Russian pianist on his life with the KGB

Russian pianist on his life with the KGB


norman lebrecht

November 30, 2011

The memoirs of Andrei Gavrilov started to appear in the Russian press today.

The Book.English version.

Gavrilov, winner of the 1974 Tchaikovsky competition, was later overheard making critical remarks about Soviet leaders. His passport was confiscated in 1979, his telephone cut off and he was confined to a psychiatric hospital, then to house arrest. He was finally allowed to leave the country by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985.

An extract can be read here in Russian. For the benefit of his Facebook friends, Andrei is providing summaries in English. Here’s an extract:

(scenes from a musician’s life)

“Instead of a Foreword”

Andrei, Fira and Pitch deals with my life in the Soviet Union. It tells of the period between my graduating from the Central Music School in Moscow and my move to the West (1973-1985). It is the story of a young pianist who was sent by the Party and the government to lose the International Tchaikovsky Competition, but who won it. It recounts how the career of a musician who had entered the world’s performing élite was cut short at the whim of musical smugglers. It describes what happened at the Kremlin’s Georgievsky Hall during the celebrations for Brezhnev’s 70th birthday, and during celebratory concerts in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. It is the tale of private, apolitical resistance by one musician to the Soviet totalitarian machine. I have tried to put into words what most affected me in my native land – the good and the evil, and to recall my peers, and to tell of the triumphs and tribulations of a performer… 
My recollections of Svyatoslav Richter, or Fira as I called him, occupy a particular place in the book. There is a well-known Latin phrase that states “Of the dead speak well or not at all.” I have always been against this rather suspect edict, and see it as the product of a patrician morality of dubious character. I am convinced that the opposite is true. It is impossible to analyse or seriously consider someone who is still alive, who has not yet completed their path through life, not spoken their final word and shuffled off this mortal coil. Any in-depth study into historical figures can and should begin only after their demise. If we go along with the Roman deception then we will never understand the actions and motives of dictators and tyrants and will be unable to benefit from the lessons that history has to teach us. On the other hand, we will also never be able to penetrate the characters and the mysteries of the works of great pioneers and thinkers. They will remain for ever gilded, lifeless, idols. Fira for me is not a dead musician, but a critical voice that lives within me; one of the most crucial voices, a tuning fork. Everything that I play he hears, appraises and passes comment. Ultimately, I have decided that to speak “well” in the saying means to speak “the truth” and that to speak “not at all” is cowardly, cynical, deceitful suppression! Therefore I intend to write about Fira in exactly the way I remember everything. With no preconceptions. He was an extraordinary man who needs no counsel for the defence. 

Andrei, Fira and Pitch is not an academic book, not a tome of musicological musings, nor is it analytical or political. It is a collection of semi-ironic texts which are somehow connected to music. There are dramatic and comic episodes from my life, opinions, portraits of people alive and dead, dialogues, concerts, thoughts about music, extracts from letters; in short, everything that I have LIVED THROUGH is reproduced here in the form that it has remained in my MEMORY. 


  • Natalie Provodnic says:

    Lucky Andrej! Talanted, independent and alive! Enjoying his craft, friendship, fame. Writing books. Congratulations! Thank you for your friendship, Andrej!
    Just by association…
    On the morning of 21st November 1985,exactly at the moment when Andrej’s saviour Gorby was touching base in England with Maggy, and Andrej himself was being cuddled by the Western media, another Russian genius took his last gap of oxigen, before the supply had been cut off to his hospital bed by the orders of KGB. The name is IVAN KOTOV. Maybe, someone heard the name of his talented daughter cellist NINA KOTOVA? Miraculously, 15-year-old, she survived against the plot to murder her in the same hospital where her father was murdered. Miraculously, she was successfully shipped to the UK. But not everyone was happy here at her ar – rival… How many more horror-stories…