Alexei Sultanov burst upon the international
music scene at the age of 19 with his spectacular victory at the
Eighth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in
In a repertoire ranging from Chopin to Rachmaninov, the
classical pianist went on to perform in cities throughout the
world including in Berlin, Paris, Warsaw, Moscow, Tokyo, New
York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas.
was born on August 7, 1969 to Faizul Sultanov and
Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. At age three he began
to study music with his cellist father and violinist mother,
both instructors of music.
When Alexei was only
6, he began piano lessons in Tashkent with Tamara Popovich, an
amazing taskmaster who would, in the future, become one of
Alexei's most trusted advisers.
Alexei made his formal debut at the age of seven.
Tamara Popovich arranged for him to have lessons at the
prestigious Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory several times
a year. Accompanied by one of his parents, he traveled by train
from Uzbekistan for his lessons. It was an enormous expense and
huge sacrifice, but one that paid off. Alexei was accepted and
left his home in Tashkent in his early teens to study at the
Moscow Central Music School in 1986. Alexei was a student of Lev
Naumov at the Central Music school and again at the Tchaikovsky
Conservatory, where he completed his musical studies.
While at the
Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Alexei was chosen to complete in the
Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth,
One of four Cliburn
competitors from the Soviet Union in 1989, he was the youngest
in the field of 38 pianists – and at 5 feet 2 inches, he also
was the smallest. But once he performed his volcanic selections
of Liszt, Prokofiev and Chopin, he quickly became known for his
huge sound. His fingers flashed over the keys; the music
thundered and whispered and groaned. When he played, he shut his
eyes as if enraptured by the music. During his performance, a
piano string snapped, but Alexei continued to play on. And, when
the music ended, he bowed low to the audience, then took a
backward step and pointed to the piano as if to share the
spotlight with a fellow performer. Audiences raved about his
originality and the jury's decision was unanimous, but critics
were split in their response.
Immediately following his win at the Cliburn
competition, Alexei was propelled into the international arena
with an appearance on various American television programs
including The Today Show, The Tonight Show with
Johnny Carson, and the Late Night with David Letterman.
Even the famous wanted to be close to him. The night after he
appeared on David Letterman's show, Alexei was invited to play
privately for the legendary Vladimir Horowitz. It was a
memorable highlight of Alexei's life.
At a gathering in
Horowitz's New York apartment, Alexei had the opportunity to
speak with Horowitz in Russian and to play the piano with the
legendary concert pianist. Alexei told him the story of meeting
Dace Abele, the young lady who would later become his wife, at
the Bolshoi Hall of the Moscow Conservatory back in 1986.
Dace, a Latvian
cello student at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, was
actually only a girl of 16 the afternoon she met Alexei. It was
a rendezvous that was both fateful and romantic. Horowitz was
playing at the Bolshoi Hall and a crowd of about 15 music
students wanted to see the great man perform, but they had no
tickets. They decided to climb to the roof of an adjoining
building and jumped one by one to the sloping roof of the
concert hall hoping to get inside. Once on the roof of the
building, Dace's foot slipped and Alexei was there to catch her.
She, of course, knew of this protege of the Conservatory; but he
knew nothing of her. Whenever Alexei commented on their meeting
he always told the same story, "I grabbed the girl. I looked at
the girl. It was not bad -- so I saved her." It was a magical
time for both of them. From that moment on, the two seemed
destined to be together. On October 31, 1991, they were married
in a civil ceremony in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Alexei began the
dizzy 200-concert tour that began after the Cliburn and
stretched over the next two years. There were music camps and
performances, talk shows and dinner parties. Amiable and
curious, Alexei lacked the social confidence to "work a room,"
but patrons were drawn to him and some whispered that he was
that unique treasure -- a youthful, attractive artist who was
both passionate and marketable.
Having complete his
Cliburn-negotiated concert dates by 1993, Alexei struck out on
his own with independent management. Like the majority of
concert pianists, his career moved to an ever-changing tempo.
