Tchaikovsky finalist is undone by false announcement

Tchaikovsky finalist is undone by false announcement


norman lebrecht

June 26, 2019

Message from the pianist Anton Rosputko:

I feel like I have to write this. You never know what can expect you in your life. According to some information, a fatal misunderstanding happened tonight at the Tchaikovsky Competition.

As YOU COULD SEE in the broadcast, before An Tianxu’s performance, Tchaikovsky was announced, although Rachmaninov was planned first. Then the announcer said “excuse me” IN RUSSIAN and then announced Rachmaninov’s concerto. But as the Chinese pianist doesn’t speak Russian, he obviously thought that they just announced Rachmaninov as the concerto following AFTER Tchaikovsky. For the conductor it was clear since he speaks Russian. So, now his shockingly late first unisono in the first bars can be easily explained – the guy was obviously expecting a longer introduction of Tchaikovsky, around 10 seconds, but heard a max.2-second one of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody and was about to enter, not even having time to realize what happened!!

The performance was very much worse in all the senses than his previous rounds, but, knowing perfectionism for which Chinese nation is famous for, I am sure the whole nerve system of the guy was hit like after a tsunami, if the situation was like I described! He knows, as we all, that the first impression is VERY influential on the general one, so I guess he was in a nervous breakdown from the very start.
…or maybe he just didn’t prepare the finals enough, but OBVIOUSLY it was just this terrible accidental nightmare.
Life is unpredictable. I don’t know what judges will decide and don’t know if they realized what happened, but I wish him all the best!

Watch here.

What’s Russian for fuckup?

UPDATE: Announcer is fired.

UPDATE: An Tianxu video goes viral

Watch now: A backstage view.


  • Ray says:

    He recovered really well though. That’s top class automatized muscle memory for you! Brava!!

    • Wladek says:

      Or is a mindless top class automaton doll that can
      start and stop on a given note. That the art form
      has been debased is a given.That there are ignorant
      people who view the art as a competition is also
      a given .What’s Russian for fuckup try………
      Tchaikovsky competition .

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        It’s a career starter for many musicians. Build a bridge and get over it. Go into the building trade if you don’t like it.

        • Wladek says:

          Dim wits use the art form as a sporting
          competition,they debase with whatever they
’s in their nature….they are many
          as Sonata Form can attest to……….

  • Beckmesser says:

    So that’s what happened. Having been very impressed with Tianxu’s first two rounds, I made a point of watching his final round yesterday. His initial entrance was a beat late, and he obviously looked rattled and off his game. I thought maybe he wasn’t feeling well or was tired. Until this, I thought he would be in the winners’ circle – now, maybe not – so one has to wonder why this change was made and why the soloist was not informed.

  • Jeff says:

    Was Rachmaninoff planned first? On the official website the Tchaikovsky is listed ahead.

  • Karen says:

    It seems unfair to spring the Rach on An Tianxu like this, and announcing the last minute change only in Russian so that the only person who is not aware of the change is the competitor/performer himself. The fact that there is no public statement and apology from the organizing committee is disappointing, to say the least.

    • Bob Boles says:

      Guess what – ‘Tchaikovsky’ in Russian is… ‘Tchaikovsky’. And ‘Rachmaninoff’ in Russian is ‘Rachmaninoff’.

      If attending a contest in Moscow, and presenting two works by Russian composers,. learning the compoer’s NAME seems to be the barest miniumum of preparation??

      • Opern says:

        This is outrageous! Understanding a language needs the context! Just by hearing Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov in reverse order, you were suggesting that any performer who knows no Russian besides those two names should know how to respond right away? You must be kidding, and it’s not funny at all.

        • Bob Boles says:

          No, I’m not kidding. If you can’t understand even Tchaikovsky;s NAME, you have no right to be performing his works at all. Take your outrage elsewhere.

          • Ru says:

            He understood they were only saying that after that concerto we was supposed to play Rachmaninov. Then, remember he has only 3 beats to change chip. You should not do this in an international competition.

        • Brettermeier says:

          “This is outrageous!”

          It’s funny, actually, as it shows that Bob didn’t get it either. Mолодец! 😀

  • Mr. Knowitall says:

    Reminds me of this, although Pires had more time to adjust.

    • Karl says:

      I had not seen that before. I don’t know how that could happen with two professionals of that caliber.

  • DAVID says:

    I hope the jury is well aware of this, because given the scope in which nerves can influence any given performance, this sort of mix-up can undermine even the best of performers. Realizing right on the spot that one has to play a totally different piece all the while knowing that one’s performance, right there and then, will determine whether or not one advances can be very challenging psychologically — even if one has prepared the piece, as there is also a mental preparation pertaining to that one particular performance. Performers are not machines — otherwise they could never be artists in the first place. He was clearly caught off-guard and did remarkably well given the circumstances.

