Kissin walks to the piano as if to the gallows

December 31, 2017 by norman lebrecht


From my review of the pianist’s memoir this weekend in the Wall Street Journal:

“Memoirs and Reflections” reads as if Mr. Kissin has gone through life without touching the sides. His world is self-enclosed, self-defining, impermeable. He lives at, and for, the piano. I once asked him to name his best friend. He thought hard and came up with a conductor. When did you last see him? I pressed. “Five years ago,” he replied. He admits in the memoir to feeling, as a young man, “physical discomfort when unknown people recognised me” and now finds it “stressful” to shake hands and sign autographs.

Things may be about to change….

Read on here.

Comments (56)

  1. Robert Hairgrove says:

    A WSJ subscription is required in order to read the article.

    1. Malcolm Kottler says:

      Try this:

      I got into trouble with Alfred Brendel some years ago for writing an article in which I playfully suggested that pianists come in two varieties, eggheads and fruitcakes. The cerebral types include Artur Schnabel, Sviatoslav Richter, Maurizio Pollini and Daniel Barenboim, whose performance always appears to be informed by vast intellectual preparation. The eccentrics, equally self-selecting, include Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Arturo Michelangeli and the Austrian Friedrich Gulda, all of whom had a tendency to perform in odd ways, Horowitz only at 4 p.m. and Gulda often unclothed. Over a London dinner table, Mr. Brendel hammered away at me for classing him with the intellectuals. “I am a fruitcake,” he protested. I took his reproof as a lesson that most great pianists want to be the thing they aren’t and that all long to belong to some kind of group, no matter how nebulous.
      That said, Evgeny Kissin stands alone. Technically supreme in his generation, he attacks music with a seriousness that is both unrelenting and impenetrable. He walks toward the piano as if toward the gallows, plays without a flicker of awareness that anyone is listening and leaves as soon as decently possible, yielding usually one encore, two at most.
      Yet Mr. Kissin has a unique capacity to find a romantic heart in the most recalcitrant works. The second concerto of Prokofiev, for instance, shunned for years for its brutal chord clusters, opened like a sunflower to Mr. Kissin’s attentive ministrations, revealed to suggest a young man’s struggle with love and loss. He is chiefly responsible for this concerto’s recent place in the performing canon. Aloof as he seems on stage, Mr. Kissin touches something deep within his listeners.

