Kemal Gekic

The charismatic edge of genius

Originality, strength of interpretation and perfect mastery of his instrument are some of the qualities ascribed to one of today’s most formidable and exciting pianists, Kemal Gekich, whose playing has been acclaimed worldwide by public and critics alike. Born in Split, Yugoslavia in 1962, Gekich amazed his family by accurately picking out melodies on the piano at age one and a half. The young prodigy received all his early musical training from his aunt, Lorenza Batturina. In 1978 he entered the class of Prof. Jokuthon Mihailovich (a alumna of Moscow Conservatory) at the Art Academy of Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, graduating in 1982 with the highest mark ever granted a diploma exam recital. He was immediately given a faculty appointment by the piano department, which he directed until 1999 when he moved to Miami to take up an artist-in-residence position at Florida International University.

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Brilliance and controversy at competitions

He earned his Master’s degree in 1985, the same year he created a sensation at the Chopin competition in Warsaw. Although panned by the jury he won the hearts of both audience and critics, and began receiving many invitations to perform abroad, including several from the Chopin Society of Hannover, Germany which had awarded him a special prize for best sonata performance at the competition. A recording of his Warsaw performances sold 60,000 copies in Germany by the end of the year, and the Victor Entertainment Corporation, Japan (JVC) sold 80,000 copies of a CD version in their home country. The Warsaw Philharmonic invited him back to play the E minor concerto in their regular season. That evening, for an encore he played the entire Chopin B minor sonata to tumultuous applause.

In 1988 history repeated itself when Gekich was eliminated from the Montreal International Competition after the semifinals. Public indignation reached such fervour that the hat passed at a free ‘protest’ recital organized by Alan Fraser raised over $2,000 which he donated to Gekich as the ‘Peoples’ Prize’. These exceptional events helped establish Gekich in the world’s eye as an original and extraordinary artist.

Scroll down this page to read reviews of this concert and the events surrounding it.

Seclusion and re-emergence

During the early 1990’s Gekich drastically curtailed his concert activity, going into seclusion for a further period of intensive study, seeking even higher levels of perfection in his art. 1996 marked a return to the limelight, with tours of Japan, Europe, Canada and the U.S. After the great success of his first US tour, he was immediately invited to return in 1997, the year of release of his Naxos CD of Liszt-Rossini Transcriptions, and he was received with even greater accolades by the American public in 1998.

One of his greatest and most widely recognized achievement to date is the landmark recording of the complete Liszt Transcendental Etudes for JVC Music Japan/USA, the disc which presaged his current re-emergence as one of the major pianists of our time.

   The Liszt Transcendental Etudes recording

Into the new millenium

At present Gekic continues to teach at FIU, and is guest professor at Moshashino Academy in Tokjo, Japan. He continues to tour world wide and records prolifically, although most of the studio material has not been released. 2019 will see the first book of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier set to tape, and the recordings released will be unedited, all live takes.

Memories of Montreal, 1988

‘The stuff of a great pianist’

"Only nine competitors remain in the running at the Montreal International Music Competition: Oleg Marchev, Konstantin Scherbakov and Oleg Poliansky of the USSR, Seizo Azuma of Japan, Dan Wen Wei of the People’s Republic of China, Balazs Szokolay and Laura Csik of Hungary, Berndt Glemser of the Federal Republic of Germany, Angela Cheng of Canada. The jury will pick a winner from among this group ... in any case, in the light of the first two rounds the jury’s orientation is clear. One senses already that the three Russians will occupy the choice positions, notwithstanding that until now they have absolutely not been the most interesting: the German Berndt Glemser and the Yugoslav Kemal Gekich are at least ten times more deserving.

'It seems to me totally unacceptable that Gekich was not retained for the final round. Of all the young musicians heard, he incontestably possessed the strongest personality. Almost another Pogorelich... When one knows that it is the exceptional temperaments which make the most brilliant careers, one must ask how the jury at this point can show such lack of foresight. This lack of judgment appears even more aberrant because it is from the second round onward that points accumulate. There, of all that I heard, precisely Gekich’s presentation showed the most sumptuous promise for the future. When I think that they prefer the ‘butcheries’ of an Oleg Poliansky (from the USSR), it grieves me deeply.

'Like it or not, the third round of the Montreal International Competition will once again proceed under the heavy artillery of the Russians. Seizo Azuma (Japan), Laura Csik (Hungary) and Angela Cheng (Canada) will offer little resistance as they have neither the force nor the means. It is my most ardent hope that heroes will be found in Berndt Glemser (Germany), Balasz Szokolay (Hungary) and Dan Wen Wei (China). Of all the remaining finalists, only Glemser possesses the stuff of a great pianist."

- Carole Bergeron, Le Devoir, Montreal, June 6 1988

   Kemal Gekic, 2012

"At last! Signs of life at the Montreal International Music Competition. The elimination of the Yugoslav candidate Kemal Gekich has raised a whirl of protest which shows that the public is not so apathetic as one would like to suppose.

'The decisions of the jury, as competent as they may be, are not always the best. On the other hand, the opinion of a group of listeners comprising musicians can be of equal value. When such a crowd gives a musician a standing ovation, one might suppose they have good reason.

'In a sort of plebiscite, Gekich has become a hero. Not surprising then, that at a recital (van-competition, mind you) his admirers organised in under five days, many were excluded: about 200 people were turned away at the doors of Redpath Hall Friday night. In a hall strapped to overflowing, the young pianist repeated three works from his competition program.

'Gekich again demonstrated his astounding instrumental technique which appears to impose no limits on his exceptional musical imagination. Rare are the pianists who like him can afford to be so spectacular in Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz: one thinks of a Horowitz. Like the celebrated virtuoso, he possesses to an unsurpassed degree the art of organising his tonal palette."

- Carole Bergeron, Le Devoir, Montreal, June 13 1988