Grigory Sokolov



Grigory Lipmanovich Sokolov is a concert pianist. He was born April 18, 1950 in Leningrad, Russia.

Sokolov began studying the piano at the age of five, entering the Leningrad Conservatory at age seven to study with Leah Zelikhman, later studying there with Moisey Khalfin. At age twelve he gave his first major recital in Moscow, in a concert of works by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Liszt, Debussy, [and] Shostakovich at the Philharmonic Society. At age sixteen he came to international attention when the jury at the 1966 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, headed by Emil Gilels, unanimously awarded him the Gold Medal. It seems this may have also been a surprising result: "16-year old Grisha Sokolov who finally became the winner of that competition was not taken seriously by anyone at that time.".

"He possesses brilliant finger and chord technique, he easily wields the piano, so easily that he performs [the] prestissimo of the last movement [of the Saint-Saens Concerto No. 2] with truly refined lightness. It was a startling performance. Doubtless we are going to hear much more about this young talented pianist..."

In fact, despite the international prestige of his Tchaikovsky Competition success, Sokolov's international career begun to take off only towards the end of the 1980s. Reasons for this have been contradictory. It has been said that his not defecting, and the limited travelling allowed under the Soviet Regime were to blame. This is contradicted by the fact[1] that Sokolov gave US tours in 1969, 1971, 1975 & 1979, as well as numerous recitals elsewhere in the world such as Finland and Japan. "Sokolov's life as a touring soloist is quite overcrowded. He tours a great deal in both his motherland and abroad."

The 1980s seem to have proved something of a stumbling-block to Sokolov's career in the US. "In the beginning, I played a lot of single concerts in America, in 1969, '71 and, I think, 1975. After that there was a break in relationships between the U.S. and the Soviet Union - they were disconnected by the Afghanistan War. One tour in the U.S. was canceled in 1980. Then all cultural agreements between the two countries were cancelled." In addition, during the break up of the former Soviet Union, Sokolov played no concerts outside Russia.

He is now a well known figure in concert halls around Europe, but much less so in the U.S. His last appearance in the US was probably in 1999. The life of fans outside Europe is made doubly hard by the fact that Sokolov produces very few recordings. His last, a recital in 2002 in Paris, was filmed by the director Bruno Monsaingeon and released on DVD.

Sokolov has also significantly reduced the number of Concerto performances, giving the following reason: "It's very simple. For piano is written an ocean of music, and during your lifetime you are not able to play even a small part of it. Then with orchestra it's not easy to find enough time to rehearse, or to find an orchestra which is interested in the final product and not looking at their watch. It's also not easy with conductors, because you must find the combination of a very good musician who has this special talent to follow and to understand the music in the same way as you. It's very seldom, I must say! And then maybe the worst: if you play a solo piece several times over several days you will develop, going to another level with it, But with a concerto you play this piece more and more, but with each orchestra and conductor you must start again at the first rehearsal. So, if you spend so much energy that you could use much more effectively for recitals, why do you do it? I very much like the fact that everything I make depends only on me. With a hundred people it's almost impossible. You have not the responsibility."

In March 2009 it was reported that Sokolov canceled a planned concert in London because of British visa requirements demanding that all non-EU workers provide fingerprints and eye prints with every visa application (he also cancelled his 2008 concert on seemingly similar grounds). Sokolov protested that such requirements had echoes of Soviet oppression. 

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