It is very hard to make a valid list for the world’s best pianists, because there are many wonderful piano players.
Today, there are dozens, if not hundreds of masterful pianists, from all parts of the world. This is just one possible list. It is practically impossible to choose one person as the best pianist alive, because there are many factors to consider.
Depending on the composition, a performance may benefit more from a certain type of pianist. Also, it’s not the same when a pianist plays during a solo performance and with an entire symphonic orchestra.
Finally, as time goes by, the very nature of piano playing changes. New generations of players bring their own sensibility to the tradition.
For this list, we’ve focused on younger piano players, who are at the top of their game. We’ve also included both classical and jazz pianists, to give you a better insight into the world of piano playing. Here is our choice for the best pianists alive.
Top 30 Best Pianists Alive in 2020
1. Louis Lortie
Louis Lortie is one of the most sough-after pianists of today. He is French-Canadian by origin, but he is living in Berlin.
He has been renowned as an international pianist, and he has made more than 30 recordings for the Chandos Records label. He is also known as one of the best interpreters of Beethoven, Chopin and Ravel.
Lortie debuted when he was thirteen years old, with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. A couple of years later, he performed with the Toronto Symphony and then went on a tour around Japan and China.
He won first place in a piano competition in 1984, and also won the fourth prize in Leeds.
Aside from his performing, Lortie has also been knighted by the National Order of Quebec and he received an honorary doctorate for his contribution.
For 2017 and 2018, he has been appointed Artist in Residence with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.
2. Tigran Hamasyan
Tigran Hamasyan is a jazz pianist from Armenia. When he was only three years old, Hamasyan started playing tunes on a family piano.
Three years later, he enrolled a music school. In his youth, he wished to become a metal guitarist, but he didn’t pursue that career.
When he was nine years old, Hamasyan began studying jazz. But his desire was to do something new and adventurous.
He started incorporating folk melodies from his region into jazz compositions, especially improvisations.
In his teenage years, he was heavily influenced by Armenian composers. This deepened his interest in national motifs. Hamasyan prefers playing original compositions with implemented folk melodies.
However, he deeply respects old jazz piano masters, such as Thelonius Monk. This gives him the ability to create a unique style.
Even when he’s playing straight jazz, traces of Middle Eastern melodies and harmonies can be heard. Tigran Hamasyan is one of the most talented jazz pianists of our time, but also one of the best performers of world music.
3. Yuja Wang
Yuja Wang is one of the best young pianists coming from China. Wang is originally from Beijing, where she began her career path.
She started studying the piano when she was six years old. Her education included attending the Central Conservatory of Music, which she enrolled at the age of seven.
Eight years later, Wang became a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She spent five years there, graduating in 2008.
He was praised for her combination of masterful technique and good taste in performing.
After she won a competition in 2002, her career started gaining momentum. Wang has performed around the world, from Zürich to New York. Among works of other composers, she has played Mendelsohn, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev and Mozart.
Wang has also collaborated with many of the world’s greatest orchestras, including Hong Kong Philharmonic, London Philharmonic and NHK Symphony in Tokyo.
Her stage presence is often described as glamorous and eye-catching, as she doesn’t cease to amaze with her appearance.
4. Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau is one of the most prolific jazz musicians working nowadays. Apart from being a jazz pianist, he is also a composer and arranger.
He was a student at the New School, a private university in Manhattan.
His touring and recording career started during his studies. Mehldau became a member of a jazz quartet led by the saxophonist Joshua Redman. Starting from the early 1990s, he began playing with his own trio.
At the turn of the century, Mehldau began experimenting with different genres of music, including electronic and rock music.
He has played and recorded with numerous acclaimed jazz musicians, such as saxophonist Lee Konitz, guitarist Pat Metheny and bassist Charlie Haden. In addition to his jazz playing,
Mehldau developed an interest for the composers of German Romanticism. He also performed on several movie soundtracks – Space Cowboys and The Million Dollar Hotel. Many contemporaries refer to him as one of the most influential jazz pianists alive.
5. Marc-André Hamelin
Marc-André Hamelin is a composer and pianist virtuoso from Canada. He was born in Montreal, and began studying the piano when he was only five years old. He studied music in Montreal and Philadelphia.
Under the Hyperion music label, Hamelin has made numerous recordings with many composers.
His career took a major leap when he won the 1985 international competition in Carnegie Hall. Ever since then, he has been recording and performing around the world.
Apart from his work as a first-rate pianist, Hamelin also enjoys composing. His compositions include a set of piano etudes which he released for Hyperion records. In the world of classical music,
Marc-André Hamelin holds a special place. He is renowned for his virtuoso playing, as well as admirable composing skills.
Hamelin enjoys focusing on some composers who are less known worldwide, such as Nikolai Roslavets or Leo Ornstein.
He also performs many works by pianists-composers – Nikolai Kapustin, Frederic Rzewski and Franz Liszt.
6. Ethan Iverson
Ethan Iverson is a jazz composer and pianist, well-known for his work with the trio The Bad Plus.
