The great Russian pianist Nicolai Petrov died the other day at the age of 68. He was born in the Soviet Union in the dark days of 1943, the time of Josef Stalin and Hitler’s invasion of Stalingrad. He began learning piano at the age of three. He came to Fort Worth, Texas to compete in one of the very first Van Cliburn International Piano Competitions—-Van Cliburn had stunned the world in the late 50s by winning the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow at the height of the cold war. The eccentric, mad genius Bobby Fischer was to do the same in chess a few years later. Remember the U.S. and the Soviet Union were in an ideological battle, both politically, scientifically, and culturally.
When I read his obit in the New York Times the other day, I was reminded of how I discovered him. In 1969, when I was an undergraduate, a high school friend named Bruce Tebbe bounded down the hill where I lived in Santa Monica Canyon, then burst into my little guest house saying I had to listen to this new record he just bought. It was 8:30 in the morning and I was half asleep. It was an Angel recording of Nicolai Petrov playing the fiendishly difficult, angular Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto. Petrov’s speed and virtuosity was staggering. It woke me up. I bought the lp and still have it in my collection.
here is the first part via youtube: