A pianist spat

September 30, 2015 by norman lebrecht


A Russian pianist who lives in Italy and refuses to play in the UK has refused an honour in Cremona because it was previously awarded to Norman Lebrecht. Some websites seem to think this is a news story.

The organisers of the award have clarified their position here.

Our response: The pianist is entitled to choose the company he keeps. Nobody is loved by everyone.



Comments (45)

  1. Will Duffay says:

    It’s no less of a story than some of the non-stories on Slippedisc. The Scottish radio presenter with alcohol issues, for example. In fact, Maestro Sokolov’s actions are rather interesting.

  2. Dominique says:

    Despite the ugliness of the situation, out of decency maybe it would be more appropriate to call “A Russian pianist who lives in Italy” with his full name. Grigory Sokolov, certainly not an easy-going man, but for many one of the greatest living pianists. Now, it would be interesting for all completely uninitiated, me included, to shed some more light on what happened on the relation Lebrecht-Sokolov? Honestly I have no clue, and am very curious to hear what caused the resentments.

  3. Daphne Badger says:

    Clever headline, sir… Very like a weasel…

  4. Marina Arshinova says:

    Grigory Sokolov, according to his manager’s words, refused to play in England because he didn’t want to spend a time going to British embassy in Rome for visa. Probably this time he feels the same, but why to blame other people?

    1. Eddie Mars says:

      He already held a UK visa valid for entry for the dates of his concerts. He was then told he had to fly to MOSCOW (not Rome) for his fingerprints to be taken. He was in N America when this occurred, and he offered to go to the British Consulate in NYC – since London was the next venue on his tour. He was told this was impossible – he could give his dabs only in Moscow. In the face of treachery and intransigence from the UK authorities, he refused to play their game. This is what happens when little twits from public schools get their hands on power – the jobsworth mentality rears up instantaneously.

      1. Johannes R. Becher says:

        When great twits from private schools get their hands on power they do things differently, I guess.

        1. Simon S. says:

          Correct me if I am wrong (I am not British), but AFAIK the “Public Schools” in Britain are actually private

          1. Eddie Mars says:

            Private schools in the UK are known there as ‘public schools’ because the education at them was ‘in public’ (ie in classrooms)….as compared to having a private tutor coming to (or living at) your house, as many rich families had done previously.

      2. Songfest says:

        Must have been a LONG time ago – Sokolov has not set foot in North America since 1995.

        1. Joel stein says:

          Sokolov last played in North America in 1998 unless I was in the wrong continent.

      3. Minutewaltz says:

        Eddie Mars – how do you know the UK authorities who are insisting Sokolov has his prints taken in Moscow went to public school?
        Or is it just one of your standard insults?

        1. Eddie Mars says:

          The Foreign Office recruits primarily from private schools. Got anything to say about Sokolov? No, I thought as much.

        2. Misha Shvartsman says:

          Yes, they bring loads of islamic terrorists to extent that London is soon to be ruled by sharia, but it is too dangerous for Sokolov to come to London

      4. Anon says:

        I don’t see that that is an attitude you can pin to private schooling. In my experience, those schooled in a way which most accords with your pejorative use of the term are the most likely -not- to take a jobsworth attitude.

  5. Eddie Mars says:

    Aside from the spat involved here, two comments seem apt:

    1) Grigory Sokolov is not ‘a Russian pianist who lives in Italy’. He is a titan of the pianistic world today, whose concerts sell out in hours whenever they are announced. A self-effacing genius who shuns publicity and media attention, Sokolov is renowned for the intellectual and musical rigour of his deeply considered performances.

    2) Grigory Sokolov does not ‘refuse to play in the UK’. Quite the opposite – he has appeared in many sell-out recitals on the South Bank and at other major concert venues. It was when the so-called ‘UK Border Agency’ insisted that Sokolov would not be allowed into Britain unless he flew to Moscow (where he is not domiciled) to have his fingerprints taken first, that Sokolov decided he would not be treated as a criminal, and thus refused to cooperate with these jackbooted goons. On a point of law, he is domiciled in Italy, and therefore entitled to present himself at the British Consulate there – with no need to fly to Moscow. In fact he had already lawfully obtained a British Visa from the Consulate in Italy prior to being forced to cancel his RFH concert. Mysteriously the British Consulate in Italy were deemed incompetent in their issue of his visa by the UK Border Authority. Sokolov is quite ready to play in Britain if he can be given a visa at the UK Consulate in Milan or Rome.

    I am unaware of his reasoning in declining this award. Perhaps because his shelves are already in danger of falling off the walls – with the weight of almost every major award in classical music which hangs upon them?

    Point of interest – the UK Border Agency was set up by a Labour politician named Phil Woolas. After numerous disciplinary actions against him in Parliament, Woolas was finally banned from being an MP for life when an anonymous series of racially threatening letters were traced to his address. He was also thrown out of the Labour Party for life. The UK Border Agency itself failed a series of Government Inquiries into its operations, and was finally closed down by the Home Secretary in 2014. It has been replaced by the Border Force.

    1. RW2013 says:

      There are still tickets for his concert in Berlin on 12/5/16 from 40€ up.

