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Legendary Van Cliburn Returns to Concert Life

The pianist emerges after a long `sabbatical' to promote his tour

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VAN CLIBURN at Tower Records? Really?

Last week, the revered pianist and cultural hero met 200 fans at the Boston music store as part of a national tour to introduce his return to the concert stage after a long hiatus.

On the third floor of the Tower Records building, the tall slim pianist with thick blonde hair - barely graying at the temples - greeted fans with a gracious ``Hello.'' He also shook hands and signed autographs, putting either a black Sharpie or a gold-ink pen to book pages, photos, and record sleeves.

The line of admirers wound around to the back of the store near the Mozart section; estimated time of arrival to Cliburn: two hours.

(The pianist reportedly greeted every last fan - something he was not able to do in Minneapolis, where 2,000 people showed up.)

As the cameras and smiles flashed, one couldn't help but notice his large nimble hands with fingers that seemed as long as an octave is wide. His blue suit and white shirt were as crisp as any beginning notes of a concerto.

``We were very excited about Van Cliburn coming here,'' says Brendan O'Neil, a regional-promotions assistant for Tower Records.

``He's here to meet his fans, meet the people who care most about his music, and reintroduce himself to the public. `Cordial' doesn't even begin to describe him,'' he says.

David Richardson arrived almost two hours before Mr. Cliburn to assure a first spot in line.

``I was a bit nervous,'' Richardson said after meeting the pianist. ``He's, like, my hero.'' Richardson, 18, a serious student of piano, added, ``I didn't think we'd be able to shake his hand.''

Richardson and thousands of other fans who have met with Cliburn in seven cities during the past few weeks stand as proof that after more than a decade ``on sabbatical'' Cliburn has maintained his celebrity appeal.

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