      In “Memoirs and Reflections,” related to the St. Petersburg writer Marina Arshinova and rather awkwardly translated from the Russian by Arnold McMillin, Mr. Kissin kicks off with a battery of platitudes that seem designed to deter all but the most committed fans. He has authorized the book, he says, because he is fed up with getting asked the same questions at interviews, not by any means an original complaint from classical pianists. He is surprised, recalling his life, to find that so many other people have played a part in it. His father was “kind, sensitive and responsible.” His mother: “What, after all, can be dearer to a person than his own mother and more private than his relationship with the woman who has in painful birth-pangs given him life?” His elder sister, Allochka, “is a very kind and sensitive person.” “My grandpa adored me.” And so on.
      A child prodigy, born in Moscow in 1971, the boy nicknamed Zhenya played a concerto in public at the age of 10 and made his record debut two years later. Tikhon Khrennikov, the boss of Soviet music, ordered the Kissin family to be moved to a larger apartment close to the Gnessin music school in Moscow so that the pale-faced child should not waste his strength commuting. Mr. Kissin recalls this megalomaniacal apparatchik as a fount of “warmth, cordiality, goodness and love.”
      At Gnessin, all boys and girls were required to dismantle and reassemble a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Mr. Kissin’s teacher, Anna Kantor, won him an exemption by declaring his hands to be a national asset that had just raked in a fortune playing concertos in Japan. Ms. Kantor, his austere and incontrovertible tutor, shared her apartment with an older woman, Elena Ephrussi, who acted as a moderating influence in their lessons.
      At the age of 16, Mr. Kissin was taken to play for the uber-maestro Herbert von Karajan, who declared him a genius and engaged him to play Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic for its New Year concert. In rehearsal, Karajan slowed the concerto to a crawl. “If anybody else had conducted at such a slow speed it would have sounded like a caricature,” says Mr. Kissin. But Karajan filled his tempos “with all the forces of his genius.” Later he describes James Levine, without elaboration, as the conductor who is “closest of all to me.” The anomaly here is striking. Mr. Levine is not renowned for close friendships with concert collaborators. Mr. Kissin, for his part, offers no insight into the human engineering that goes on between musicians as they battle to bring dead notes to life.
      The final chunk of the book, titled “Varia,” deals mostly with Mr. Kissin’s embrace of his Jewish identity, Jewish culture, the Yiddish language and the state of Israel, where in 2013 he accepted citizenship from the veteran Russian refusenik Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He finds Judaism in unlikely places. “When I play Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, I think about the Book of Esther,” he declares, imagining that this most German of cultural monuments is a coded ode to Jewish survival. He says that Chopin is the “one composer whose music was closer to me than the others”—that phrase again, and yet Chopin was notorious for his anti-Semitic utterances.
      “Memoirs and Reflections” reads as if Mr. Kissin has gone through life without touching the sides. His world is self-enclosed, self-defining, impermeable. He lives at, and for, the piano. I once asked him to name his best friend. He thought hard and came up with a conductor. When did you last see him? I pressed. “Five years ago,” he replied. He admits in the memoir to feeling, as a young man, “physical discomfort when unknown people recognised me” and now finds it “stressful” to shake hands and sign autographs.
      Things may be about to change. In the past year, Mr. Kissin has taken a sabbatical from playing, switched record labels, started composing and gotten married—to a childhood sweetheart who lives in Prague. He now plays with a gold ring on the fourth finger of his right hand. A softer tone can be heard in his new Beethoven recording for Deutsche Grammophon, less brittle and exhortatory. Even so, his promotional comments on a DG video remain as remote as ever, every phrase preformed and categorically delivered. Mr. Kissin is locked in by words. Only music sets him free.
      At 46, he is entering the Bermuda Triangle middle period from which not all artists emerge. The challenge for Mr. Kissin is to stop trying to be what the world expects of him, to let himself be himself, whoever that may turn out to be.
      —Mr. Lebrecht is the author of “Why Mahler ? How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World.”

      1. anmarie says:

        Thank you, MK.

        Also, appreciation to NL for writing it, and a Happy New Year to you and to all the informed and, um, unique posters on SD.

      2. Robert Hairgrove says:

        Many thanks to MK and to NL, and Happy New Year to everyone!

      3. Been Here Before says:

        Thank you! A wonderful article! Happy New Year!

    2. Kleefield says:

      I have several pics in my house taken backstage st the BSO. We chatted briefly about the beauty and importance of music in all of life. I thanked him for providing this beauty to the world and he was very touched. He is a musical genius who has touched other sides like poetry and philosophy. We should be grateful for him and leave other guesses like autism or other gratuitous projections

  2. Scooby-Doo says:

    The man clearly is an autist – we all know it.

    1. harold braun says:

      But what a pianist!!!!

    2. Petros Linardos says:

      You probably mean he has some social traits people associate with autism. There is a big difference between popular perceptions and reality.

    3. John Borstlap says:

      Someone who lives at, and for, the piano, and indeed sleeps in it, is not necessarily an autist. And feeling uncomfortable in contact with other people may also be due to the circumstance that many other people are just spreading an uncomfortable atmosphere around them, which is picked-up by sensitive hand shaking – being the most sensitive parts of a pianist. There are good reasons to be suspect of other people.

    4. Been Here Before says:

      No he is not. I have spoken to him for about 10 minutes one on one a couple of years ago. In the beginning he was stiff, but once he relaxed he appeared completely “normal”. Keep in mind that he constantly has to deal with crowds of unknown people and it is hard to know whom to trust. I believe that his reserve is often misunderstood for autism.

      1. Bruce says:

        Extroverts often believe there is something wrong with people who are not like them.

        1. John Borstlap says:

          I thought it was the other way around.

