Alexei SultanovThe New York Times Obituaries 2005:

SULTANOV -- Alexei. The House of Steinway & Sons notes with sadness the passing of the pianist Alexei Sultanov on June 30 in Fort Worth, Texas, at the age of 35.

I first heard this Russian-American classical pianist on KUHF, Houston's PBS station, playing Beethoven's Appassionata. At the end of the breathtaking piece, the DJ related Sultanov's tragic story. Captivated by his music and intrigued by the artist, I researched him on the internet.

Alexai Sultanov was born August 7, 1969. His father, Faizul Sultanov, was a cellist, his mother, Natalia Pogorelova was a violinist, and his grandmother was a well-known Uzbek actress. At the age of six, he began piano lessons in Tashkent with Tamara Popovich. Alexai made his formal debut at age seven.

In 1989, he competed in the Eighth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. At the age of nineteen, he was the youngest in a field of thirty-eight. The prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, created by Fort Worth teachers in honor of Texan Van Cliburn, was first held in 1962 in Fort Worth. Four years earlier, during the height of the Cold War, Van Cliburn had won the International Tchaikovsky Competition held in Russia.

During the performance, a piano string snapped but Alexai finished his volcanic performance of selections from Liszt, Prokofiev and Chopin. But his critics were divided. In a newspaper interview, Denise Mullins, the Cliburn Foundation's artistic administrator, said, "He took things to the absolute edge of the cliff, and it was very exciting to hear. He wasn't afraid to take a chance on stage, and there aren't a lot of pianists who do that."

Sultanov was awarded First Prize--$15,000 in cash, a recital at Carnegie Hall, a recording contract, and sponsored tours in the U.S. and Europe—in one of the wealthiest competitions in the world. His career was launched.

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

A video of Alexei playing the Appassionata is available on YouTube at

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.



  1. Judy // May 23, 2012 at 11:43 AM  

    Wow! What a sad story! Remarkable man, remarkable life. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mary Marvella // May 23, 2012 at 7:40 PM  

    Thanks, Linda. We learn from others and the obstacles they overcome. Gotta love a man who can make such music!

  3. Autumn Jordon // May 24, 2012 at 12:00 PM  

    Beautiful tribute. What an awesome artist. I'm sure he missed by many. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Pamela Varnado // May 24, 2012 at 3:53 PM  

    Linda, I'm a true believer in helping your fellow man. And music speaks to everyone, no matter the nationality. Great post and very inspirational.

  5. Mary Ricksen // May 24, 2012 at 4:37 PM  

    It always seems that great talent brings great tragedy for some people.
    Out of this tragedy we remember the
    thrill of this talent. Not bad to be remembered that way. People who can do things that create breathtaking moments make me weep at the beauty of their ability. Like Josh Grobin, can't listen to him sing so purely without a tear in my eye.
    I wish I had the ability to move people like that!

  6. Beth Trissel // May 25, 2012 at 8:02 AM  

    Amazing. He arched across the music world like a meteor shower, but the light of day was not so kind. Thanks for sharing this brilliant man with us.

  7. Nightingale // May 25, 2012 at 10:55 AM  

    Thanks everyone for reading. I wish I could play piano and be such a music genius. When I read his story, I was very touched.

  8. Josie // May 27, 2012 at 5:37 PM  

    As you may know, I am a piano teacher. Beautiful blog.