      1. Libor says:

        Firkusny Festival in Prague. Programme: Schubert, Chopin. Tickets available here.

    2. Alexander Strauch says:

      would gb be member of the schengen-agreement an italian visum would be also valid in gb as in iceland, germany, suisse, etc…

      1. Eddie Mars says:

        Britain is not a signatory to the Schengen Agreement.

    3. Anon says:

      Eddie, you start incorrectly. Sokolov may be many of the things you describe. But he certainly IS a Russian pianist living in Italy. I don’t see how you can deny it, or say that that is wrong.
      At least, he was born in, studied in and lived in Russia, and you yourself say he is domiciled in Italy, so…

      Your later mention of Phil Woolas and his UKBA suggests that your earlier comment about private schooling was ill-warranted, too; Phil Woolas was educated in the State sector. I’m not really sure you can blame the financing of someone’s school for their competence at managing Border regulations, though.

  6. ADGO says:

    Recall last year that soon after Sokolov’s wife passed away, the pianist published a cryptic letter which began, ‘To my astonishment, I have learned about some delirious inventions made on the subject of my wife’s life’. This can be read in full on Sokolov’s website or on AMC. The cause of that was most likely Norman Lebrecht’s blog post in which he speculated about Sokolov marrying his dead cousin’s wife, going into detail about the apparent Sokolov family tree. You can find this blog post still on Slippedisc, and the links at the bottom of it which lead to the old Sokolov website.

    On another matter….I’ve attended Sokolov’s recitals for nearly 15 years and he is without doubt the greatest pianist I’ve ever heard. If you can’t hear him in the UK–which I used to–then take a trip to Brussels or Amsterdam and it’ll most likely turn into one of the great concert experiences of your life.

  7. Brian says:

    Sokolov sounds like he’s his own biggest fan. I’m inclined to think this is largely a publicity stunt on his part. He gets his name in the headlines when it wouldn’t be otherwise.

    1. Holger H. says:

      If you know nothing and have nothing to contribute: don’t talk.

  8. Paul says:

    I’ve heard Sokolov a number of times in recital and, back in 2006, playing a Mozart concerto in Vienna. His performances, like the man himself, have no doubt been serious and probably even sincere, but they’ve also been fussy, self-indulgent, seemingly unaware of where the music under his fingers lies in history.

    Why do so many people want to believe and declare that one pianist (or violinist, or cellist, or quartet, or orchestra, or singer, or …) is “the greatest”? This seems rather desperate and beside the point. Who would be silly enough to say that an apple pie is “greater” than a chocolate cake?

    1. Jan says:

      Infact, we are very, very happy and looking forward to have Maestro Sokolov again in the Engadin Festival in St. Moritz! It is a joy spending time with him!

      1. Ellingtonia says:

        Oh please can we do without the sycophantic term “maestro”, he’s a bloody pianist and no doubt a good one, but at the end of the day he just plays a piano. What is is about the classical musical fraternity that they indulge in what we Brits call “arsoling” on a regular basis.

    2. ADGO says:

      ‘Who would be silly enough to say that an apple pie is “greater” than a chocolate cake?’

      No one because you compare like with like — not apple to chocolate or pianist to violinist. It’s a personal matter usually based on in-concert experience. Incidentally what do you mean by this — ‘seemingly unaware of where the music under his fingers lies in history.’ ?

    3. Eddie Mars says:

      I don’t believe anyone here, myself included, has indulged in such superlatives when it come to Mr Sokolov’s playing?

      So you can hoist your Aunt Sally somewhere else.

      1. Paul says:

        Dominique, the second person to post here, wrote that Sokolov is “for many one of the greatest living pianists.” You yourself wrote: “He is a titan of the pianistic world today, whose concerts sell out in hours whenever they are announced. A self-effacing genius who shuns publicity and media attention, Sokolov is renowned for the intellectual and musical rigour of his deeply considered performances.” This sounds like a press release. Do you truly believe that the rate at which a concert sells out is a measure of either the concert giver’s depth of musicianship or the discernment of the concert goers?

        If you had written something like, “one of the titans of the pianistic world today in my book” or “a pianist whose performances most fully realize the music as I understand it,” that would be a different matter because it would acknowledge that aesthetic responses are subjective.

        Having heard a long procession of titans, myths, legends, geniuses and all the rest over the decades, I’d like to hear one who is known simply as a piano player.

        p.s. Even though Sokolov’s interpretation of the Mozart concerto was maddening, I stayed to hear every note!

        1. Jim says:

          “Do you truly believe that the rate at which a concert sells out is a measure of either the concert giver’s depth of musicianship or the discernment of the concert goers?”
          Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University demonstrated that there are more thorough ways to evaluate quality with its honorary doctorate to Susan Boyle.

        2. Eddie Mars says:

          Then stick to Lang Lang. He’d be more your style, and he wears fancier clothes.

          As I said – Aunt Sally.

        3. Holger H. says:

          “Having heard a long procession of titans, myths, legends, geniuses and all the rest over the decades, I’d like to hear one who is known simply as a piano player.”