  • Karl says:

    Reminds me of the scene in the movie “Whiplash” where the teacher switches pieces on his unsuspecting ex-student. Cringe!!

  • boringfileclerk says:

    The Russians are playing hardball. They don’t want a non-Russian to have a chance to win. Glad he was able to recover and soldier on. A testament to his quick thinking and resolve. I hope he places, if not wins overall.

    • David says:

      Hardly! Does that mean ‘The Russians’ have to somehow sabotage 4 out of the 7 finalists who are non-Russian?

      It was an unfortunate incident as described above, and yes, it would have absolutely caused consternation for the pianist. Though it is curious as to why he didn’t flinch backstage when the order was accidentally reversed when announced, or confirm with the conductor what was going on with this deviation from the planned order they’d have surely discussed. Assuming that running through his mind would have been the Rachmaninoff he thought he was playing first, somehow he was able to instantly accept and refocus (without comment) on what he now heard announced as the Tchaikovsky starting things off, and all within seconds of walking on.

      However, as for this competitor winning – that is beyond wishful thinking. More alarming is that he was even admitted as a finalist. I’ve never heard such anti-musical playing and display of lack of concept/phrasing or understanding of basic tone production, albeit unaided by a dreadful instrument – both affecting some in the audience who shielded their ears….. or walked out.

      It was a travesty that more worthy pianists were denied the opportunity to take a place in the finals, and for the life of me cannot understand how that many sets of ears could have let this through. In a competition of this league, this was simply an unacceptable level of performance and begs the question as to whether there is coercion/and or influence. It is beyond matters of personal taste; one simply cannot play in that manner and consider that it is musical and cultivated. I was not only disappointed, but felt that it reflected poorly on the jury, especially considering there were any number of choices who were more deserving of entering the finals.

      And no, I do not have any preference for which nationalities are place-getters or any agenda, I just think it needs to be said out loud that (as many online commenters observed also) it just doesn’t add up.

      • Pasquale says:

        Geez…commenting that a fine pianist is unworthy is NOT the job of anyone but the jurors.
        As for other more worthy artists who were dismissed because of An–sounds like sore grapes to me.
        Are you referring to a certain child prodigy who purposely leave out notes when you referred to a more gifted pianist who was unfairly voted out?

        • David says:

          Pasquale, we all have our opinions – you, the jury and myself. I don’t think only the jury has the right to comment on proceedings and surely conversation and sharing of opinions is rife in Moscow and also online. In this particular case, it is (as I included in my final paragraph above) not a matter of me belonging to any specific group of supporters. I have been taking the performers as they come and didn’t go in backing anyone, so the assertion of it being ‘sour grapes’ on my behalf is an added assumption, I’m afraid. And if you must know, the certain pianist you reference in your comment was not one I was thinking should progress as I found those performances also wanting in musicianship!

      • Liz says:

        which competitors do you feel should have taken An’s place in the Finals?

      • Ann says:

        David: This kind of intentional mistake had already happened in 2011. Same Tchaikovsky Competition. Another Russian conductor played the wrong passage when Cho(Chopin Competition winner 2015) was about to play a passage in the Tchaikovski 1, first movement.
        Because of the error that Cho made, Trifonov won in 2011. Cho got 3rd.
        So this happening again in 2019 is questionable, to say the least.
        I suggest you look at the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition youtube video of Cho. You”ll understand why some folks are angry.

        • David says:

          Hi Anne,
          Yes, I can see why people have conflated these two happenings, though I am unsure this one was as staged as some are suggesting. What is making me curious now though is how, if this is intentional interference, that either conductor and/or the official who organised the orchestral musicians’ scores OR the jury themselves have managed to impact this plan. I wouldn’t have thought conductor or official would act just on their own impulses independently, and it more likely if anything, to be from those making the final decisions on placings. However, if entertaining this idea, why would the jury have promoted this pianist thus far (they could have put another Russian in the final in his place if they are intent on a Russian winning) only to then cripple his chances with this act? Where is the source of this planned sabotage? Is the jury chair’s offering of another performance to this pianist merely lip service and in the hope he wouldn’t take it up? I’m open to hearing any ideas, but the main thrust of my comment was about the playing itself, despite the fact the incident was of course very disturbing to the performer.
          Also, I think if this was deliberate, there is still further ‘threat’ with the outstanding performance given by Mr. Kantorow last night, so I wonder how they would preclude each of the other non-Russian talents from having a chance at the top prize??
          Thanks for your remarks though.