  3. Mark Mortimer says:

    Maybe a little unfair on Evgeny. I’ve conversed with him several times over email about his performances & find him to be very warm & friendly. Not sure if he’s autisitic or not- although its much more common than you might think- in concert pianists certainly- but also in men with 9 to 5 jobs & 2.2 children. The life of a concert pianist is not an enviable one- constant expectations of perfection (which is not possible in any case involving such a mechanical instrument as Rubinstein once remarked- although EK comes pretty close with his consistency & total dedication to the piano literature) & the isolation of such a vocation.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Again, it is the hands which are the sensitive contact points for pianists with the outside world. Rubinstein once shaked hands with an over-enthusiastic Charlie Chaplin which caused a change in the right hand fingering of the Barcarolle which he was going to play in public the next day.

  4. Petros Linardos says:

    “At 46, he is entering the Bermuda Triangle middle period from which not all artists emerge:” such a sad reality. Pianists in their 50s can still be at the height of their technical powers, and wiser. If only the market forces were wiser too.

  5. Scott says:

    ” He walks toward the piano as if toward the gallows, plays without a flicker of awareness that anyone is listening and leaves as soon as decently possible, yielding usually one encore, two at most.” I’ve never heard him do less than three encores in the many times I’ve heard him in recital. I once heard him do 12 encores at Carnegie.

    1. JKeener says:

      He performed 8 encores when I heard him perform in Washington D. C. in the mid 2000s. What an experience!

    2. nimitta says:

      I have never heard Kissin play fewer than three encores…

    3. Frankie says:

      Did anyone go to his prom concert in ’97? The piano was in the middle of the arena with Promenaders all around, and the encores lasted longer than the scheduled concert! It was an amazing experience.

  6. Sue says:

    An extraordinary artist of rare refinement. I don’t care at all about his peccadilloes because it’s only the playing which interests me.

    1. Bruce says:

      “I don’t care at all about his peccadilloes because it’s only the playing which interests me.”

      LOL. Very smooth, Sue.

  7. Lady Weidenfeld says:

    My sense of justice and consideration for those who will read your review, forces me to write a review of your review and correct many mistakes and pre-concieved ideas.
    I have known Mr Kissin for many many years as a dear and wonderful friend and I have read his book which was published by my husband.

    I remember a conversation we had over lunch at the Royal Academy of Music, years ago, when both Menahem Pressler and I did our best to enlighten you concerning your perception of Kissin as someone from “planet ice” or something to that effect and I find myself making yet another attempt, together with some glaring errors in your writing.

    Encores: Kissin always plays at least 3 encores, happily and with great élan and you appear not to have read in the book his account of a concert he gave in Bologna when he gave a total of 13, or his mention of a solo recital he gave in the Albert Hall when he gave countless encores, one after the other. I recommend your readers to go to YouTube and watch how he delivers those pieces and defy anyone to find there an artist, “yielding one encore or two at most”!

    Kissin’s joy of sharing his music with his listeners: “walking to the gallows, unrelenting and impenetrable, without a flicker of awareness of anyone listening”… You seem to have missed his writing in his book that from toddler-hood his greatest joy was to go to the piano and play not for himself but for people. Did you not read his account of his first solo recital when people were sitting all over the stage and afterwards when Miss Kantor asked him whether they disturbed him he replied ‘no, they were helping me”. To this day he will get up from the dinner table and go to the piano to play for his friends, often singing at the same time! Did you go to any of his performances, reciting Yiddish poetry by heart and playing Jewish works with a joy and with communication skills which are very rare? Anyone who has benefitted from his friendship will tell you how he can spend hours translating from Russian long excerpts from books or poetry which mean something to him and which he loves to share with those close to him.

    Khrennikov: Was exceptionally kind in helping the Kissin family find better accommodation. He did not “order” the family to move. Kissin relates his own experience of Khrennikov, and certainly did not find a megalomaniac there.

    Anna Pavlovna Kantor: Anyone who has come anywhere near her could never call her “austere” or “incontrovertible”! Anyone who has just looked at that face or heard her voice could not fail to perceive anything but the warmest and kindest person. Strict as a teacher has to be, yes, but her tender vigilance of Evgeny all these years and now living with them as a member of the family, she is the least austere person you could ever come across! You appear not to have read Kissin’s description of her method which was always to preserve each pupil’s individuality, that she never imposed on him anything which did not sound natural under his fingers. Do you remember his account of Kantor’s conversation with Ashkenazy about the beginning of the Emperor Concerto?

