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Boris Giltburg Goes Through the Musical Crucible

After a stumble, the Russian-born Israeli pianist scores a huge prize

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(Nir Keidar)

Boris Giltburg was born in Moscow in 1984 and moved to Israel during the wave of immigration that brought nearly a million Russian Jews to Israel in the early 1990s. Since then, the 29-year-old classical pianist has been hard to miss, winning competitions and performing with orchestras from the Thames to Tel Aviv. Earlier this month, Giltburg pulled off one of his toughest coups yet, winning the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels.

With a nearly $40,000 purse, Giltburg almost fell under the weight of the expectation during the competition’s semi-final when he suffered a black-out in the midst of performing Mozart. Thinking he’d frozen up entirely, Giltburg was shocked when he was named a finalist.

His mother and grandmother, both pianists, left the room where they were listening, convinced it was all over, as was Giltburg.

“What I most wanted to do was crawl away, but I knew I couldn’t. It’s a feeling of utter hopelessness,” he told Reuters.

After the performance, he forced himself to play back the recording and discovered, contrary to his expectations, he had not actually stopped.

The next (seemingly insane) task was the finals where Giltburg and the 11 others were sequestered from the outside world and given the task of performing not only their chosen pieces, but an entirely new, previously unseen work–a long and complex piece by French composer Michel Petrossian.

To add to the hot-house atmosphere, in which everyone was acutely aware of everyone else’s talent, Petrossian’s piece was 16 minutes long, compared with the average of about 10 minutes for the surprise work handed to the contestants at this stage.

That meant 50 percent more highly complex music to learn.

Giltburg prevailed. And then, from the sounds of it, he has sworn off participating in another competition.

“I’m a bit angry at the world for not having come up with another way of discovering talent other than competitions,” he said.

He may not have to. In addition to the financial prize, the prestige attached to his win means Giltburg will be booked for an impressive number of concerts. So keep an eye out.

In the meantime, if you’re a fan of the film Shine about the life of pianist David Helfgott, the Aussie-born son of Polish Jews, whose pursuit of paternal acceptance and Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto led him to madness (at least in the film), then perhaps you might enjoy Giltburg’s rendition of the impenetrable Rach 3, which was said to have won him the competition in Brussels earlier this month.

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Boris Giltburg Goes Through the Musical Crucible

After a stumble, the Russian-born Israeli pianist scores a huge prize

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