Youri Egorov – Fond Remembrance of His “Fleeting Brilliance”

It was on April 15, 1988 that Youri died in Amsterdam,
Holland, of AIDS.  His meteoriYouri Egorovc career was cut short tragically by – as a reporter of The Philadelphia Inquirer  put it – “bad habits.”

All I know, having hosted him down in Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida, for a week in 1979, that he was truly rising to be one of the few young classical pianists of his age to encompass both the romantic and modern idioms with equal ease – at least on the surface!

Beneath that youthful exterior lay a determination to conquer the most profound and difficult scores of the era he lived in. His plan of action was clear: first the romantics, then the Russian composers, and only then the likes of the ‘old’ classics such as Beethoven. In 1981, seven years before his untimely death, he is reported in an interview as saying: “I am not nearly ready for the late sonatas of Beethoven. I will not play them for another ten or twenty years.” On another occasion, he was asked about what the music he played meant to him. His frank response: “I can’t explain this. That is why I play the piano.”

Fortunately for music lovers,  Canal Grande has bequeathed to our generation a series of three Legacy Recordings memorializing his playing when he was at his peak. The third one, which I treasure in my CD collection, includes Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8, Op. 84 in B Major and Shostakovich’s Sonata No. 2, Op. 64. Youri was always sparing about his personal feelings, even with his closest friends, but on the middle movement of The Eighth Sonata he did write to one of them: “When I play the middle of the third movement, I get goose flesh. I find it terrifying. And then you don’t really know whether it will end in the major or the minor key. In the end I believe that it is minor.”

Youri Egorov

Youri as a Young Man.

In remembering Youri on his death anniversary, we must take comfort in the fact that beside his fleeting brilliance in the Western musical world, he left behind an enduring legacy around the planet of his phenomenal technique and scintillating performances.

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

[Youri’s Background taken from Wikipedia:
Born in Kazan, USSR,  Youri Egorov studied music at the Kazan Conservatory from the age of 6 until age 17. 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. Egorov remained at the Moscow Conservatory for six years. In 1974, Egorov 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.

Egorov defected from the Soviet Union in 1976 while on a concert tour in Rome, Italy and travelled to Amsterdam where he was to meet his long-term partner.

In 1977 Egorov participated in the Van Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. He became an audience favorite. When he was not chosen as a finalist, a group of patrons and Cliburn board members formed an ad-hoc committee led by Cliburn trustee Beverley Taylor Smith and American impresario Maxim Gershunoff, which raised money equal to the Van Cliburn top prize of $10,000 to further Egorov’s career by funding a New York debut. The South African Steven DeGroote took the first place award that year. Gershunoff as Egorov’s American manager presented 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 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 once again under the aegis of Gershunoff. The concert was recorded live. Writing for The New York Times, Harold 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 Egorov’s albums appeared on Billboard Magazine’s Best-Selling Classical LP chart. Throughout the 1980s Egorov 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.

Egorov died at his home in Amsterdam from what was believed to be complications of AIDS. Egorov was 33 years old. At the time of his death 14 recordings of his had been commercially issued, and several more were awaiting release.

Parallels have been drawn between the playing styles of Youri Egorov and Dinu Lipatti. Additionally, both men gave their final concert performances at the age of 33, each knowing at the time that he was afflicted with a fatal illness and had but months to live.

Egorov’s posthumously released CD, “Legacy 2: Youri Egorov”, received the “Perfect Five-Star Rating” from CD Review Magazine.]


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