          You make it sound like it were the piano player’s fault, that all the losers and mediocre parasites that want a piece from the cake of true artistry and accomplishment, that these dimwits project their desires into such auxiliary words?

  9. Carmen says:

    The press in Spain, where Mr. Lebrecht is highly regarded, has offered a specific and plausible explanation for the Sokolov refusal.

    One of Spain´s most respected music critics – a top music commentator, program annotator and editor – writing here under his customary alias – has come forward to explain that the refusal is due to specific comments that Mr. Lebrecht has made in the past about his (Sokolov´s) personal life as well as apparently having calling him an “overvalued” pianist at some point.

    The writer, in this article, is clearly determined to defend the high professional estimation of Mr. Lebrecht and his work held by most Spaniards in the music world, simply calling this a personal vendetta by Sokolov for perceived wrongs.

    Mr. Lebrecht is a valued contributor to distinguished publications in Spain such as Scherzo. His books have been translated and are widely read in Spain. He travels to Spain for speaking engagements, where he is very well received. His articles are published in El Pais, probably Spain´s most respected newspaper. He has taken a strong interest in musical activities in Spain, and always writes abut them with great journalistic integrity. Spaniards, I believe, appreciate that interest, and the sentiment here is in his favor in this situation.

    I personally feel it was rather petty of a great artist like Sokolov to name names. It wasn´t a very gracious gesture, rather childish, in fact, despite the great artist he is.

    Here is the article in Spanish, which clarifies this situation as a personal vendetta by Sokolov against Mr. Lebrecht.

    1. Simon S. says:

      I’ve just read the article you linked to and I can’t find anything in it that would back your interpretation that “The writer, in this article, is clearly determined to defend the high professional estimation of Mr. Lebrecht and his work held by most Spaniards in the music world”. He rather points out that the article of N.L. on the decease of Sokolov’s wife included assertions on Sokolov which were absolutely false.

      1. El Grillo says:

        Here’s the whole google translate, which I left as is:

        The Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov has rejected the Cremona Music Prize, awarded by Mondo Musica, because as a “shame” to agree on the list of winners with Norman Lebrecht, who received it in 2014.

        Lebrecht has repeatedly stated on its website that Sokolov sees an overrated pianist and consistently stressed its quirks. But the main problem probably comes from the reaction of Lebrecht at the death of the wife of Sokolov, which occurred in January 2014 when he said that the wife of Sokolov was the widow of his cousin (a celebrated bassoonist) and she was much more older than him.

        Also in the same article, without much come to mind, he said: “Revered By

        His peers, the despair of Promoters, Sokolov, 63, last Performed in August and has not presently scheduled concerts.” It was an absolute falsehood that Sokolov had not acted since August and that did not have at that time scheduled concerts and just look at their website you could read his agenda, which included dates nearly forty concerts in the next five months. Noting this agenda you could see that Sokolov had left January virtually no concerts, something logical if his wife was seriously ill, and ‘phenomenon’ very common in the Russian musicians, whose Christmas holidays begin in January, and extend almost the entire month.

  10. Alvaro says:

    In a world in which Mr. Lebrecht condemns sellouts and the destruction of the art within the realm of the musical establishment (Labels/Halls/etc), IT IS VERY INTERESTING that this blog has managed to alienate the only pianist that has ‘made it’ in the establishment solely by merit.

    Very interesting

  11. Alvaro says:

    I wonder: if Zimerman refuses an award would he be described as “a polish pianist who refuses to play in the US”?

    Ahh the little classical Disneyworld……

    Back to the real world now.

  12. Petros LInardos says:

    The 2014 winner of the “interpretation category” Cremona Music Award was Alfred Brendel. Norman Lebrecht was awarded the 2014 “communication category” award. Had he accepted the prize, Sokolov would have been more in the company of Brendel than of Lebrecht. Am I splitting hairs?

  13. Emil says:

    Oh wow. Anyone reading this post without being experienced in reading this blog could imagine that Slipped Disc and Norman Lebrecht had no connection whatsoever with one another.

    As to whether this is a news story, this was a news story a few days ago on your (sorry, on Norman Lebrecht’s) blog:

    Now which one is most newsworthy for a professional “journalist” such as you (sorry, such as Norman Lebrecht)?

  14. Marcel Lockhart says:

    This blog has become an idiocy of jew promo, rapist hunter and non-news. I will certainly always use an ad blocker when visiting. Actually I shouldn’t even waste any time commenting.

    1. Harold Lewis says:

      Good riddance to bigoted rubbish.

  15. DWildener says:

    Not only a pianist, a pianist who is probably the best living pianist. Not disclosing his name doesn’t change anything, Mr Lebrecht.

  16. Erwin Poelstra says:

    “Some websites seem to think this is a news story.”
    True, it’s about a music critic who lacks elementary decency — so, no news here…;-)

  17. Hilary says:

    The classical music world would be a poorer place without these kind of conflicts. The famous recording of Beethoven Triple Concerto….everyone was daggers drawn, yet it’s a hit.

  18. David says:

    I do love a good classical music pissing contest. Besides, maybe Mr. Sokolov is onto something…

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