Just in: Tchaikovsky fires fuckup final official

Just in: Tchaikovsky fires fuckup final official


norman lebrecht

June 26, 2019

The Tchaikovsky Competition has issued a statement admitting a terrible mistake that cost the Chinese pianist An Tianxu any chance of succeeding in the final.

An announcement had been made in Russian substituting Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations for the Tchaikovsky concerto, but the pianist did not understand Russian and was visibly bewildered at hearing the Rachmaninov opening.

The jury chair Denis Matsuev offered the pianist afterwards a chance to repeat his performance, but An Tianxu was too upset.

The announcer has been fired.

Nobody else takes responsibility for switching round the concertos without telling the soloist.

It’s a fuckup disgrace.

More here.

Nothing about it on official competition media.

Here’s  rough translation of the official statement:
Due to a horrendous mistake made by a staff member of the Svetlanov Orchestra, on the 25th of June, before the appearance of the soloist, Tchaikovsky Competition piano contestant Tianxu An, the orchestra members and the conductor were presented the scores of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff pieces put in a wrong order – different from the order declared by the contestant. Therefore the performance started with a fault – it took a moment for the contestant to switch to another piece.

By the unanimous decision of the jury, the Chairman D. Matsuev officially offered Tianxu An to replay his program again. The contestant has officially declined the offer.

The head administration of Svetlanov State Orchestra has fired their staff member after this dreadful incident.”



  • Alexander Tarak says:

    What terrible luck !! Years of hard work only to have things messed up by someone else’s negligence. My sympathies to him.

  • Peter Macklin says:

    Is it really necessary to use the F word on a site like this? Not very classy I think!!

  • christopher storey says:

    I sat next to John Lill once at a Dinner, and I asked him what his most disconcerting experience was. He told me of being rung up at home about 6.30 one evening and asked if he could play Beethoven 4 at the Festival Hall in substitution for someone who had fallen ill. He just had time to grab his kit, put it in his car and get there as the Overture was being played. No time for rehearsal. no time to talk to the conductor, effectively straight on stage . He raised his hands to play the first soft chords of B4, to be met by the resounding E flat crash of the Emperor ! Fortunately, he said, no one seemed to notice!

    • Peter Smith says:

      There is an old story of Stephen Kovacevich playing a Beethoven concerto with Sargent at the Proms. After the usual applause, Kovacevich settled down to wait for the orchestral introduction to the Emperor, while Sargent patiently waited for his soloist to play the opening solo chords of the Fourth….

  • Roman Mints says:

    Suspended, bot fired. And not the announcer, bit the guy, who allegedly put the wrong music on the stands.

  • M McAlpine says:

    With all the words available in the English language do you have to use the F word in your headline?

  • Karen says:

    Where is the apology to An Tianxu ?

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Here’s a direct link

    Poor guy. He’s looking daggers !!

  • Anon says:

    Finally! Some big drama at Tchaik. Mr Tianxu is a magnificent pianist BTW.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Tell them to give us a call when they get a bit professional.

  • anon says:

    Under no western country employment law is that cause for termination.

  • Jastin says:

    “but the pianist did not understand Russian” – Do you mean that Rachmaninof sounds in different languages in different ways?

    • Bruce says:

      Maybe he could understand the words “Rachmaninov” and “Tchaikokvsky” but not the words in between that would have actually told him what was going on. But of course you would already have thought of that.

      • Bob Boles says:

        In the backstage video which has now come to light on SD, it is completely clear that – after an initial flub and announcing ‘Tchaikovsky’ – the announcer VERY CLEARLY, in RUSSIAN AND ENGLISH announced ‘Rachmaninov, Variations on a Theme by Paganinini’. Petrenko can clearly be seen standing next to An backstage, when this is announced.

        There is absolutely NO EXCUSE for having played the wrong work. If the wrong dots had been put out on the stands (or in the wrong order), then Petrenko should have paused to get this changed.

        • Bruce says:

          “the announcer VERY CLEARLY, in RUSSIAN AND ENGLISH”

          …but not Chinese. I don’t speak Russian and I don’t know what languages Mr. An speaks; but what I heard was “blah blah blah TCHAIKOVSKY blah blah RACHMANINOV,” followed by “blah blah TCHAIKOVSKY.” I nearly stopped listening after hearing the two names. Mr. An may well have just been putting things together as best he could, and thought he knew what order his pieces would be in. Clearly he was the only one onstage who didn’t know.

          During the announcement, he looks a little confused to hear Tchaikovsky first, but then seems to shrug it off as if to say “OK, I guess Tchaikovsky is first.” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone that the announcement might be confusing to someone who doesn’t speak the language (maybe either language), since it all made sense to them.

  • Brian says:

    I feel sorry for the pianist, and understand that everyone has their own mental processes, especially for such a huge competition. However, it’s not as if it was a completely different concerto that he wasn’t prepared to play during that very same performance. It was just a question of switching order. Adaptability is essential for any performer.

    • goodstuff says:

      It’s also that in the video, you can see his immediate surprise and ultimately, because the Rach came first, he missed his entrance.

