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Youri Egorov, virtuoso pianist

By April 12, 2020March 19th, 2023No Comments

I discovered Egorov when I read a biography of him in Dutch. He defected from the USSR when he was very young and found his way to Amsterdam. One of his friends, a writer, wrote the biography. It was called “In het huis van de dichter”, which means “In the house of the Poet”. It has never been translated into English. I communicated with the author, and he told me that there had been several efforts to sell the book to an English-speaking land, but that there was no interest. It is a shame, because it is a very good book.

Born: May 28, 1954 – Kazan, USSR
Died: April 15, 1988 – Amsterdam, Holland

The soviet pianist, Youri Egorov, studied music at the Kazan Conservatory from the age of 6 until age 17. One of his early teachers was Irina Dubinina, a former pupil of Yakov Zak. At the age of 17, in 1971, Egorov took 4th Prize in Paris at the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition. He next studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Yakov Zak himself. Egorov remained at the Moscow Conservatory for six years. In 1974, he won the Bronze Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. In 1975, he was awarded the 3rd Prize at the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition Of Belgium. Feeling constrained by the Soviet system, Egorov defected from the Soviet Union in 1976 while on a concert tour in Rome, Italy. In 1977 he participated in the Van Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. He became an audience favorite. When he was not chosen as a finalist, some disappointed and angry listeners formed a committee to raise money for Egorov equal to the Van Cliburn top prize of $10,000. The South African Steven DeGroote took the first place award that year.

Youri Egorov gave his New York recital debut in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on January 23, 1978. Three months later to the day, he appeared in Chicago, Illinois and a critic there dubbed his performance “the debut of the decade.” In July, 1978, Musical America Magazine selected Youri Egorov as their “Musician of the Month”. He made his Carnegie Hall debut on December 16, 1978. The concert was recorded live. Writing for The New York Times, Harold C. Schonberg said Egorov played “…in a free, romantic style, and his approach is quite different from that of so many competition winners.”

In August 1979, two of Youri Egorov’s albums appeared on Billboard Magazine’s Best-Selling Classical LP chart. Throughout the 1980’s he played primarily in Europe. His last American appearance was in Florida in 1986. Egorov was featured in the book “Great Contemporary Pianists Speak for Themselves” compiled by Elyse Mach. In it, he spoke candidly on the topics of rehearsal, pre-concert nervousness, artistic restrictions in Russia, and homosexuality. Sviatoslav Richter, Dinu Lipatti, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Vladimir Horowitz and Glenn Gould are among the pianists Youri Egorov cited as having influenced him.

Youri Egorov died by suicide at his home in Amsterdam in 1988. He had AIDS and was deteriorating quickly. He was 33 years old. He had made 14 recordings at the time of his death and several more were awaiting release. In 1989 Egorov was the subject of a VPRO Television documentary, “Youri Egorov 1954 – 1988” by Eline Flipse. The program won the special prize of the jury at the BANFF-televisiefestival in Canada and was nominated in 1990 for the Prix Italia.