The night Pogorelich paralysed Carnegie Hall

The night Pogorelich paralysed Carnegie Hall


norman lebrecht

March 23, 2018

From Zsolt Bognar:

The fabled performance has finally surfaced: collectors in the 1990s used to beg, borrow, or steal this video of Pogorelich playing Balakirev in Carnegie Hall in 1992, where he created a legendary furore. My teacher Sergei Babayan was present, and said the whole performance felt like a gigantic limitless crescendo. Those present reported feeling pressed into their seats. I heard this performance in 2000 and it inspired me to learn and perform the piece across Europe; however, the difficulties are hazardous to the health and so I quickly retired it.


  • Zsolt Bognar says:

    This performance is superhuman~

    • Donald Wright says:

      I was fortunate to see him play Islamey live in early May of 1990 at Davies Symphony Hall. It was the last work on a program that started with a Haydn Sonata, then Brahms Op. 117, Liszt three Transcendental Etudes (Wilde Jagd, Feux follets, and the f-minor), a set of Scarlatti sonatas, Chopin Mazurkas Op. 59, Scriabin Fourth Sonata, and then Islamey. It really was superhuman playing above, and a joy to see him when he was in his prime. It’s fascinating too to watch the absolute economy of his physical motions—he didn’t indulge in any of the meretricious wrist scoopings, arm swoopings (e.g., the “Dying Swan” as I call it), elbow stirrings, or the Olympic dismounts that are the stock in trade of many young pianists today who graduate from certain schools in the US …

  • Petros Linardos says:

    I heard Pogorelich live in the 80s and vividly remember being mesmerized by his piano sound. Even in soft passages it was rich and filled the hall. Recordings don’t do that sound justice.

    • Eyal Braun says:

      Agree. I also heard this Balakirev as an encore to one of his concerts in Israel. His deterioration since the death of his wife is very sad and painful. Last time I heard him live was the most embarrassing concert I ever attended

  • Been Here Before says:

    A great pianist! I was just listening to his Scarlatti recording today, it is simply breathtaking!

  • Just another Steve says:

    This would be a great piece for Yuja Wang, I’d love to hear her playing this.

  • La Verita says:

    Indeed, Pogorelich gave some amazing performances in New York in the 80’s & early 90’s – but then he disappeared for 11 years, only to return in 2007 as a total shipwreck: those of us who had the misfortune to be present at the Metropolitan Museum for his “great return” were subjected to a tortuous tragedy, as he spent nearly 3-hours stumbling through 1-hour’s worth of music (with his eyes glued to the score), during which the audience booed and yelled out cat-calls, along with a steady stream of walk-outs. By the end, there were no more than 10 people in the hall, and we haven’t seen him since. The man simply can’t play anymore, and as his youtubes demonstrate, his public performances are a sorry example of the emperor’s clothes. Can he no longer play because his wife isn’t there to tell him what to do? Or did he simply go stark-raving mad? Well, whatever – it’s a terrible loss.

    • Gustav Mahler says:

      You are not up to date. In the recent years he gave sensational concerts on a new level. So his crisis is history. Listen to his new recordings of two Beethoven Sonatas on IDAGIO. He’s one of the rare genious!

      • La Verita says:

        His recitals on YouTube from 2015-2017 do demonstrate
        improvement – he has managed to bring his playing back to a somewhat competent-student level, but it’s nowhere near the playing of his prime – the genius is simply gone. However, his distortions and cheesy affectations remain. Even at his best, he always gave the impression that he felt he was doing the music a great favor by playing it.

        • John Borstlap says:

          That was always my impression too. But the video at the top of this thread is just the right repertoire for such performers: they can play around with the text (it’s not about the music but about the performance and performer), do with it what they want, and don’t have to be bothered by taste or stylistic integrity. And many people love just that. He has been a gift for the business.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    So nice to be able to watch and listen to this historic performance by Ivo. He has always owned a masterful technique and ease with the instrument with his very individual interpretations which give new meanings to the music. What is most attractive in this video is the central D Major dance, the harem that it is. It breathes, it sings, and is simply beautiful. I wish Ivo still played this piece, because he would do a fantastic performance of the arrangement for piano and orchestra of ‘Islamey’. Hope he is well these days.

    • Hilary says:

      I heard him play it in Oxford a few years ago. Rather fierce and distorted performance, but it was more effective than anything else in the programme. In his heyday, a marvellous pianist. Besides, what has been mentioned, there’s a delectable Haydn disc.

      • Jeffrey Biegel says:

        What has become of him concerns me more. I hope he is well and surrounded by dedicated friends.