    How do you manage to detect his surprise in the fact that many people played a part in his life?
    Should Chopin’s music be less meaningful to him because of the composer’s anti-Semitic utterances?
    If you were to pass by Kissin’s dressing room after a concert anywhere in the world, you would find him spending an exasperating amount of time which each person who comes to see him, friend or stranger, signing autographs and chatting to them, often risking a kitchen about to close. If you had read the book carefully you would have seen he meant that it was “stressful” to sign autographs on programs at other musicians’ concerts, not his own!
    You seem to have missed his mention in the book of many friends close to him and your question in the interview you quote was not to mention his closest friend, but friends among musicians…
    It is a shame that his chapter “To thine Own Self be True” convinced you so little that you suggest “he should stop trying to be what the world expects of him, letting him be himself”

    In spite of my friendship with you Norman, and my indebtedness to you on several fronts, I am driven to write this “review of your review” because I see a caricature of my friend Evgeny, not for the first time in your writings, giving a totally misguided impression of book and its author to those who know no better. Many of the comments above show how dangerous and harmful that can be!
    Annabelle Weidenfeld

    1. Sue says:

      Wonderful comments. Last night on UTube I listened to Kissin’s Beethoven Sonata Op. 111 from Verbier and thought it absolutely compelling. Right at the end it caught my breath with its poetry and insight. I had always been used to Richter with this work, but I now prefer Kissin’s version. No ‘Bermuda Triangle” for Kissin (even though I loved that metaphor!).

    2. Been Here Before says:

      An excellent comment!

      Although I wrote above that this is a wonderful and interesting article (which I still think), I have to say that I agree with what Lady Weidenfeld wrote.

      I have met Evgeny Kissin after his master class and a concert at a Central European conservatory seven years ago. I was warned before that he was a “spaceman”, “autist” and that he struggled with speech.

      What I found, on the contrary, was a perfectly fine and warm human being, although an introvert. After a couple of minutes he became completely relaxed. In addition to talking to me, he also wrote a birthday note for a pianist on the article of which I have written of her. Thank you Evgeny, and may you be happy, healthy and blessed not only in this year, but throughout your entire life!

      1. Been Here Before says:

        Having read the testimonials of people who know Evgeny Kissin really well, I would like to add that I do not consider this article wonderful anymore (interesting – perhaps). I have not read the book, but have taken Mr. Lebrecht’s writing in good faith. It is very sad that somebody who has already given so much to humanity is profiled in a manner aimed only at increasing publicity and serving as a click-bait.

    3. norman lebrecht says:

      Dear Annabelle, Please see my reply to Menahem’s comment. The rest we can discuss when we meet again. Love, Norman

      1. Lady Weidenfeld says:

        Yes dear Norman I have read your response to Menahem and I must still take you up on a few points!
        The book was not dictated ––– Kissin met Marina only a couple of times before publication and he wrote everything himself by email to her, she asked questions and made suggestions and put the book together. I will be curious to learn which subjects you and Menahem engage on are missing because certainly I cannot think of anything of interest to you which he does not feel passionately about and give a highly informed opinion. George adored conversing with him at length and was always astonished at his knowledge!
        You see Norman, I wouldn’t mind you hating the book; you are entitled to your opinion, but don’t tell us you are reviewing the book when your headline is “Kissin Walks to the Piano as if to the Gallows”. Such an ill-placed remark has no place above an objective book review and I would be surprised if his audiences would be queuing and filling halls world-wide if they were treated to such a dismal spectacle…

  8. Menahem Pressler says:

    Dear Norman you know how much I admire and cherish you but here you completely misunderstand one of the truly great artists and human beings and from many points of view!
    He is special not only because of his unfailing technique and musicianship but because of the deep feelings he has and communicates so well. In addition, I am so proud that he is a Jewish boy from the depth of his soul and today travels with an Israeli passport! That someone like him exists elevates all of us.
    Please understand my strong feelings when you depict him in a light which bears no resemblance to reality and my attempt to make you change your mind.
    With love and admiration from your old friend
    Menahem Pressler

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      My dear Menahem, You know how highly I esteem your view and how rarely we disagree, but here is an instance where we must diverge. I was reviewing a not-very-revealing dictated autobiography by Kissin. The work bears his authentic voice and his equally authentic detachment from many of the things with which you and I continually engage. I greatly admire Kissin’s playing and many of his human qualities. For the rest, I tell it as I see it with appropriate critical detachment. with all my love, Norman

  9. Elizabeth Owen says:

    Thank you Lady Weidenfeld for troubling to right a wrong!

