Watch: Tchaikovsky finals disaster goes viral

Watch: Tchaikovsky finals disaster goes viral


norman lebrecht

June 27, 2019

A short clip of the Chinese pianist An Tainxu being made to play the wrong concerto in his final round at the Tchaikovsky Competition is being viewed like a bushfire on social media.

The pianist was expecting to play the Tchaikovsky concerto. Instead, he heard the very short intro to the Rachmaninov Paganini Variations, having missed an announcement in Russian that the order had been reversed.

The announcer was fired.

Nobody at the competition took responsibility. The chair of the piano jury, Putin-pal Denis Matsuev, did not resign.

And here’s the backstage camera.


  • Allen says:

    it seems like the conductor should have at least confirmed the selection with the pianist before starting. Didn’t they at least exchange one sentence backstage before going on. All he had to say was “OK, Rachmaninov. You ready?”

  • Caravaggio says:

    Wow, major f*ck up

  • anon says:

    The principal flute looking at the pianist (at 0:29) is also priceless, he was like, “duuuude, you were late”

    Also amusing was the conductor putting his finger to his lips (at 0:17) to signal “don’t play loud” just before giving an emphatic downbeat to signal “play loud”

  • Marina Frolova-Walker says:

    It seems to be more complicated than that. A bit of video just before they go on stage makes it obvious that Petrenko thought that Rachmaninoff was first. The announcer, who announced Tchaikovsky (as was written in the programme) was corrected by the orchestra manager. So in the Russian statement the blame was put on the person who put the parts on the stands in the wrong order (and it was s/he and not the announcer who is supposed to have been sacked). It is all a bit of a mystery.

  • anon says:

    The pianist should’ve been looking at the conductor.

    By the conductor’s body language and gestures (the finger to the lips, the quick upbeat for the tempo, the quick sharp down beat), the pianist would have been alerted, even if only subconsciously, hmm this doesn’t feel like the opening of the Tchaikovsky, and that’s not how we rehearsed it.

    The visual would have given him a few more seconds of reaction time.

    Soloists, watch the conductor, he’s your best friend on stage.

    • Ed says:

      No, I’m sorry. This is not on the pianist. No one should have to anticipate this kind of mishap. I’m impressed that he reacted as quickly as he did. And as a career orchestra musician in a major orchestra, I have come to learn the opposite. Do NOT rely too much on the stick.

      • anon says:

        1) Well, just watch how Matsuev (btw, chair of the jury) plays the opening here with Leonard Slatkin, at 0:16 you can clearly see the pianist’s head up looking directly at the conductor.

        2) Wait, you say, but the competitor here was expecting the Tchaikovsky, so he didn’t need to watch the conductor. Well, just watch how Kissin does it here with Ozawa, from 0:06, Kissin is alert watching the conductor and the orchestra and the horn section in particular

        I am not blaming the competitor, I’m just saying that’s how professionals do it. At the beginning of a concerto, you don’t retreat into your own world, a concerto is collaborative, not a solo recital.

    • viola fan says:

      Are you actually serious with that comment? Good god…

      Yeah and the world trade center workers shouldn’t have gone to work that day too. They should have known better.

    • DCJ says:

      very easy to say….. it’s obvious you are not a pro performer.

    • Dani says:

      This is Not a Star Wars Movie and we are Not jedis.

    • Jaime Herrera says:

      You are so obviously wrong – too bad you don’t realize it. It is extremely EASY to look at the conductor when you KNOW what you are about to play. The pianist had about one second to read this conductor’s body language. Even if he had guessed correctly, it would have still been a shock.

  • John Rook says:

    Poor bloke. What a shock.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    I blame the conductor. Can you imagine this happening at Leeds competition with Mark Elder, Simon Rattle (or before them, Sir Charles Groves) accompanying a pianist with no English ? With two concertos on the docket, those consummate professionals would have made some confirmation as they were going on-stage.

    • Eugene says:

      Watch the backstage video before the performance. it is painfully obvious that Petrenko KNEW the order. He is surprised hearing the first announcement, and then looks clearly satisfied hearing the correction. Painfully obvious.

  • Alan Lu says:

    Russia must be really embarrassed. This is not even a third world country level mistake. You have only two concertos to arrange for the sequence.

  • Rosemary Forbes-Butler says:

    = Anon wrote “The pianist should’ve been looking at the conductor.”

    I always marvel on SD how many of the most ridiculous comments (which tend to garner the most ‘thumbs-down’ stats) come from that famous author ‘Anon’ AKA ‘Anonymous’ . These authors don’t even the wit to invent a name. And specifically here, there is NO WAY it was the pianist’s fault

    • anon says:

      “These authors don’t even the wit to invent a name.”

      Anons may not have wit, but they know how to put a sentence together. Rosemary Forbes-Butler, take a cue from anons.

    • Tommy says:

      Well. “Anon” was once an author of some of the best and most insightful comments, views and arguments on this site. Top three, if not the very best. Then someone hi-jacked his profile name (I guess) and suddenly “Anon” provides , as you say, ridiculous comments. Time and again it seems to me. Too bad!!

      The pianist here handles the incident brilliantly. The Pires similar incident was at a rehearsal, Mozart PC with a long introduction, and not on par with this. Unique!

    • Anon says:

      As one of the more verbose Anons commenting on Slipped Disc, I take exception. I am not even following the Tchaik piano catagory let alone commenting on it. I reserve my opinions for the other catagories which interest me more. My comments are usually pretty good.

      We use the name Anon in Slipped Disc threads because if you use your real name here, your comment will come up in public Google searches on your name for eternity. That kind of limits your freedom of expression, no?

      I once had a couple of clever and witty noms de plume that I used here, but I was accused of “puppeting”, which I guess means writing under fake names. People started accusing me of being several other people writing in who I was not. It was annoying and insulting. I was accused of being several other people whose comments were not very nice.

      So screw it. To avoid criticism I now use the generic name Anon, as do several other people. If you can’t tell us Anons apart then maybe you should stop accusing people of being puppets and of writing under different names when they haven’t done so.

      Something else that happens when you use clever names here is that often people are convinced that they know who you are. I’ve had people ask me how my cats are ( WTF? I don’t have cats), comment on piano reviews I’ve allegedly written (I don’t write about piano) and personal stuff which I have no clue what they are talking about.

      Just a caveat: commenters here might sound familiar to you, their comments might resonate with you, but this is a huge international readership and the likelihood that you actually know someone because they use a cute pen name that you identify with is pretty slim. Please don’t make that assumption. No one here knows me or has even come close to identifying me, but have made fools of themselves trying. Using the name Anon helps avoid ridiculous assumptions.

      So leave us team of Anons be. We all write as Anon for different reasons. I’ve explained mine. We are all very different people, some wise, some not. Just take our comments at face value without trying to connect them with a particular individual or past comments they might have made, please.

  • Karl says:

    If I were the conductor and I heard the soloist enter late like that I would have realized what happened and stopped the performance right there. Then I would give the soloist some time to regroup.

  • Alan Lu says:

    Question to more experienced musicians here: if this were to happen to you, would you have stood up and tell the conductor that you are suppose to play the Tchaikovsky first?

    • Leigh says:

      No. We are trained to never stop the music. As professionals, we have to take what we get and roll with it.

    • Alifiddle says:

      Definitely not. The show must go on!! He did the best he could under very difficult circumstances.

  • Rob says:

    The sheepish look on the conductor’s face just after the first piano chord is missed lol

  • Leigh says:

    The announcer was not fired. He has continued to introduce the competitiors and their works both today and yesterday,

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    The video did not actually go viral. Viral is at least 500,000 views. This one only had 22K.

  • sillis says:

    I am really wondering about the role of the conductor in all of this? Looking at his body language while the mishap happens I am confused that he is not reacting at all to the late entry by An Tianxu. It almost seems like he is expecting the failure and forcing himself to keep posture. That’s just my impression.
    Independent of this incident, I am disappointed with the musical performance by Vasily Petrenko and the orchestra. In my opinion completely uninspired conducting. The orchestra seems to be bored to death to perform. Just look at the face of the first violin. If they are bored, why do they play at this event? Maybe it’s due to the conductor.
    For a reference of how a performance of Rach Paganini Rhapsody could sound like, check this out:
    Difference between night and day. Compared to this unfortunately the orchestra at Tch16 sounds like an amateur youth orchestra…

    • Karl says:

      I am a big fan of Petrenko but this did bring him down a notch imo. Conductors have to be good accompanists to soloists. That’s the way I always think of it – the pianist is doing the hard word and the conductor is accompanying.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      If you had to play the same piece with Seven different pianists, all in the same day, all of which are below “professional standard” then you too would be bored. And probably not surprised that one-of-the-seven student pianists missed the entry.

  • Robert Levin says:

    This reminds me of the time many years ago when David Oistrakh performed Mendelssohn and Brahms Violin Concerti at the Civic Opera House in Chicago. He was expecting to begin with Brahms but the orchestra started with Mendelssohn. He was cool as a cucumber and didn’t miss a beat or a note – they were both superb performances!

    • Eugene says:

      Are you the great musicologist Robert Levin? I admire your work, but have to disagree with you here. Firstly, the case your describe did not happen on a final of a major competition that can make or break your career, did it? Secondly, David Oistrakh is one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, therefore the shoe is a bit too big to fill. Thirdly, Oistrakh went through a lot in his life (remember the story he told Menuhin about waiting for being arrested through the night every night in the 30s?) and therefore developed an exceptional stamina for unexpected mishaps.

  • Rob says:

    The orchestral musicians knew something was up, you can see clearly on their faces! It should have been stopped. Poor An Tianxu was under so much pressure to carry on.

  • VIolinaccordion says:

    Could have been worse……..Schumann