Charles Kuralt is on the road again . . . this time, off to Moscow to chronicle the homecoming of virtuoso pianist Vladimir Horowitz who on Sunday will play in the Soviet Union after 61 years of self-exile. In 1925, Horowitz left, seeking artistic freedom and vowing never to return.
In a special two-hour broadcast of "CBS News Sunday Morning" (8-10 a.m. on Channels 2 and 8), Kuralt will "follow Horowitz wherever he goes," from showing how his Steinway piano was carried through the streets of New York to send it off to Moscow up to broadcasting the 90-minute recital from the Moscow Conservatory's Bolshoi Theatre.
The recital represents a timely convergence of purposes--the 82-year-old Russian native's desire to visit home, and the first major event following the November cultural-exchange agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Only twice before--in programs on artists Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore--has "Sunday Morning" been largely devoted to one subject, Kuralt said.
Interviewed during a 3 a.m. telephone call to Moscow Tuesday night, Kuralt said his first two days in Moscow with Horowitz had been "fairly calm."
"He has a very calm exterior, but it seems to us he's very pleased to be back," Kuralt said. "The nicest moment so far was when he played pieces by Alexander Scriabin in the Russian composer's home to Scriabin's daughter, now in her 80s." Music by Scriabin, who heard an 11-year-old Horowitz play, is listed as part of Horowitz's Sunday program.
Kuralt said the CBS cameras also have captured lines of Soviet citizens waiting all night in the snow to exchange five rubles (about $7.50) for a ticket to the sold-out concert.
"One 78-year-old woman, who had heard the teen-age Horowitz play in Odessa, had come to hear him again. Horowitz said it's very important to him that average people as well as the expected high-level officials attend," Kuralt said. Nearly one third of the hall's 1,793 seats were reserved for typical music lovers.
While the United States Information Agency, which manages the cultural exchange program, has reported that the Soviet Union is billing the concert as the event of the century, Kuralt said in Moscow the pianist's homecoming has not been big news.
"The Soviet government has made almost nothing of it on television and has confined advertisement to a few posters," he said. "So far, it looks like the Russians are downplaying it." In Kuralt's view, this "poses ill for the cultural exchange . . . which is off to a bad start with the Russians giving so little attention to a Russian-born pianist returning home."
However, he added, "At the last minute, the Russians may make a bigger deal of it."
Robert (Shad) Northshield, "Sunday Morning's" senior executive producer, said in a telephone interview from London (where he was awaiting his Soviet visa) that he thinks Horowitz's return to the Soviet Union is more personal than political. "I haven't talked politics with him, just food and about the (television) lights hitting him. The recital's a big deal for the Russians and Americans, and an enormous emotional thrill and burden to him.
"He knows the Russian people claim him as a son although he's very much an American citizen," Northshield said.
Northshield said he didn't know if the cultural exchange would be politically effective. "But I do know that anything that reinforces the universal aspect of art and beauty seems to emphasize there's a lot of good, and it's worth it," he said.
For the Moscow program, CBS is using the same crew that follows Kuralt on his "On The Road" adventures across the United States. This is Kuralt's first foreign assignment in many years, and he said it's been hard. "I've spent all my working life trying to understand the United States, and I know its back roads well. Here, I can't even understand the signs."
Horowitz's manager, Peter Gelb, who is vice president of Columbia Artists Management, Inc., is producing the television event and, in an entrepreneurial role, has hired a Swiss television organization to broadcast the concert from a six-camera video truck. The BBC will coordinate the worldwide satellite coverage.
AT&T; is sponsoring the broadcast and will air only six minutes of a possible 24 minutes of commercial time.
Mull, a UCLA graduate student, is a Times intern.