    1. Hilary says:

      In all fairness, it’s an opinion so there’s nothing to correct. People respond to music-making and people in different ways.

      1. ED says:

        Not wanting to put words into Lady Weidenfeld’s mouth, but surely her issue here is that it’s not an opinion, it’s “fake news”… or at best it’s an inaccurate, ill-informed opinion. Good on her to call it out.

  10. Scott says:

    Thank you Lady Weidenfeld for your clarifications. Although I have never met Mr. Kissin, I have heard him perform many times, and I have closely followed his career. Norman’s comments bothered me. From my own experiences, I knew the part about his encores was wrong. You have given us a much better picture of Mr. Kissin, and you are a true friend to have defended him.

  11. Golda says:

    Thank you, dear Lady Weidenfeld, for your insightful and thoughtful comments, and for clarifying the misguided review by Norman of the most inspiring, sincere book by Evgeny Kissin.

    Golda Vainberg-Tatz

  12. Emanuel Krasovsky says:

    Having not read yet Evgeny Kissin’s book, perhaps I shouldn’t be venturing into this correspondence. However, I’ve been following his artistic activity for a long time and known him personally a number of years. I also had the opportunity to meet Anna Pavlovna Kantor and discuss with her a range of subjects.

    Of the two articles – reviews, if you like, by Norman Lebrecht and Lady Weidenfeld, which I did peruse attentively — it is clearly the latter that, in my opinion, offers the true picture – free from gossip and sensationalism – of the fascinating subject.

  13. Bower says:

    I have known Evgeny Kissin for almost 30 years and I am not only a close friend of his family but also his impresario in France. I must say Mr Lebrecht seems to hold a preconceived opinion of Evgeny as a musician and an individual. In both respects his view is far removed from reality. I fully agree with Lady Weidenfeld’s response and her comments certainly ring true for those of us who have had the privilege of being close to this extraordinary person.
    Marina Bower
    Ps : Zhenya is not a nickname but a diminutive of Evgeny

  14. Mireille Heijltjes says:

    Well, we all know about beauty, the eye and the beholder. Where others see a man approaching the Steinway with immense and rare concentration and focus of energy, on the verge of its expression on the highest level in the greatest music, Mr Lebrecht sees gallows. I believe that this sufficiently counters Mr Lebrechts argument of writing the review “with appropriate critical detachment”.

    1. John says:

      I totally agree with the comment of Mireille Heijltjes !
      Obviously Mr Lebrecht ‘slipped’ himself in his review several times. F.i. the observation about the encores shows clearly that he knows little about one of the finest and greatest pianists of our generation.

    2. Emanuel says:

      And incidentally, does one ever WALK to the gallows? Isn’t he — or she — being LED there?

      1. Lady Weidenfeld says:

        Of course dear Emanuel! And usually blindfold no?!

  15. Christian Kliber says:

    At 69, he is entering the Bermuda Triangle period from which not all writers emerge. The challenge for Mr. Lebrecht is to stop being Mr. Lebrecht, and start trying to be more what the world expects of him, whoever that may turn out to be.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Besides, this must have hurt like a FIST in the face: “Kissin is locked in by words. Only music sets him free.” One can only imagine how many thousand times Zhenya and his fans must have heard this through decades. Why did you write such hurtful sentences, dear Norman? Is there a constructive, fatherly intention behind it, or are you simply being an intellectual bully and maybe enjoying it? I’m curious.

  16. Paul says:

    Not being a musician myself, I’m surprised that I don’t find the comments of many more professional musicians, defending a colleague against this, as it seems, quite inaccurate piece of journalism. Any ideas?


      Many professional musicians, at least here in Denmark, seem to avoid reading Norman’s blog. My guess is that he is much too rough at times; a kind of intellectual bully? To his defence, he keeps posting lots of news and gossip from the classical music world, which many of us prefer to love at a distance. Now I wonder if Norman will find the time to answer my previous question.

