A backstage view on the Tchaikovsky piano disaster

A backstage view on the Tchaikovsky piano disaster


norman lebrecht

June 27, 2019

This was the soloist’s response to the Russian announcement in the calamity that ruined his chances in the piano final. An Tianxu didn’t realise that Rachmaninov came first. The conductor’s role remains enigmatic.

The whole saga is a massive fuckup. Original story here.

If the video won’t show where you are, you can watch it here.


  • Alan Lu says:

    Video seemed to have been removed. If someone had watched it, please summarize it. Thanks before hand.

  • Wladek says:

    Much ado about nothing

  • Karl says:

    It sure sounded to me like the announcer said the Tchaikovsky came first.

  • Bob Boles says:

    No, I take back what I wrote previously. It’s announed absolutely clearly, that it will be the Rachmaninov Variations – in both Russian and English. This was certainly a fuckup, and Petrenko shares responsibility. He clearly heard that Rach was the first piece.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Petrenko had a puzzled look on his face during that announcement!! I had the feeling he didn’t know Russian.

  • Andy says:

    I get that the announcer did terrible mistakes, but i highly wonder why no one in the backstage with the contestant had spare decency to let the chinese pianist know what was going on. It’s clear that was confused during the announcement, even the conductor shows wonky face but said nothing to clarify.

  • Anson says:

    To me, this video muddies the water in terms of what happened. Even without understanding Russian, the announcer clearly announces Tchaikovsky and then corrects himself to Rachmaninov, followed by audience laughter at the mistake.

    Petrenko, for his part, makes a “that’s not right” face at the Tchaikovsky announcement, and then an expression that says, “ahh, see, that’s better” directly at Tianxu when the announcer clearly enunciates “Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”

    Tianxu may very well have been in the “zone” and not paying attention to the foreign language announcement, so I don’t blame him. But it’s confusing that it seemed so obvious to Petrenko that Rachmaninov coming first was the “correct” order, and somehow Tianxu didn’t know that.

    Regardless, other than the missed entrance, Tianxu performed admirably under the circumstances. It is not clear to me that this is what caused him to miss the finals. After all, it’s not as if he had to dust off Paganini from the recesses of his memory — he was prepared to play it, just in a different order. Still, it’s rotten luck for him and not fair that it happened.

  • Rosemary Forbes-Butler says:

    The conductor should have visibly reacted when that first double-octave A was missing. Instead, he ploughs on like some dull Kappelmeister. Esther Cavett was right in the other thread that neither Simon Rattle or Mark Elder was have been so distant.

    Actually, at the London Tate Modern last year, SR conducted the Messaien ‘Et Expecto…’ (before Gruppen) and at one point in the repetitive drum beats, the percussionist dropped his stick and was immediately handed another by a quick-thinking colleague. This all happened in a heart-beat, but Rattle’s neck turned at superhuman speed to see what was going on. Like he almost felt the music with his whole body, not just heard with his ears. He wouldn’t have ignored such a thing as these missing Moscow A’s.

    Polite note to S/Disc editors: enough with the ‘fuckups’ etc. Very disappointing. Thanks

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Have you seen that he’s been awarded “Special Prize for self-confidence and bravery”


  • Mark Hildrew says:

    Why did conductor pull that stupid face when Tchaik was announced ? The following was the order on the official website :

    Round III
    P. I. Tchaikovsky. Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor, op. 23
    S. Rachmaninoff. “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”, A minor, op. 43

    • SamUchida says:

      My theory is that Petrenko and the orchestra was ready to perform with Broberg, who decided to play the same pieces but in the opposite order to An. In particular the sheet music in front of them was for the Rhapsody! When the announcer said in English the pianist was An from China and would be playing Thaik, Petrenko gave his first look of consternation (he expected Broberg – he must of wondered why An was standing next to him) and only when the announcer corrected himself in Russian (so An failed to understand) did Petrenko relax – he probably thought he’s got the wrong pianist but at least he has the right music!
      My guess is that the announcer was watching the live feed and reacted to Petrenko’s concerned look.

      Petrenko and the orchestra will have rehearsed with both An and Broberg so confusion could follow as a result.

      Broberg, at the start of his performance jokingly asked Petrenko if he had the correct music – the audience (and jury) enjoyed that quip.

      The following day the concert was delayed 30 minutes (I assumed it was due to the late arrival of the deputy prime minister Golodets) but was probably due to a meeting between An and the jury where he refused the offer to perform again. An gave an interview after in English outside the jury room (I stood nearby so heard it) where he spoke warmly about his competition experience!

      Later I saw An in the conservatory restaurant and thought about asking him if he would eat his meal if he was brought the wrong one.

      Only in Moscow! Fantastic place!

    • Elens says:

      Just checked the Medici site. The order is the opposite.

  • Rob says:

    Wow, the winner already has or had a successful recording contract with BIS? Poor An Tianxu!

  • Ross Amico says:

    He should have just pulled a Reizenstein.


  • Monsoon says:

    I don’t understand why the announcer is to blame. The sheet music for the Rachmaninov was put out and the musicians and instruments needed for it were on stage. If the order was changed and the soloists wasn’t informed, then there are a lot of other people to blame for that mistake.

  • M2N2K says:

    It was natural for a contestant in a highly stressful situation who is hearing an announcement in foreign to him language naming piece A followed by another announcement naming piece B that he was supposed to play A first and B second. Someone on this site earlier suggested that the pianist who was expecting Tchaik1 should have been looking at the conductor before the introduction (as a couple of famous soloists apparently did “because it is not a solo recital”) and should have guessed by the maestro’s body language that Rach’s Rhapsody was coming instead. That is totally nonsensical. First: listening to the orchestra is of course obligatory, but looking at the conductor when one expects an introduction that is at least 15 seconds long is decidedly not. Second and probably most important: conductor who knows that it is the Rhapsody that he is starting should definitely look at the pianist and make sure that the latter is absolutely ready to play after the intro that is no longer than about 1.5 seconds, before starting the piece. Apparently Petrenko for some reason did not do that in this case and so it is his huge mistake for which he deserves a large share of the blame.

  • Pat says:

    Is this ridiculous f* up still without a formal public apology?
    To place him dead last is the final insult!