  • mibemol says:

    On the plus side, this will catapult him to instant renown, probably much more than he would have gained with the correct ordering.

    • bretelle says:

      That’s what I’ve been thinking. He’s got so much attention that probably even the winners won’t get) see the positive even in a very negative situation.

  • L says:

    Any foul play behind the scenes? Perhaps.

    I don’t think Xu was on track to win but I thought had a very good chance of playing two very very convincing concertos. Sure, he is no Cinderella story like Lucas Debargue but you can just tell, he has that little something else in performance that this year’s competitors all seem to lack.

    But to be forced adjust immediately: artistically in the finals at the very last second is something you simply cannot recover from. Pires’ infamous Mozart 24 is different: the stakes are vastly different: her career is not on the line, at most a grumpy group of lunch time audience’s are denied a performance.

    But Xu’s situation is honestly a little heartbreaking. Think about the planning: countless Tchaik 1 into Rach 1 runthroughs months and months before. His interpretative plans, decisions about when to recharge/breathe/hold back/let loose all come crashing down in the space of two seconds.

  • Ray says:

    I don’t think they should have fired the staff member. Everybody makes mistakes and the person had the worst luck to make one in a very public event that badly affected someone else’s future. The staff member should be censured and suffer some sort of penalty but firing the person will not redress the harm done. The jury should make An Tianxu another offer of a re-do after he has calmed down. His refusal to do over the performance was made when his emotions were still overwhelming a rational choice.

  • Chris says:

    Is the expletive really necessary?

  • Esther Cavett says:

    ==D. Matsuev officially offered Tianxu An to replay his program again.

    Probably the distinguised jury were pleased that he declined the offer. That would have been *seven* performances of the Tchiak they would have had to sit through.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    I can’t believe you’ve actually written “Fuckup” in the title ! Of course it’s a fair description really, but not an elegant way of putting it.

  • John Orwell says:

    I you look at the video you will see that it was the other way around. Pianist was expecting Tchaikovsky 1st piano concerto and the orchestra started paying Paganini variations:


  • Arc-en-ciel says:

    Fortunately little harm done! whilst Tianxu was
    understandably visibly upset for the unforgivable muck-up of the reverse order of the concerti at the last moment unbeknownst to the soloist himself, his integral musicianship and brilliance saved his solid performance from the ruins of upset nerves! Bravi indeed to Tianxu! and shame on Tchiko-competition and chairman Denis Matsuev for not officially apologizing to Tianxu before the public! !

  • Alexander says:

    Cynically speaking, for you, Norman, that was twice ( 3, 4….ten times) as much fun as your usual fun to tease Russia with different sort of taunts in your blog 😉
    Actually such kind of things (or in other ,not so classy words “sh*t” – thanks to those who used adjective “classy” in this thread 😉 happens every now and then at musical contests, competitions and even at the biggest opera houses all around the Globe. Many of highly acclaimed performers could tell a lot of stories on the subject.
    Of course that poor Chinese guy could hardly win the world classic tournament No.1 ( alas for Russia haters) all the same I would give him a chance to pass to the final stage, just like a kind of exuse. But this is just my opinion.
    As for Mr. Lucas Debargue ( as some mentioned his name here) – there are many different views on his play. Some think he was treated badly at the Thaik. some have a thought he is “just a charming “dilletante” who pretends to be a guru. Tastes differ or as ancient Romans used to say “Multi sunt vocati pauci vero electi” 😉
    Disclaimer : I condemn nobody 😉

  • tom schaefer says:

    Thank you for carrying this story. I think you’re the only one (or at least the first) to publicize this disaster. And I have no problem with your use of the “f” word. It accurately conveys the gravity of this error for both the contestant and for the competition overall.

  • Tromba in F says:

    Perhaps I just don’t understand the mindset of a pianist, but why would a change in order create such anguish? Are the physical and mental demands of playing the piano such that any flexibility or spontaneity are out of the question? Is this just taking diva antics to a new level? Seems a bit over the top to me. Grow up.

    • tom says:

      This is not over the top or diva behavior. Most people don’t have an understanding of the complexity & mental preparation that goes into live piano performance. Yes the physical and mental demands of playing the piano at this level are enormous, and a last minute surprise such as what occurred, would totally throw the performer off balance.

    • justin says:

      Um, he MISSED THE FIRST CHORD ENTIRELY because he was expecting to play the other concerto (Tchai) first! Of course this mattered. He wasn’t being a diva.

  • Bachanini says:

    It wouldn’t be the Tchaikovsky Competition without a scandal.

  • Karl says:

    Looks like they just made the lowest guy on the totem pole the scapegoat.

  • Rob says:

    Your playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right odrer.

  • Kael says:

    Did An Tianxu really reject Matsuev’s offer because he’s “too upset”? Assuming our only reference is the official announcement which nowhere mentions the reason for Tianxu’s rejection, we should not be putting words in his mouth and say he’s too upset that’s why. It doesn’t have to be the sole legitimate reason anyway, and saying he’s too upset also seems to downplay his decision.