      • Carlos says:

        I also disliked very much the performances of An- he’s a very talented amateur at best. However, one can only feel bad for him that such a disgusting mistake happened. He didn’t flinch because how was he supposed to understand Russian? An must have thought he was announcing both concertos at once..

        • Bob Boles says:

          [[ how was he supposed to understand Russian ]

          It’s a Russian competition, held in Moscow.
          Don’t like it? Don’t come. End of.

          • Bob Boles says:

            14 imbeciles who think the Tchaikovsky Competition should be conducted in Chinese.

          • Diane says:

            Bob Boles: Take your racist anti-American, anti-immigrant talk elsewhere. This is a forum for intelligent people. Not bigots.
            YOU are the imbecile..

          • TrifonovFan285 says:

            Bob, Good Lord! Are you serious saying this kind of racist rubbish in this forum?
            I’m surprise your remark is even allowed here.

          • Kreisleriana says:

            You sound like one of those Trumpkins — Speak English in America only.

          • Brettermeier says:

            “You sound like one of those Trumpkins — Speak English in America only.”

            I wonder why that is. Couldn’t be their lack of education, of course. 😉

        • David says:

          Hello Carlos,
          Yes, I agree with you about the feeling the pianist must have had come over him at that time and I am sure many hearts sank seeing it unfold. The reason I wrote that he didn’t seem to flinch was because in the backstage footage, only the conductor seemed puzzled when the order was announced, suggesting it was different from what pianist and conductor had rehearsed. Now, assuming the pianist had at first expected the Rachmaninoff to be performed as the article atop states, he would have had to have heard that it was now changed to the Tchaikovsky (even though that was said in error) – and without knowing Russian, those two names alone would have obviously stood out to him. I concluded he must have grasped at least this because then when he went out now thinking Tchaikovsky was up first, his reaction can be explained when they reverted back to Rachmaninoff. If he hadn’t understood any of the announcing, he would have gone on expecting Rachmaninoff as originally planned if that was indeed the case, and that’s what they played. So his reaction must have stemmed from him picking up the announcer now putting Tchaikovsky first. As the original article above on this page says, it was: Rachmaninoff – Tchaikovsky – then corrected by the announcer apparently saying “excuse me” and then ultimately Rachmaninoff. He must have known something had changed whilst backstage to alter his thinking to go to Tchaikovsky. Unless we have new information or further clarification, that’s how I understood it. I didn’t expect him to know Russian, but it seemed he must have picked up something for there to be this confusion. Maybe more to come on exactly what happened?

      • Patrick Ventura says:

        This has already happened during the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition. Go to the 2011 Tchaikovsky Concerto video of Seong-Jin Cho on ytube and see for yourself.

        Trifonov won over Cho because the conductor made a huge error during one of Cho’s important passages, throwing him off. So this similar error looks strange to many.

      • Richard Bloesch says:

        David, you are confused. Running through his mind would not have been the Rachmaninoff, since he thought he was going to play the Tchaikovsky first. And, as others have pointed out, he doesn’t speak or understand Russian.

        Richard Bloesch

      • Timur says:

        Realy musicien can not write a comment like this

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        I would expect to be told personally about any changes, not having to listen as I would for boarding an aircraft. Beyond outrageous. The musicians are not LISTENING to the announcements. In this case the pianist made the mistake of thinking the Tchaikovsky Competition was about professionals. Clearly it is not.

      • debuschubertussy says:

        So you’re saying that his allegedly poor performances in the previous rounds (totally your opinion, of course) somehow justifies the terrible incident happened to him into final round? Ok.

        • David says:

          Hello debuschubertussy,
          No!! That would not be the correct interpretation of what I was saying. This was an unfortunate occurrence and would not be wished upon any performer. My main point in my original comment was more to do with the playing, and yes, just my opinion. Cheers

      • Melbourne says:

        You’re saying your opinion is greater than the juries? Do you think you’re even half the musician of some of the comment section on youtube?

        Xu’s playing may be hallmark ‘Chinese’, technically and not without flaws in phrasing/whatsoever but there is a raw, almost primal energy to his playing which is what makes it compelling and human. His Beethoven in the first round was freakish: no other competitor came close in communicating the big sonatas, Rach 2/Chopin 3 etc.

  • Bruce says:

    Of course brings to mind the apocryphal stories about the famous violinist who walked out on stage expecting to play the Beethoven concerto, then heard the orchestra start the Mendelssohn… But of course (if it happened) that was not a young artist in a competition setting…

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    A good thing it wasn’t the Schumann Concerto! The Beethoven 4th would also have been hilarious…

  • Bruce says:

    Not a humorous situation for Mr. An; I hope it does not prove harmful.

    Another apocryphal story: when I heard it it was about Ashkenazy although the conductor was not named.

