Cliburn '73 concert here recalled
On July 29, 1973, the No. 1 pop song in America was "The Morning After'' by Maureen McGovern.
"There's got to be a morning after,'' the lyrics begin, "if we can hold on through the night.''
But a mere bleep among the sounds of time compared with Beethoven's Appasionata Sonata -- especially as played in Penn Square Sunday night, July 29, 1973, by Van Cliburn.
An estimated 6,000 to 7,000 Lancastrians sat in lawn chairs in the square and surrounding streets or perched on window ledges of the Griest and Fulton Bank buildings on a cloudless summer evening.
Police rerouted traffic around the downtown. Except for church bells, noise was all but eliminated. Lancastrians sat in almost reverent silence, listening to the master play Beethoven and Chopin and Debussy.
The Lancaster Summer Arts Festival sponsored the free concert in the heart of Lancaster city and Cliburn said he appreciated the "very attentive and intelligent'' audience and would enjoy playing in Penn Square again.
That never happened.
Cliburn died Wednesday, at age 78, in Texas. The Scribbler suspects that practically all Lancastrians still living who attended the Penn Square concert read that news and recalled it as one of the most significant cultural events of their lives.
The Scribbler was there and covered the concert for the Lancaster New Era. Here is some of what he observed and wrote in a review.
Cliburn sat on a raised, geranium-bedecked, canvass-covered stage in the southwest quadrant of the square. He was tall and thin and, at 39, had a thick shock of brown hair. His face was remarkably pale. He often closed his eyes as he played pieces from memory.
All of the music was not terrific, including a composition of his own called "Nostalgia''; but Cliburn nailed the Appasionata and, as the sun set, masterfully high-handed Chopin's Polonaise No. 6 in A-flat.
He performed four encores. Everyone wanted more.
Following the concert, Cliburn waited inside Commonwealth National Bank for the crowd to disperse so he could go on to a dinner at President Buchanan's home at Wheatland.
The Scribbler briefly interviewed Cliburn inside the bank.
He said he had never before played in such a setting in America. His only performances in city squares had occurred in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, and Menton, France.
And he said his rapport with the outdoors audience had "a certain intimacy, an uncommon quality'' not comparable to the traditional concert hall atmosphere.
On the morning after, Cliburn and his audience and their lawn chairs were gone. Traffic and noise increased to standard levels. Almost everything returned to normal.
Except that the historical aura of Penn Square had changed. Cliburn's concert had become part of a place where the Paxton Boys had stabled their horses before killing the last of the Conestogas, the Continental Congress had met for a day, and thousands of World War II victory celebrants had laughed and wept with joy.
"The treat of a lifetime,'' one concert-goer called Cliburn's appearance.
That it was.
Jim Templeton, of Lititz, believes Vice President Joe Biden may have heard the young woman shout "Whoopie'' when she opened the oven door on the first whoopie pies at Nickel Mines during the snowstorm of February 1958 (Scribbler column, Feb. 22).
Some readers called to say the 1958 snowstorm struck in March. That's the storm everyone remembers. But there also was a major blizzard Feb. 15-16, and that's the whoopie pie snow.
The Scribbler misnamed his source for the whoopie pie woman's whoop. The source was The Diary, an Amish newspaper published in Bart Township, where Nickel Mines is located.
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