        • Been Here Before says:

          He lives in a spacious villa on Lake Lugano in Switzerland. He is accompanied and cared for by a dedicated friend. He met her while recovering from burns sustained during a fire incident at a hotel on the Croatian cost fifteen years ago.

      • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

        I also remember that performance at the Sheldonian, but more favourably. It’s now more than 25 years ago, and there’s no recording, but I recall the Oxford rendition as being even more impressive than this version from New York. In the smaller hall, Pogorelich was able to use less pedal, so that the remarkable clarity of his playing came over more strongly.

        Anyway, I fully agree that in his prime he was exceptional.

        • Hilary says:

          That may well have been the case (25yrs ago) but the performance I heard was 3 years ago at the Sheldonian. I’m reminded a little bit of the way Gavrilov’s playing is also a shadow of what it once was.

          • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

            I didn’t know that IP had been back to Oxford. The concert I heard was in May 1992.

          • Mercurius Londiniensis says:


            The concert I attended in 1992 was a fundraiser for Balliol College. During one of the more vigorous late Brahms pieces the piano stool collapsed beneath him. Somehow IP made it to the end. While waiting for a replacement stool to be found, he brought the house down by saying ‘I now really understand why the college needs to raise money’.

  • Frogo Cameroona says:

    Excellent posture too, a pleasure to watch after having to endure the ape-like contortions and slaverings of today’s “stupendous” phenomena like Tryphoneoff.

    Given the title of this piece we can be lucky it gets performed these days at all. Presumably it was omitted for reasons of political correctness.

    • nimitta says:

      Everything about your comment is wrong, Frogo, save the nod to Ivo’s harmonious posture. Each pianist has a different body, a unique skeleton, and a different way of physically relating to the keyboard. This is demonstrably true, even in identical twins like the Canns or Naughtons.

      As for Daniil Trifonov, he may be the most gifted and exciting young pianist before the public today. Daniil is an artist of great integrity, and none of his movements are done for the sake of show. His engaged physical approach seems to work remarkably well for him – his technique is phenomenal! – just as Michelangeli’s utterly different style worked for…


      One last point: your suggestion that Islamey isn’t programmed for political reasons is foolish. If you’ve ever tried to read through the piece (my teacher edited one edition of it, actually) you’ll know why it’s so rarely programmed. A century ago, when he played it, Islamey was widely regarded as the most difficult work ever written for the instrument – hardly something one would expect many pianists to dare add to their touring programs. Even this stunning performance by Pogorelich includes a few fistfuls of wrong notes!

      • Henry says:

        Sure, Trifonov is certainly marketed as the most gifted and exciting pianist in the world, but I haven’t heard anything from him as remotely as exciting as Pogorelich at his best. Trifonov’s playing is quite bland, as is the playing of most of today’s young superstars.

        • nimitta says:

          Henry: “…I haven’t heard anything from him as remotely as exciting as Pogorelich at his best. Trifonov’s playing is quite bland…”

          Trifonov’s not in a competition with IP or anyone else…but “bland”? You’re right, Henry: you haven’t heard anything. His performances last summer of the Kinderszenen, Toccata, and Kreisleriana were among the greatest Schumann performances any of us will ever hear, and no one – NO ONE – has ever described this unique artist and his sensibilities as ‘bland’.

          Perhaps it’s time to listen more to music than marketing, my supercilious friend.

          • Karen says:

            “His performances last summer of the Kinderszenen, Toccata, and Kreisleriana were among the greatest”

            “Perhaps it’s time to listen more to music than marketing, my supercilious friend.”

            Indeed, it may be the time to listen more to music than marketing, Nimitta. In Trifonov’s case, he is precisely marketed as “greatest pianist of his generation” by his publicists unashamedly.

            Trifonov’s performance of Kreisleriana at Carnegie Hall is the most cringe-worthy Schumann performance I have the misfortune to hear. It is on Youtube, and thus everyone can hear and judge for themselves.

          • Karen says:

            And here is Alex Ross from the New Yorker on Trifonov’s Kreisleriana:

            “Kreisleriana,” which followed, was befuddling. The opening piece was hectic and clangorous; after that, torpor set in. The slow pieces were languid to the point of stasis. Phrases dissolved into a lovely miasma of disconnected notes. The prayerful melody of the fourth piece shed its songlike character; even the longest-breathed singer would have had a hard time sustaining the line at this tempo. A minute here or there in Neverland would have been compelling, but fully half the work fell into that zone. The general impression was of a gorgeous miscellany.