    The piece is the Schumann concerto. The conductor gives the downbeat while Ashkenazy is still adjusting the piano bench, wiping his hands, etc. Being the consummate pro, he dives right in and gives an impeccable performance of the first movement.

    After the first movement, he beckons the conductor over like he wants to talk to him. The conductor leans over. Ashkenazy plays him the opening 4 notes of the 2nd movement.

    No idea if it’s true, but I hope so 😀

    • RW2013 says:

      I thought this was a Barenboim/Mehta anecdote.

    • Carlos says:

      I’ve been told this story by several people. They’ve all said Barenboim was the conductor

    • MusicBear88 says:

      I’ve heard the same story but with Rubinstein as the pianist. True or not, it’s a great story.

    • A Pianist says:

      I have it on good authority that Joe Kalichstein was playing the Grieg at Aspen, and began by launching into a big A major chord. Not that I think it gainsays his fine artistry. Just a glitch in the operating system that could happen to anyone.

  • Ann says:

    He freaked out! It is clear to those who know his talent, that he is far from his usual technical security. Very unfortunate and an apology should be given to him and perhaps a consolation prize! .

    • Bob Boles says:

      He was given a full apology by Matsuev, the director of the piano section – and the opportunity to repeat his performance under new conditions. He rejected both.

  • PucciniFan says:

    The very fact that everything is written in Russian and announced in Russian makes it clear this is a Russian event. Forget about the fairness of the competition. This is already a travesty…

    • Bob Boles says:

      Good Lord, Watson!! You mean… a Tchaikovsky Competition being held in Moscow, with two Russian works, was announced in Russian?

      What language would you suggest, then?

      • Bob Boles says:

        No answer, I see. You were asked a question. In what language should the competition be conducted?

      • Pat Ventura says:

        Bob, most World class competitions have multiple languages being used to make their announcements.
        The Chopin, Cliburn, Rubinstein and Steinway Competitions used many other languages besides English, French, Spanish or whatever.
        When I went to the Medici website, I was thoroughly confused when everything was written in Russian. This has never been the case with any of Medici’s other events.
        If this was an international event, they should use multiple languages. Not all of us speak Russian.

    • SVM says:

      I am confused by your point. How is it a travesty for a competition based in Russia to be conducted in the principal official language of that country, Russian?

  • Bruce says:

    It’s clear from his “WTF are you doing???” facial expression about 1 minute into the video (just after the opening of the piece) that something is very wrong. There is probably no way for the judges to be truly uninfluenced by what happened, but they should try — or give him extra credit for having to deal with a, shall we say, “unique” situation.

    • SVM says:

      I am not sure your suggestion about “extra credit” would be fair. The impact of an on-the-spot surprise change of work would vary according to the individual — it is conceivable that some might actually give a better performance in those circumstances (after all, careers have been forged on the back of short-notice deputising for more famous colleagues). Should not the other competitors then be given the chance to try for the same “extra credit” by having a similar surprise sprung upon them?

      The jury’s offer of a repeat performance sounds like the least bad solution, although it is unclear from the Slipped Disc report whether (if the competitor had accepted that option) the repeat performance would have been immediately or the next day or…?

  • Chopinist03 says:

    A similar sabotage happened to Korean pianist Cho, at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011.
    Cho recovered well enough to win 3rd prize. But 1st went to Trifonov.
    It was a travesty in 2011. And it may have cost Cho 1st prize then. Cho was flawless otherwise. Trifonov made errors.
    With that being said, Cho went on to win the 2015 Chopin Competition in grand style!
    And Trifonov
    became one of the finest pianists in the World-along with Cho…

  • Patrick says:

    Someone mentioned this “error” had already occured at the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition when Seong-Jin Cho was caught off guard by a wrong passage during the 1st movement of the Tchaikovsky piano concerto.
    This is unfortunate to have happened again only 8 years later.
    I remember Cho was otherwise flawless in the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition. And he may have won it had the mistake not happened.
    The great Trifonov was the eventual winner of that competition. One does wonder if he would have won without that hiccup.

  • Guga says:

    They apologized to him and offered him to play again both concertos but he refused.i felt very bad for him.if it happened to some famouse pianist they would have stoped and left the hall.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    At least Maria Joao Pires, in that famous incident, had a whole exposition to recover !

  • Michael Menaugh says:

    With the Internet coverage down for three days and now this ridiculous mix up one wonders how the Russians are supposed to have influenced the American elections – they can’t even run a piano competition!!

  • Esteban says:

    This is an obvious prank the Russians played on this poor unsuspecting man. Political motives at play here, and it was blamed on 1 “employee”.

  • Richard says: