Protesting pianist: Why I refused to play at Paderewski farce

Protesting pianist: Why I refused to play at Paderewski farce


norman lebrecht

November 26, 2019

The Russian pianist Sergey Belyavsky has gone public on the reasons for his refusal to play a prizewinners recital at the dodgy Paderewski Competition in Poland this weekend.

UPDATE: Pianists back the one who refused.

Here’s Sergey’s account:

Dear Friends,

I feel that I should explain some things about what happened recently at the Paderewski Piano Competition. My experience at the competition was so positive leading up to the final days, when the focus was no longer on music. It’s not a secret that I have a long history of participating in competitions. Some of them were less fortunate for me, some of them more, but thanks to technology, a lot of this history is still available in archives.

About this specific competition, the reason for my decision to refuse the Honorary Mention and not to play in the Laureate’s concert had to do with the way the voting system was built in the finals. Several jury members came to me after the announcement of the results and told me that the voting began with me being tied for first place, so the jury decided to revote. As a result of that revote, I had a minority of the votes for the 1st prize. The next step was for them to have new, separate votes for the 2nd and 3rd prizes. According to what I heard from them in private conversations, some of them suddenly “changed their minds” and did not vote for me for the 2nd or 3rd places. Because the voting was kept in secret for the jury members as well, nobody knows exactly what happened. This revote resulted in me going from a tie for first place to not receiving one of the top 3 prizes.

This whole situation put me in the wrong mood for performing in an event, which is directly related to the results of the competition. Not only to the music itself. And it is not a normal concert situation. So, I would like to apologize again to the public who came wanting to enjoy the celebration of music.

The decision not to accept the Honorary Mention was driven by my belief in integrity, and I had no intention of starting a conflict. This was a very unique moment of my life. I was very touched by the Special Prizes I received, and I would like to thank all the people who have continuously supported me. Cheers to the audiences (both who followed the live stream and in the hall), cheers to my colleagues for spending their lifetimes for serving the music, and CHEERS to music itself!

First round

Second round

Solo semifinal round

Orchestra semifinal round

Final round


  • PianoJustice says:

    The jury changed their votes to support the polish pianist so he will get accepted automatically to the Chopin competition. The third prize winner played in duszniki festival and is supported by polish people already.

  • Michael Kaykov says:

    Belyavsky did a very courageous thing indeed, as an applicant of many of these big competitions – I really thank him for exposing the kind of things go on behind closed doors and for not being swayed by any prize-money.

    It’s interesting how the organizers and jury members of the Paderewski competition are also directly connected to the upcoming Chopin Competition in Warsaw.

    I look forward to not passing by default for daring to support Belyavsky. Cheers.

    True music-making and artistry will prevail, sooner or later.

    • esfir ross says:

      And what about another fine competitor Leonardo Pierdomenico? Why he didn’t advance? Hearing SB performance-not really good class of playing.

      • WT says:

        How about using something like “to my taste” or “to my highly qualified opinion” 🙂
        P.S. I agree about musical talent of Leonardo Pierdomenico, but this is not a point to write what you wrote. Note, Sergey, rejected his prize in a very decent way. He did not accuse anyone, he apologized several times before audience. Just listen what he said and be objective, if you can….

        • esfir ross says:

          To my opinion SB’s not very good musician. I like his courage to speak out but don’t like his playing now and what heard before. Aggree?

        • guest says:

          “decent”? Get off it. Try petulant, childish, and withheld his music from the audience like a little b%^&h.

          • Bruce says:

            (a) you didn’t watch the video, did you.
            (b) “withheld his music from the audience”? What, does he owe them a performance?

          • Grazzidad says:

            I’d like to have watched the video, but it’s no longer available. Unlike Esfir Ross, I’ll have to reserve my judgment until it becomes available again.

    • Kolb Slaw says:

      Not at any competition, they are the antithesis of those very things. A true artist could never enter a competition and not choose their own repertoire.

  • Save the Chopin Competition says:

    It seems that 2 jurors tied to this Paderewsky competition have been announced as jurors of the upcoming Chopin competition in Warsaw.

    Namely: Kevin Kenner, and Piotr Paleczny. Mr Kenner is well known for his biased and unrelenting downvoting, btw.

    Kevin Kenner is also tied to the 2020 National Chopin Competition in Miami, where he is the Chair – the first prize of that being $100,000 and automatic acceptance into the Warsaw competition where is is also on the jury.

    That being said, I’m sure that all of this is done completely fairly and it is only a coincidence that the Paderewski competition has a summer academy where young pianists can unofficially study with the same jury members that will vote for or against them.

  • Calvin says:

    I don’t see this as obviously nefarious. Having been part of judging panels, it is not at all uncommon to have, in effect, a straw poll to see where the members are initially, with subsequent discussion among panel members, which very often results in change to the results. No judges are compelled to change their position but, if they do so after an exchange of perspectives, it remains their considered final judgement.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    When IS the Chopin Competition starting, please? The last winner, from South Korea, seems to have a nice little career going.

  • Medi says:

    BRAVO Sergey! A wonderful pianist and very brave!

  • Jean says:

    The decision belongs to the judges not the artists.
    Whether you are 1st or last means nothing.
    Just keep focus on serving the music.
    The rest dies not belong to art.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    That’s what you get for entering competitions. They should be abolished.

  • Dave T says:

    No doubt this fine pianist is disappointed and frustrated about being ‘out of the money’, but it’s not as if he’s entitled to any votes, at any level, whatsoever. Refusing to play because, “This whole situation put me in the wrong mood for performing in an event,” is not very professional at all. This attitude will not serve him well going forth. Nobody likes a petulant whiner. (Yes, there are counter examples throughout performance history.) Let us hope that he will find maturity and dedication.

  • Save the MET says:

    These contests have been rife with favoritism and politics for years. No longer do they discover talent and the fix is in. Frankly, this pianist should have known better than to participate. With so many avenues to be seen these days, young musicians should boycott these competitions. That said, as he chose to participate, he should have realized that if he did not have the votes lined up, his chances of winning no matter how magnificently he played would be for naught.