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(Photo Courtesy: Deutsche Grammophon)

Pianist Anatol Ugorski has Died, Aged 80

The Russian pianist specialized in avant-garde music behind the Iron Curtain


Born into a working-class family in Leningrad in 1942, Anatol Ugorski was initially able to learn music only on the xylophone and with his voice. Despite having never played a real piano before, he passed the entrance exam for the Leningrad Conservatory at the age of six, where he studied with Nadeshda Golubovskaya until 1965.

Upon graduating, Ugorski struggled to establish a career in the Soviet Union, where it was expected that Russian repertoire should be at the center of a concert program. Instead, he preferred to play the works of composers such as Schoenberg, Messiaen, and Boulez — and indeed, suffered a decade's worth of disciplinary measures after he was heard cheering loudly at Boulez's first performance in the USSR.

Oppressed by these conditions, Ugorski began to give private concerts in Leningrad, many of which attracted significant audiences as his reputation grew within certain circles. By 1982, Soviet administrators could no longer ignore Ugorski's prominence and granted him a lectureship at the conservatory in 1982.

However, an increase in anti-Semitism in St. Petersburg caused Ugorski to escape the USSR with his family in 1990. They settled in London, and Ugorski's recordings became much easier to access in the West as a result. In 2000, he received a GRAMMY nomination for his album of works by Messiaen and Scriabin, recorded alongside Boulez and the Chicago Symphony.

Ugorski taught at the Hochschule für Musik in Detmold until 2007.

Our condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

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