Verbier bags ‘best’ piano teacher

Verbier bags ‘best’ piano teacher


norman lebrecht

June 24, 2014

The somewhat stuttering Swiss mountain festival has secured a major coup this summer – a rare recital by the world’s most sought-after piano teacher, Sergei Babayan.

Based in Cleveland and recently recruited by Juilliard, Babayan has been a magnet for piano hopefuls ever since his outstanding protege Daniel Trifonov won the 2011 Tchaikovsky piano competition in Moscow.

He will play Liszt, Chopin and Bach at Verbier.




  • Petros Linardos says:

    Judging from this clip, he should be among the world’s most sought after pianists too:

    • PianoConnoisseur says:

      Babayan’s Mazurka performance here is very higgledy-piggledy. He attempts the rhythmic model of Ignaz Friedman’s performances, but Friedman maintained the music’s flow, whereas Babayan’s jerky “start-stop-start” approach is an annoying mannerism. As well, Babayan’s wire-thin sound lacks color, and his dynamic range is tightly constricted.

      • Hank Drake says:

        “PianoConnoisseur” is judging Babayan’s playing by a solitary Chopin Mazurka? That’s quite a snap judgement on his part. Wire thin sound? Based on the several times I’ve heard Babayan live, that must be the fault of the recording. Babayan’s playing is blessed with a wealth of colors and a robust sound.

  • Zsolt Bognár says:

    It is easy, at best, to leave critical opinions without signing one’s name here as is required–that said, few would agree with you about the assessment that Babayan’s sound is “wire-thin” or lacking in color–quite the opposite. Listen to how he varies the color from desolation to warmth, to how the color varies on antecedent and consequent phrases, against changes of timing. Mere mannerism dictates an external application of process divorced from musical content. There are other musicians and critics who might apply your same criticisms to Friedman’s performances as well, which unfortunately remain controversial in all the musical circles I have heard discussing them–but questions of taste dictate what leads flow through a performance; also matters other than rubato affect perception of timing. Chopin in his day was criticized for performances of his own music for inaudible tone and incomprehensible rubato, even though he was the composer–here in Babayan’s performance the rubato’s natural ebb and flow is based on musical and spiritual content. Perhaps you are also unhappy with Trifonov’s Chopin mazurkas? They were entirely under Babayan’s guidance from the extremely cultivated tradition that produced it, Michalowski-Sofronitsky-Neuhaus-Naumov-Gornostaeva-Babayan. Incidentally, as such–for example–Trifonov’s performances of Mazurkas received the Mazurka Prize in the Chopin Competition and the Chopin Prize in the Rubinstein. Assessment of a panel in famous juries is not enough, however–a contextual assessment of an artist’s oeuvre comes closer. I have heard “experts” proclaim a love of Artur Rubinstein but a dislike for all his Chopin–do such views impart any worthwhile understanding? Babayan is a special artist–I encourage you to attend his unique communicative gifts in the concert hall as well as his incredible recordings. If you do comment again, please do use your name so we know you can stand by your views in public as well, rather than the authoritarian screen of “PIANOCONNOISSEUR” in all caps.

  • Evgeny says:

    Interesting that Babayan became a magnet, but not Tatyana Zelikman, who taught Trifonov from 2000 to 2009, and before that trained Cliburn winner Kobrin, Sydney winner Shamray, Geza Anda winner Volodin, never participated to any competition Lifschitz etc etc

  • Paul Bedford says:

    I wish to take the occasion of Zsolt Bognar’s considered posting here to propose a legitimate, indeed compelling, reason why men and women might choose to post pseudonymously–

    In the world of pianists especially, there has been an almost complete breakdown in civil discourse. The other day, in investigating currently available recordings by Alfred Cortot on amazon, I did something I almost never do: I read the reader reviews. (I don’t read them as a rule because I know my own mind and trust my own aesthetic responses.) Woe to the brave soul there who did not believe that every note Cortot recorded was perfection! Any number of responses to this review went beyond the bounds of civil discourse. In fact, they were aggressive and personal and completely uncalled for. The operative principal of this day recalls George Bush’s “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

    If someone wishes to be part of the discourse but has published recordings, a book, or what have you, his or her expression of dissenting opinions too often results in malicious persons who disagree with those opinions seeking out that person’s work on amazon and similar sites and trashing it in “reviews.” (ANY review that is not written by a “verified purchaser” is suspect.) We seem to have come to a point where one must toe the party line and bow before received opinion or risk being eviscerated. In a civil society, all points of view are equal. Evidently we do not live in a civil society.

    About Babayan (like Cortot, like Friedman): he is a wonderful pianist, and like any musician worth his salt, he has greater affinities with some music than with other music.

    I would be pleased if, one day, Zsolt Bognar or someone equally poised would create an “attack free” forum for musical discussions. A place where every man and woman could speak freely and safely under his or her own banner without fear of reprisals would be very welcome.

    • Zsolt Bognár says:

      This is an absolutely beautiful response, Mr. Bedford, and you give hope that there are indeed people in this world who respect one another. The level of aggression in society seems in my view to be escalating quickly–I wonder how much it can continue on this route or what the result would show. I think the territorial nature of people’s quickly escalating anger often betrays thin skin as well as closed-mindedness to new impressions. Everything becomes a personal threat, with almost no deference to the experiences of others and their value. I would look forward to attack-free forums, as well!