  17. Marcel says:

    Is this about abot psychology, or are we really interested in the music, what the purpose is of a piano concert. In my opinion is music the language of the heart. What else could matter as criteria for mr. Lebrecht? In other words, is the criteria the eye…or the ear?


      Norman has certainly not expressed himself clearly this time, although he has a strong opinion, we are left wondering: what is the underlying problem here? A grudge against Evgeny’s honesty? His style, his beliefs? Sad fact: We might never find out.

      1. Paul says:

        Thank you, Christian, for answering my question. Somehow, I always thought that people engaging in higher things such as classical music (including those who write about it) were above these things. I mean, if this music doesn’t help to shape one’s character and values, then what is it for? Mere enjoyment?

  18. Lady Weidenfeld says:

    Of course dear Emanuel and usually blindfold no?

  19. Leonid Poretsky says:

    I had read Norman Lebrecht’s review of Evgeny Kissin’s autobiography before I read Mr. Kissin’s book. I was surprised that the person described by Mr. Lebrecht was not at all like Evgeny (“Zhenya”) Kissin I know.

    I have been a close acquaintance (and at times a physician) of Mr. Kissin and his family for over two decades and had an opportunity to observe Mr. Kissin and the entire “mishpoha” (Anna Pavlovna Kantor included) in many different settings. These settings ranged from very formal (a reception after a concert or a concert itself, a ceremony at a school where Mr. Kissin was awarded an honorary degree, etc.) to very informal or even intimate ones (getting together at either Mr. Kissin’s or my home, celebrating birthdays and holidays, and even being with Zhenya at his father’s death bed). I see a person who is engaged, interested in others more than in himself, appropriately funny, eager to share his thoughts about music or other matters (politics or history), etc. In other words, not anything remotely similar to Mr. Kissin as he appears in Mr. Lebrecht’s description.

    Why such a discrepancy? Perhaps, I thought, Mr. Lebrecht had met Evgeny only as a journalist and many of his conclusions about Zhenya’s personality may be derived from Mr. Kissin’s autobiography.

    So I read Zhenya’s book. I read the Russian version first and then looked through the English version, thinking that something important might have been lost in translation. A portrait of Evgeny Kissin that emerged from the pages of both versions of the book, however, once again differed dramatically from what was depicted by Mr. Lebrecht.

    The factual errors have been already described in the correspondence on this site. Indeed, “Zhenya” is not a nickname, but a diminutive name used in Russian for children or adults by close friends, etc. As far as the encores go—there is hardly any world-class performer more generous with encores than Kissin, and this has already being pointed out by other correspondents.

    So now let’s turn to Mr. Lebrecht’s impressions.

    Kissin walking to the piano as if to the gallows? I am not sure where Mr. Lebrecht had an opportunity to observe a person walking to the gallows. Clearly, a brisk and energetic gait for which Mr. Kissin is known when he enters the stage goes along with his eagerness to begin the performance, rather than anything remotely similar (I would think) to a person heading to the gallows. Further, did Mr. Lebrecht miss the pages in the book where Mr. Kissin describes how much he enjoys performing, the bigger the audience the better?

    Anna Pavlovna Kantor “austere and incontrovertible”? Did Mr. Lebrecht not read how Anna Pavlovna encouraged Kissin’s own interpretation of a piece when both she and the conductor disagreed with Zhenya?

    Kissin uninterested in the world, including the people who surround him? Did the author of the review miss the pages about the lessons from Zhenya’s history teacher advising Zhenya not to live like “a cat in the library” who can see the books, but does not understand what they are all about? Or did Mr. Lebrecht skip the “mini-portrait” chapters, each chapter titled by the name of a person about whom Evgeny is writing, each mini-portrait filled with love for the person that is depicted?

    Why then factual errors and erroneous impressions? Here I had to turn to my own experience with media, limited, of course, compared to that of Kissin, but nevertheless not entirely absent. It is my impression that some journalists approach the subject of their reporting with preconceived notions, and are often too rushed to examine the issues completely and to report accurately. I am reminded of a story (which I may have heard from Kissin’s father) about a music critic who was so worried about missing the deadline that he wrote the review of a concert in advance. The review was published even though the concert itself had been cancelled.

    I am not in the habit of ever quoting the current U.S. President but, in this case, I am tempted to say “fake news indeed”.

