For the first part of this article on Alexei Sultanov, please scroll down. And visit Liz at the LA Festival of Books!

About Alexei Sultanov, the man:

Alexei met his wife, Dace, a Latvian student of the cello, at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where he was studying piano. At the time, she was a girl of sixteen. Their romantic meeting resounds of fate. Some fifteen music students wanted to see the famous pianist Horowitz perform at the Bolshoi Hall, but alas they had no tickets. One by one, they jumped to the sloped roof of the concert hall hoping to find a way inside. Dace's foot slipped and Alexei caught her.

Alexei told the story this way: "I grabbed the girl. I looked at the girl. It was not bad -- so I saved her." On October 31, 1991, they were married in a civil ceremony in Ft. Worth, Texas. She remained devoted to him in sickness and in health.

The talented, passionate musician:

After winning the Van Cliburn, Alexei began a dizzy 200-concert tour that stretched over the next two years, as well as music camps, talk shows and dinner parties. He lacked the social confidence to "work a room" but he was amiable and curious, and people were drawn to him. He was that unique treasure, a young, attractive artist both passionate and marketable.

However, his originality and daring expression worked both for him and against him.

In 1995, Alexei competed in the Chopin International Piano Competition. He was the audience favorite and Polish critic Piotr Wirzbicki labeled him "a great interpreter of the composer's work." The judges did not share Wirzbicki's or the popular view. The Jury declined to award a first prize.

Pianist and Jury Chairman, Jan Ekier stated, "The Chopin tradition has certain standards which must be upheld."

Sultanov retorted, "Give me a great review or a horrible one. If people agree with you too much, that means there's not much personality. The Polish jurists, on the other hand, wanted waltzes played in a slightly lovesick way for all the grandmothers who probably danced them in Chopin's own time."

Decrescendo - a gradual decrease in volume of a musical passage.

Later that fall, he suffered a minor stroke, later discovered by CAT scan when he had a severe stroke one tragic day in February 2001. Dizzy from the flu, he fell and struck his head. A week later, he walked into his neurologist's office, barely able to speak. He was suffering from a subdural hematoma and severe internal bleeding. The doctors were uncertain how the tumor-like clot (outside a blood vessel) had formed. The young pianist slipped into a coma, and a few days later when he awakened, he'd lost the use of his left arm and leg. In his last years, Alexei Sultanov continued to play with his wife Darce taking the left-hand parts. They performed at nursing homes, hospitals, schools and churches.

Wayne Lee Gay at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote this epitaph: "Alexei Sultanov soared to musical heights that other musicians only dream of, and crashed to earth with personal tragedy that few have to bear."

His wife, Darce, said of him, "He was always at the center of attention, always fiery, brilliant. People loved him or hated him, but more people loved him."

I wouldn't mind being remembered that way.

The performances shared on YouTube are well worth the time to listen. A search on his name will result in various performances. I wonder how many will love and how many will hate him.

YouTube performance at the Van Cliburn of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2: http://youtube.com/watch?v=rcVGHhQYgX8


Discography: http://alexeisultanov.free.fr/discography.htm

6 comments

  1. Joanne // April 26, 2008 at 5:42 PM  

    Beautiful story, Linda. Thanks for sharing the info on this talented musician.

  2. Toni V.S. // April 26, 2008 at 7:46 PM  

    I had never heard of him but I enjoyed the story. I agree about the Polish jurists. They'd rather play it safe than take a chance on something new and different. I think he was, not a star, but a meteor--blazing brightly for a few moments before falling to earth.

  3. Nightingale // April 26, 2008 at 8:09 PM  

    Toni, beautiful language. Congrats on your upcoming release!

  4. Mary Marvella // April 26, 2008 at 8:17 PM  

    That story touches my heart! At least he had goodness in his too short life and a helpmate.

  5. Beth Trissel // April 26, 2008 at 11:44 PM  

    Yes, congrats! Toni.
    Now, as to this post, it's very odd because I left a comment here this morning and it's gone. Who stole my comment?
    I was saying how moved I was by this poignantly beautiful, tender story. It literally gave me chills. And I was hot from working outside in the garden.
    Now, if anyone sees my comment, let me know. Unless I've been banned from my blog...hmmm...

  6. Beth Trissel // April 27, 2008 at 11:02 AM  

    OK, so I'm guessing none of you knows anything about my missing comment?
    Mama Beth is dubious.
    If you quietly put it back, no more will be said on the matter.