          • nimitta says:

            Ah, Karen, but Alex Ross was describing a recital last December. Trifonov’s mesmerizing Schumann performance at Tanglewood in July was quite different, especially the Kreisleriana. No clangor or torpor anywhere, and no cringing – just rapture and thrill.

            As Alex Ross also wrote (and which you omitted in self-serving fashion): “When a performer is astounding on one occasion and exasperating on another, you want him to continue on his chosen path, however circuitous it may appear. ” He also wrote this: “Once he settles into his maturity, he may have no equal. For now, furor follows him, because he has yet to commit the sin of routine.”

          • Karen says:

            Ah, but do I take the words of a Trifonov cult follower for whom he can do no wrong, or do I trust my own ears? It’s such a pity there is no recording of his Boston performance.

            It is clear you already made up your mind that you were in the presence of something special, and hence you heard what you wanted to hear. Unfortunately a couple of others in this thread does not share your experience at all. For me, he was always disappointing on every occasion I heard him. I’ll leave it at that.

            As for the concert that so impressed Ross, Rachmaninov 3rd in Los Angeles, I have a broadcast recording. Sad to say it is nothing special either.

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    Pogorelich granted me a rare interview for the French CBC in Toronto some 30+years ago. The setting was very private in his hotel suite. Only the cameraman and myself plus a young piano student of the Royal Conservatory I had invited were in the room. The conversation lasted 30 minutes. It was more of a monologue, my questions were very brief and to the point. I had never before and have never since experienced such a bizarre and circumvoluted set of answers that to this day I still am not sure of what he said or tried to explain. My purpose was to have him express his opinion on Glenn Gould. At first he greatly admired him; then he started to question Gould’s interpretations. He found them to be too far from the original score and unjustifiable. He even thought Gould was becoming with time victim of his own twisted mind. Now look at Pogorelich today: Gould looks and sounds very conservative compared to him! By the way, the interview was never aired, and the tape was eventually erased by someone who was not aware of the value of this document. How I wish I had personally saved it. At the end of the conversation his wife joined him and they both left without even saying a polite good bye. Mind you, the recital later that night was simply marvelous. He was still an extremely fascinating musician not yet deeply troubled by whatever it is that turned him into what seems to be the shadow of a genius.

    • Been Here Before says:

      I know several people who had similarly bizarre encounters with him, if not more. Have you heard his recording of Bach’s English Suites 2 & 3? Absolutely brilliant, on par with anything by Gould. A shame he didn’t record more Bach!

  • John Rook says:

    Incredible performance. I don’t know whether it would inspire people to take up the piano or quash the idea in their minds for ever. I just found myself chuckling in awe and admiration for this man’s talent and application.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I would rather give one Richard Goode for 100 Pogoreliches.

      Music is NOT about spectacular virtuosity….. which is, however, fun once in a while, but as a side dish or desert, not the main meal.

      • Feurich says:

        This is a virtuoso piece that is not profound, it is not Bach or Beethoven, so it is wrong to measure the artist by virtue of this work. Listen to his interpretation of Six moments musicaux (Rachmaninoff albeit) which is on you tube to sense his interpretive power.
        I had the displeasure of hearing Goode at the Concertbegouw in late Beethoven sonatas. It was dull to the core, without on ounce of tension or drama.
        Pogorelich was great, his past virtuosity is unmatched by any pianist I have since seen or heard,. He infused his performances with intense drama and interpretation. That is sadly gone and he is a shadow of who he was.

  • Elvira says:

    Montreal competition,final round,Pogorelich played so sublime that the
    entire audience went crazy.
    I clapped for so long that I bruised my hand
    I hope he will play again,such fenomenal pianist!

  • Norman Krieger says:

    This and Gaspard from Japan. Elect playing!

  • AleksB says:

    I sat at the podium, about 2m from him at his debut in Musikverein in Vienna, I think it was in the Spring of 1984 or so. The Gaspard he played that evening was probably the single biggest event of all my musicall life, EVER. I wonder whether anybody else was there that night…

  • Paul says:

    I experienced his unconventional but brilliant performance of the Tchaikovsky 1st piano concerto in Vienna sometime around 2013. We mortals have no right to even attempt to criticize such abilities or interpretations. And for proof of how well he continued to play Balakirev’s Islamey, here is a perhaps even better recording of his 2015 performance of the same encore from Vienna (with no audience interruption):

    • Hilary says:

      For sure, some magical touches in 2015, and there’s a self-posessed quality which holds the attention. I’ve always found this to be the case with IP.

