How do you become famous for NOT winning the Chopin Piano Competition? Well, it helps to have one of the judges declare you a genius and walk out after you’re eliminated—especially if that judge happens to be renowned pianist Martha Argerich.
In 1980 Ivo Pogorelich was a lanky, shaggy-haired, 22-year-old talent already known for being both brilliant—and bloody-minded. An individualist. He was born in Belgrade, graduated from the Moscow Conservatory and already had won two competitions.
No one questioned his technique. He displayed blazing speed and remarkable accuracy. And no one denied that Pogorelich indulged in exaggerated contrasts. Some liked the liberties he took; others surely did not—including the majority of the Chopin Competition judges.
Pogorelich failed to make the finals. Argerich protested, and an uproar ensued—which ultimately made Pogorelich a far bigger winner than the judges’ top choice—the still-little-known Vietnamese pianist Dang Thai Son. As the “loser,” Pogorelich earned a slew of concert bookings and a big-time record contract. His first release? An all-Chopin disc.
Still, Pogorelich said he felt rejected at the Chopin Competition, which caused him to lose faith in what he was doing. “In 1980 people wrongly interpreted my attitude and approach to Chopin's music,” he said. “I wanted a certain form of confrontation, to see to what degree the results of my searching and fascination would appeal to the public.”
Thirty years later, Pogorelich remains an individualist—with a shaved head and a few more pounds on his frame. And audiences still find his playing both dazzling and infuriating. - Ted Weiner & Don Lee