12/21/2012 04:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Classical Musicians Spat on Facebook

Facebook has become a great tool for artists and famous people to keep in touch with their fans, but now classical musicians are having a public spat on it too. With lots of caps lock, mudslinging and fans and friends joining in on the fray, there's no lack of temper and controversy.

The scandal started when renowned Russian pianist Andrey Gavrilov walked out of a performance of the Rachmaninoff Concerto No.3 at the Moscow International House of Music (MMDM) on December 19. According to the pianist himself, he left "through the fire escape" and took the subway home. Left without the star of the evening's performance, the conductor, Dmitri Jurowski, announced 15 minutes after the third bell rang that Gavrilov had suddenly been taken ill, and another pianist, Alexander Ghindin, would take his place.

Since then, Gavrilov has been posting all day on Facebook, first saying that he "could not let himself perform before his beloved audience as sad shit" and that he had left because he felt he could not give the audience the kind of music he wanted to give because his co-performers were inadequate. He wrote that he went through the rehearsals, but "there was not one live note," that the music was dead, and having understood that there was nothing he could do about it, he left.

He continued his provocative posts and comments (he claimed the conductor, Jurowski, had no understanding of music, is "young, pampered, spoiled and helpless," and that the orchestra played "perfect public toilet sounds" and everyone was "dead and rotten") while his fans reacted in amazement and support. (He also says he deleted "vulgar" comments, so negative views of conduct may have been deleted.)

The next day, however, Ghindin, who had replaced Gavrilov for the concert, published an open letter to Gavrilov on his profile, saying that with all due respect, if he (Gavrilov) is simply unprepared to perform (he forgot the text, messed up passages etc.) then he should go home and practice for the concert, not start slinging mud on the conductor and the concert organizers. He also shamed the older pianist for disappearing from the hall five minutes before the performance without telling anyone, and that this was not the first time he pulled a disappearing act, and that he should be ashamed. He also defended the conductor and praised his skills, saying that Gavrilov should not blame others for unprofessionalism to hide his own shortcomings.

Gavrilov (on his page) freely admits that he has probably forfeited any chance of playing in Russia again -- and that is probably quite true -- who wants to hire a pianist who at inconvenient moments can get up and disappear, whatever the reasons? The world is a small place; the classical music world even more so, and not even a big artist can give people the middle finger without incurring some consequences.

The eccentric Gavrilov has almost always made people raise their eyebrows. Born in 1955 in Moscow, he became a star at age 18 when he won the famous Tchaikovsky International Competition. Fame and offers from abroad abounded, but his international career was curtailed when the Soviet regime refused to let him out of the country, due to the young pianist's criticism of the Soviet Union.

While supremely talented (just listen to his 1976 recording of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.3 -- yes, the same one he was supposed to play in Moscow -- I have heard few things matching the spectacular emotional intensity of Gavrilov's rendition of the piece) he has suffered from fragile health and nervous breakdowns. Despite his popularity, his career came to a halt in the early '90s when he started cancelling concerts and even walked off one that was being broadcast live on radio. His fans love him despite his oddities, but he has alienated many others with "lies" -- Ghindin publicly called him a liar, the late Nikolai Petrov (who was also Ghindin's teacher) also called him one and even people in his circle raise their eyebrows at his version of events in the memoirs Gavrilov wrote (and gave out to people.) His caps locked statements seem to scream, "I am a martyr, I am being crucified."

While I think I can safely agree that the orchestra in question (and probably the conductor as well, whom I have not had a chance to observe in performance yet) may not have played breathtakingly great Rachmaninoff, very few do and we all cope with what we have, audiences and artists alike. If all artists got up on their hind legs and started saying they won't perform unless everything is perfect, there would be very few concerts indeed.

Always the buffoon, Gavrilov reacted to Ghindin's indignant open letter by calling him a monkey, then retorted that he was given only 40 minutes of rehearsal time because the conductor was helpless. What do you think? Valiant protest against bad music, or vain posturing?