world is reeling from news that renowned pianist Van Cliburn has advanced bone cancer. Jon Nakamatsu, gold medal winner of the Van Cliburn piano competition in 1997, says the announcement came as a shock.
"The competition changed my life overnight," Nakamatsu said from New York City. "I went from being a high school German teacher who was moonlighting as a pianist to traveling all year and touring without a break."
The Cliburn Foundation called him Monday with the sad news.
"I think everybody is just devastated in the same way," he said. "He has touched so many lives all over the world."
Nakamatsu's life was touched early by Cliburn's music.
"Really, the first professional pianist I ever saw as a professional when I was 9 years old," he said. "Got his autograph. He knelt down backstage and signed, and talked to me. From that day on, it was worship. Kind of an idol worship."
He says news of Cliburn's condition is reverberating through concert halls around the world, just as the 6' 4" Texan shook the world in 1958 by winning the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War.
Cliburn's publicist says the pianist remains in good spirits at his Fort Worth home.