During his career, he recorded eight CDs. In the U.S., he has a
small but steady fan base, and his spine-tingling play has built
a huge and avid following in Poland and Japan.
In October 1995 Alexei won another competition –
the Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition
in Warsaw Poland. Critics wrote that, "Sultanov played Chopin in
the style of the old masters, a style, which the audience had
not heard in the last half century." He also received "The
Audience's Favorite Award".
Alexei appeared throughout the world to
extraordinary public and critical acclaim. His orchestral
appearances included engagements with the Philadelphia
Orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonic, Japan Philharmonic, Royal
Concerthebouw, Royal Philharmonic, Moscow Philharmonic, Warsaw
Philharmonic, and the symphonies of various American Orchestras
including Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Dallas,
and Atlanta. He also had the honor of appearing in the major
music capitals of the world including Berlin, New York (Carnegie
Hall), Frankfurt, Milan (La Scala Theatre), Zurich, Washington
D.C. (Kennedy center), Osaka, Seoul, Taipei, Athens, Helsinki,
Hamburg (Musichalle), Nagoya, and the list goes on.
In February 2001,
dizzy from the flu, Alexei fell and struck his head. A week
later, he walked into a neurologist's office almost unable to
speak. The cause was a subdural hematoma -- a tumor-like blood
clot outside a blood vessel. Doctors were not sure why it
formed, but they were certain that it is not the first time.
Within hours of the diagnosis, Alexei was in surgery to stop
internal bleeding that was putting pressure on his brain. He
awoke with no discernible impairment. The strain put on tender
blood vessels caused the massive stroke. Five years earlier,
Alexei had suffered a small stroke that showed up on a CAT scan.
Fortunately, the stroke did not disrupt his personal life or
performance schedule. This stroke proved to be more severe.
After the massive stroke Alexei was back in surgery, his life in
Osteopathic Medical Center of Texas in Fort Worth rushed to
remove a blood clot on his brain, but, that night, another
hemorrhage plunged him into an even more desperate situation.
Again doctors scrambled to snatch him back from edge of death.
Slowly, with many
therapies and occasional setbacks, Alexei began his journey
toward recovery. As he progressed, he regained his ability to
play the piano with his right hand, with Dace providing the part
of the left hand. When Alexei was ready, they began to play
publicly in nursing homes, hospitals, schools and churches.
Those who heard him play were inspired by the courage of this
brave man to rise above his limitations to give expression once
again to his beloved music. "'NEVER GIVE UP", Alexei and Dace's
mantra, gave hope to everyone who knew them.
Alexei’s stunning performances during the Van
Cliburn competition were recorded by Teldec Classics in a
two-disc album aptly named, The Winners, which was
distributed worldwide. Alexei's competition performance was also
featured in the PBS documentary Here to Make Music
produced by Peter Rosen and aired throughout the United States.
Since its original air date, the award-winning documentary which
has since been syndicated to television networks around the
On Teldec Classics label, Alexei’s recordings
include the Tchaikovsky Concerto N° 1 and the Rachmaninoff
Concerto N° 2, with Maxim Shostakovich conducting the London
Symphony Orchestra. His solo recordings include the works by
Chopin and the Piano Sonatas by Scriabin, Rachmaninoff and
Prokofiev. The two CDs from live performances in Tokyo, "Fantaisie
Impromptu", 1997 and "Sultanov plays Chopin", 1999 were released
by Arts Core Corporation.
Alexei Sultanov died
on June 30, 2005 at the age 35. A special memorial service was
held for him on July 6, 2005 at the auditorium of the Modern Art
Museum of Fort Worth. Among 150+
mourners in attendance were
internationally renowned pianists Van Cliburn, Jose Feghali and
Throughout their 15
years together Dace Abele took her wedding vows to heart and was
by Alexei's side - for better and for worse; through
sickness and in health.
Almost daily she supported him in all
facets of his life, his career and his courageous attempts to
recover from his illness.