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Toradze’s Piano Stories — Take Two

My recent posting of Behrouz Jamali’s extraordinary film about Alexander Toradze produced a couple of comments so extraordinary that I’m re-posting them here.

The first is from David Bondy, an attorney who was once in artists’ management:

I too have been mesmerized by Toradze’s recording of the Prokofiev 2. The first movement unfolds like no one else’s. Others who tackle this work grab it as though it will slip through their hands if they give it any room to breathe. Toradze suspends time at the start, which requires absolute concentration and confidence that the listener will stick with him. I remember the first time I heard the recording. It was as though it were a different piece but so much more nourishing than the typical interpretation — thought-provoking and deeply felt. It has become hard to hear this work otherwise.

I agree with you about authenticity. Anyone who argues that an interpretation must reflect that of the composer’s wishes (assuming we could ever know them) must explain why we need further performances of Rachmaninoff’s concerti when we have his extraordinary recordings of them. If we play them anyway, is it “authentic” to copy precisely what Rachmaninoff did? And if you don’t copy what he did, are you playing authentically? When you consider the problem, you realize how ridiculous it quickly becomes.

Lastly, Ella and Oscar. What a wonderful story. I hope Mr. Toradze knows that there are Americans — at least a few — who revere these great artists as much as he does. I understand they mean something different to him than they can to me, growing up here where they were part of my cultural inheritance. But life would be dramatically less rich without their work, as it would be without Mr. Toradze’s.

And here’s the second comment, from the pianist Steven Mayer:

I have encountered Alexander Toradze at several key moments in my own career, including at the 1977 Van Cliburn Competition (Toradze didn’t win, but the controversy he created did for him what Martha Argerich and not winning did for Ivo Pogorelich in 1980 in Warsaw), his debut with the L.A. Phil in Ravel’s G Major Concerto (I was a prof at UCLA then, and just happened by the symphony that evening), and a fun recital at which both of us played as part of Ilana Vared’s Rutgers Summerfest.

Behrouz Jamali’s brilliant documentary captures the essence of Toradze.

Lili Kraus once compared Toradze’s talent to the force created by the splitting of an atom. I would add that, 44 years later, a certain poise, perspective and wisdom place Toradze uniquely on a perch, seemingly without peers.

Watch how skillfully Horowitz leads Toradze into intimate reminiscence — of touring the States with his personal K.G.B. agent by his side, refusing to play the next gig because Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson would be missed in a live concert, and so much more.

And listen to Toradze as he plays Prokofiev — before it’s placed in the next space capsule for extra-terrestrial interception.


  1. In the early 2000’s I had the privilege of serving as the Founding Executive Director of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts, and there met Toradze, whose Toradze Piano Studio in South Bend was a hotbed of young talent. Often,when I presented illustrious artists, Lexo would invite us over for an evening of stories, vodka, and Cuban cigars, which was a treat for me and a feast for his students. An evening with Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman ended for me around 1:00 in the morning when Manny begged me to drive him back to his hotel because “no one can keep up with these guys when the vodka comes out.” But the topper – my best Lexo story – occurred in connection with an appearance by the Kirov Orchestra. Following the concert I was to drive Gergiev to Lexo’s to meet his students and have a drink. It turned into all all-nighter. The kids wore out by 2:00AM, but Lexo & Valery were just getting started. It was the dead of winter. Fueled by vodka they decided we should sit in the sauna for a while, then go outside, break through the ice, and jump in the above-ground pool. I declined the plunge in deference to my heart. Soon the boys were playing soccer. Gergiev caught his toe on a frozen divot in the grass and sprained his ankle badly. I drove him as carefully as I could back to the hotel around dawn, and the orchestra flew east out of Chicago the following day. About a week later there was a photo in the international press of Gergiev having to conduct the Kirov back in the Mariinsky sitting on a stool, explaining that he’d twisted his ankle disembarking from the plane in St Petersburg. Three people on Earth knew that this was not true. And I’ve never spoken of it until now. Alexander Toradze is a splendid artist. But he is also a hell of a good time and one of the warmest and most ebullient men I have ever had the good fortune to know.

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