Grigory Sokolov signs exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon

Gramophone Fri 17th October 2014

The enigmatic pianist's first release will appear in January 2015

DG have announced the exclusive signing of one of the world's most enigmatic pianists, Grigory Sokolov. Sokolov, who according to DG's press release 'refuses to play pianos that are more than five years old' and who doesn't make studio recordings, will permit DG to release a 2008 recital from the Salzburg Festival in January 2015. Mark Wilkinson, President of Deutsche Grammophon, said, 'The wait is finally over, as we warmly welcome Maestro Sokolov to the Yellow Label, and herald a new and rare album release. Inspiring complete devotion from his extraordinary army of fans, many of whom aim to attend every single one of his extraordinary concerts, he is an "anti-star" par excellence. Critics and pianophiles alike have known of his work for many years, and we now want to connect the broadest possible audience with this life-affirming, revelatory and enigmatic artist.'

Sokolov, who rarely grants interviews, was the winner of the 1966 Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition, and spoke to Bryce Morrison for Gramophone about the victory in a fascinating interview in 1997: 'Naturally, 1966 was a red-letter year for me. Even then it was important to win a competition. Aged 15 I was given a special dispensation to enter, but I had to fight my way through so many preliminary rounds. In 1958 there was Van Cliburn (Moscow musicians are still under his spell, and his performances in the competition are discussed and revisited as if they occurred yesterday), in 1962 John Ogdon and Vladimir Ashkenazy, and then in 1966 it was my turn. These were hard acts to follow and I still feel very uneasy regarding the competition scene. It is not a good way to achieve recognition. There is too great an element of Russian roulette, too many jury members chosen for political rather than musical expediency. Gilels was chairman of the jury when I played, another matter altogether, but... [an expressive shrug]. Today, few musical institutions are more debased. Now it is fashionable to have a non-competition success, never to enter them or, if you do, to come in fourth, fifth, sixth, or a semi-finalist. 

'At four years old I somehow knew that music would be my life. We had records at home and I "conducted" everything I heard; piano music, opera, ballets, symphonies. Only when my parents acquired an upright piano did I stop conducting; the reverse, you see, of Ashkenazy or Perahia! At seven I was sent to a specialist music school. 

'You ask about my repertoire and it's pretty eclectic. Basically I play what I like, practically all Chopin (no, not the First Sonata or Allegro de concert), quite a lot of Schumann including the Second Sonata with the alternative Presto passionato finale. I play very little Liszt and only some Rachmaninov (unforgivable for a Russian, but there it is), a little Debussy, some Ravel (including Gaspard de la nuit) but no Fauré. Less romantically or exotically, Bach is a special love, most of all the Goldberg Variations. Brahms and, more particularly, Beethoven are also central to my musical thinking. 

'The business of making records has worried me so much and I'm only just beginning to come to terms with it or, rather, I've found a solution. I'm delighted to say that I've made my last "studio" disc. From now on everything will be live, all or nothing, selected from a mountain of tapes waiting for me in Paris. I cause lots of problems because I don't believe in editing and splicing - a bit of this, a bit of that. I never play anything the same way twice, the acoustics vary from hall to hall and so do the off-stage noises of my audiences. My producers and engineers tear their hair out on my behalf but I refuse to compromise. I believe in the real thing.' 

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