Messing up at a piano competition saved my sanity

Messing up at a piano competition saved my sanity


norman lebrecht

February 10, 2018

From a new autobiographical story by Israela Margalit:

The first round of the competition consisted of ten minutes to woo the jury with brilliance and accuracy. I failed. One day in the New World and I was already booted out.  My head was swimming in a whirlpool of uncertainty. I could find excuses—jetlag, fever… but the dream of an instant career break was gone. I had no contingency plans. My Canadian hostess said that I could stay until the end of the competition. She’d signed up for two weeks of hospitality. Maybe I could help her daughter find motivation in life apart from the desire to look pretty. Instead the girl taught me the secrets of makeup. Might as well learn how to look hot if I keep on messing up international piano competitions.


“You messed up all right, but I could hear between the notes. I believe you have a major talent.”

Those miraculous words came from a man so slim and tall, his upper body was concaved like a question mark. His luminous blue eyes stared at me…

Read on here.



  • madeline karn says:

    The man in the picture with her is conductor Lorin Maazel, who she was married to when he was conductor for a short time of the Cleveland Orchestra. I wonder if he is her “Benjamin?”

    • Mark says:

      Highly unlikely – Maazel was trained as a violinist and was a child prodigy conductor. I wonder (like Buxtehude) if this is indeed a memoir or a work of fiction.

  • buxtehude says:

    Is this intended to be understood as autobiography or fiction? “Both” is a category which doesn’t exist, really.

    • Minutewaltz says:

      I agree. Is it based on what happened to her with embellishments? Or is it the truth with names changed?
      It sounds a strange story – not that that makes it fiction as there are lots of true stories which are very strange indeed.

    • Peter says:

      Norman is not correct in his description. It is not autobiographical. It is a fictional work, written of course in the first person.

      Margalit’s short stories generally incorporate elements (settings and experiences) that she knows – but in the end they are, and this is, fiction.

  • daveferre says:

    The Ernest Chausson Concerto for Piano, Violin and String Quartet in D major, op. 21 with Lorin Maazel on Violin and Israela Margalit on piano is a favorite of mine. I didn’t find it on YouTube, maybe I’ll post it.