    Finally, for some other correspondents on this site, terms which are medical diagnoses (such as “autism”) should be used carefully by physicians and probably even more so by those who are not qualified to make a diagnosis. Here is the link to the National Institute of Mental Health autism information.

    There is nothing in the NIMH criteria for autism that applies to Zhenya, who truly is one of the most engaged communicators, both because of the strength and individuality of his personality and, even more so, because of the power of his musicianship.

    Leonid Poretsky, MD

    1. Been Here Before says:

      Dr. Poretsky – thank you very much for your exhaustive and informative post. As I said above, it is very sad when somebody who is clearly an exemplary model in this unfortunate times is profiled in a manner aimed only at attracting publicity and serving as click-bait.

      I do not understand why Mr. Lebrecht, who professes to love music and culture would consciously engage in spreading apparent untruths. Very sad and disheartening, indeed. Concerning some of the comments above (and in general on this site), I would venture that they can best be explained by DSM-IV.

      I commend the testimonials provided by Lady Weidenfeld, Marina Bower and you – but those of us who had the privilege of spending even the least amount of time in Evgeny Kissin’s presence are well aware of his greatness as an artist and of his warmth and generosity as a human being.

  20. Christian Kliber says:

    My own conclusion: Norman Lebrecht is a passionate music geek who plays by all the new and chaotic rules of the young generation of SoMe bloggers! I guess now he is shamelessly happy that his review has gotten much more attention than what it rightfully deserves. This is today’s new normal. Now I will go back to reading “Memoirs and Reflections”. It comes from an orderly 20th century universe that I love, and it is actually a very good and honest book.

  21. I have not had a chance to read Mr. Kissin’s book yet, but I came across Norman Lebrecht’s review of it.

    I met Evgeny Kissin about 30 years ago in Madrid, where I attended his phenomenal performance of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto with the Moscow Virtuosi Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Spivakov. As a former student of Anna Pavlovna Kantor, I have remained very close to the entire Kissin family ever since.

    As I very much look forward to reading Mr. Kissin’s book, I would like to make a few comments on Mr. Lebrecht’s account of it.

    I was in the green room before, after, and even during the intermission of Mr. Kissin’s astonishing Carnegie Hall debut recital in 1990, as well as many other performances, and can say that I have never witnessed anyone else who had such urgency in sharing with the audience what he thought was so important about the music and life, things that seem inseparable to him. I was also present at the Kennedy Center when the stage crew threatened to leave, asking Mr. Kissin to stop going back to the stage after the 8th or so encore. Anyone who knows Zhenia well could go on for a long time providing multiple examples of his artistry humanity, and friendship. Thank you, Lady Weidenfeld, Leonid Poretsky, and others, for your kind and insightful comments. The truth is, however, that Evgeny Kissin does not need anyone to defend him. He has always been and will always remain a unique artist and an extraordinary human being.

    Mr. Lebrecht, to whom many in the music world refer as an “ambulance chaser,” is known for his incendiary view and opinions, which are often entertaining and, at times, even thought provoking. However, in this case, his assumptions and blatant errors are only remarkable for their irrelevance.

    But how about this arctic cold that won’t go away??

  22. norman lebrecht says:

    Perhaps I should have mentioned in the review that no other pianist has a battery of fans and pals, a kind of Kissin Lobby, who leap to his defence the moment any writer suggests a possible human imperfection. It is a familiar phenomenon, one that makes it exceedingly difficult to write about this remarkable artist with any measure of candour and objectivity.

    1. Been Here Before says:

      Fake news is a familiar phenomenon, too.

      How can you say that he never plays more than two encores, when scores of people, including myself witnessed more? Here goes your objectivity, Mr. Lebrecht!

  23. Leonid Poretsky says:

    As the saying goes, one is entitled to his own
    opinion but not to his own facts.

  24. Mireille Heijltjes says:

    Oh, so now Mr. Kissin has a battery of fans and pals? Pals means friends, right? If you knew all along that he has many friends, then why not mention this in your review, rather than suggesting the opposite?

    Also, this comment section is open to anyone, including people who know Mr. Kissin personally and agree with how you depict him. But I have seen no such comment yet, even though it could be posted anonymously. Doesn’t that tell you something?

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