      However, it’s a potentially perilous line to go down ‘ we mortals have no right….’
      as we have seen from recent cases, we must be careful to place people on some absurdly high pedestal.

    • Uh… It’s 2 minutes longer than the 1992 version. Doesn’t mean that 1992’s better, but it seems a lot better to me… at least for this piece. But that’s just me

    • 2 minutes longer though… Which doesn’t make it better/worse but I think the 1992 version is much superior for a piece like this…

  • says:

    I heard Ivo in London at a Festival Hall recital in the mid 90’s. I still think it ranks as one of the greatest moments of piano playing I’ve been lucky enough to witness. The programme was Chopin Scherzi & Mussorgsky Pictures. An individuality only equalled by Michelangeli, Cziffra, Horowitz & a few others.

    Since his comeback- although I haven’t heard him in recent years- if you go by the critics- the guy has totally lost it & some are even questioning if he can play the piano to professional standard anymore. If you’re born with the gift to play the piano like Ivo Pogorelich- he should be a great pianist for life. Does he have some neurological/physical disorder which prevents him from this? Would be good to be enlightened.

    • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

      I remember a RFH recital from around that time which concluded with *Pictures*. IP had a bad memory lapse in ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’. As his second and final encore he returned to the Great Gate and played it perfectly (closing the gate, you might say). I much admired his candour in correcting (and hence acknowledging) the lapse.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Young, gifted people, with good looks as excellent commercial wrapping paper, invite collective unreal emotional projection if they do things utterly well. To deal with such things is extremely hard and hence we see quite a few of unhinged characters playing the piano. Although the history of the piano gradually developed towards a very stable instrument, its practitioners remained close to the twilight zone.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    “At no time do my fingers leave my hands…”

  • Plush says:

    Ivo played so incredibly in Orchestra Hall Chicago in 1986. Then played ugly there in 2001. In a master class in the Chicago area he spent 1.5 hrs. on the first note of one piece.

    Later, after signing autographs back stage, he looked at the pen someone had loaned him and exclaimed,”somebody’s pen, I don’t know” (whose) and dropped the pen and walked out.

  • debussyste says:

    What a great pianist is was when he was young !! He was limitless …

  • Larry L. Lash says:

    I am hearing him – tonight! – at Wiener Konzerthaus:

    Mozart: Fantasie c-moll K 475

    Beethoven: Sonate f-moll op. 57 “Appassionata”

    Chopin: Ballade Nr. 3 As-Dur op. 47

    Liszt: “Etudes d’exécution transcendante”
    Etude f-moll S 139/10
    “Wilde Jagd” S 139/8
    “Feux Follets” S 139/5

    Ravel: “La valse”

    I wonder if he will be up to “Islamay” as an encore… it was his standard for many years.

    I have heard him many times since 1990 (I once heard him end a recital with these same Liszt etudes but in reverse order), the last time being the Tchaikovsky 1st concerto in 2010 with the RSO Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien which he dragged out to about 50 minutes, garnering booing throughout the entire performance and essentially leaving conductor Cornelius Meister to basically just cue the orchestra. One of my most memorable insane evenings in a concert hall or opera house (and there have been many).

    A lovely and most unexpected recital occurred when he jumped-in on two days notice for the ailing Arcadi Volodos in the most-unglamorous Reitschule at the 2007 Grafenegg Festival, dazzling the hard-to-please Viennese audience with Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninov… and “Islamey.” I even managed to get him to autograph my CD of the Bach English suites.

    So… I am not sure what to expect tonight (not the easiest program), but I am prepared to be thoroughly entertained (maybe by the audience) if nothing else.

  • C.C.Inaba says:

    A true Titan of the piano- Ivo’s virtuosity
    serves only his deep musicality in all its encompassing technicolour, and volcanic dimensions- Islamay, Scarlatti sonata or Beethoven Op 111.,
    his genius stem from his deepest musicality and finest sensibilities- it is therefore an insult to his/our intelligence to keep on talking about his technical brilliance and abilities- whether with this performance of Islamay or Liszt’s B minor
    sonata, there is not a single note of “unmusical
    frivolity” or shallow showiness of an empty headed pianistic “acrobacy” that we often see in today’s young half-naked pseudo “brilliant-virtuoso-pianists”-

    Ivo is simply a genius and a marvellous one- of-a-kind great artist of our time. We’re lucky to have heard his artistry and witnessed the beauty of his pianistic mastery! No less a giant in the category of Rubinstein, Horowitz, Argerich-
    with younger generations, only Volodos and Trifonov come close to this elevated height of