Iverson was born in the Unites States, and he studied under the guidance of the acclaimed pianists Sophia Rosoff and Fred Hersch.
He was also the musical director in the Mark Morris Dance group, and he collaborated with many famous jazz musicians.
In 2000, Ethan Iverson, along with David King and Reid Anderson, formed the trio The Bad Plus. The trio is focused on constant experimentation with musical genres, but they can be characterized as avant-garde jazz.
The band has issued several albums over the years, to great critical acclaim. However, Iverson announced that he would be leaving the band by the end of 2017.
At the moment, Ethan Iverson is a collaborator of the New England Conservatory, but he is also studying with John Bloomfield, an award-wining solo and chamber pianist.
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7. Hélène Grimaud
Hélène Grimaud is an acclaimed French pianist. She comes from a mixed family background, and she started learning to play the piano at the age of nine.
In 1982, Grimaud went to study at the Conservatoire de Paris, a prestigious academic institution, and of the oldest in France. She won a couple of important prizes in 1985, which helped launch her career.
In 1991, Grimaud moved to USA, but she is currently living in Switzerland. Her playing style is deemed “risky” and innovative.
She is one of those pianists who prefer “tempo rubato”. This is a musical term for expressive freedom in performing, when a musician speeds up or slows down the tempo.
Because of this, Grimaud’s playing doesn’t sound like any other playing. She has found her unique musical voice.
She only claims to experience a phenomenon called synesthesia. This means that she sees music more like color than like a sequence of notes.
This helps her memorize long musical scores, and improves her performance.
8. Lang Lang
This is one of the most talented pianists of our time. He was born in China in 1982.
According to Lang, his interest for classical music started early on. When he was only two years old, he watched a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
It was the episode called the Cat Concerto, set during a performance of classical music.
Lang said that this was the first time he had heard classical music. He liked it so much and immediately wanted to study it.
It motivated him to play the piano, and he began learning it at the age of three. Two years later, Lang Lang won the first prize at a piano competition.
When he was only nine, Lang faced a major setback. His piano tutor expelled him from a music studio, because he thought that Lang was not talented enough.
Nevertheless, Lang refused to accept this, and he was eventually admitted into the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
He soon began performing, and he has won many first prizes for his exquisite piano playing.
Although many have called him immature and too commercial in his performances, Lang Lang is a favorite among the audience, and never ceases to amaze with his playing abilities.
9. Dimitris Sgouros
Dimitris Sgouros is a classical pianist from Greece. He was born in 1969 in Athens. He started playing the piano at a very early age, and had his first concert when he was seven. One year later,
Sgouros enrolled the Athens Conservatoire, and later won many piano competitions.
When he was 12, he debuted at the Carnegie Hall. One year later, he graduated from the Conservatory with a Gold Medal, First Prize, and Teacher’s and Professor’s Diploma. His studies then continued in England and America.
Amazingly, Sgouros’ academic pursuits didn’t end there. Along with his music education, he decided to enroll postgraduate studies in mathematics at Oxford University.
Sgouros has performed around the world, with some of the best conductors. He also recorded for many record labels.
Sgouros has been called “a genius of our time” and a “musical phenomenon”.
In 1988, the first festival in his honor was founded. Since then, there have been several Sgouros Festivals organized in cities around the world.
There is also an acclaimed documentary film about his life and career.
10. Ian Pace
Pace is an English pianist, writer and musicologist. Born in 1968, Pace began his music studies at the Chetham’s School of Music.
But his music studies were just starting. After Chetham, Ian Pace moved on to the Queen’s College, Oxford and, finally, New York’s Julliard School.
One of his major influences was the Hungarian pianist György Sándor. Pace was lucky enough to have György Sándor as a teacher as well. Ian pace has had a wonderful international career, and he performed in many countries.
One of the characteristics of his playing is that he prefers the works of modern composers.
His repertoire includes composers from the twentieth and twenty-first century. Pace likes to keep his performances alive and vibrant.
That is why he often combines historical approaches to playing with modern twists. This results in interesting, unique interpretations.
So far, Ian Pace has performed in more than twenty countries around the world. Also, he was a performer at a number of acclaimed music festivals.
He has taught music at the London College of Music and Media, and the University of Southampton. Since 2011, he is the Head of Performance at the City University in London.
11. Cory Henry
Born in 1987, he’s an American gospel musician, music producer, jazz pianist, and organist. The huge catalog of this multi-instrumentalist will amaze you a lot.
At two, he could play the piano as well as B3 organ. He made his debut at New York’s Apollo Theater at the age of only six.
In 2006, he began the music career by touring along with countless gospel and mainstream artists.
He has won two Grammy Awards with his band, in 2014 for the Best R&B Performance and 2015 for the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.
Unlike many other virtuosos, he’s a perfect accompanist, which explains why he can also excel as a sideman and producer.
He now records and tours with his group in several projects.
12. Daniil Trifonov
Born in 1991, Trifonov is a famous classical virtuoso today. He began the musical training when he was five.
His delicate artistry now stands out in Russian pianists as well as instrumentalists.
He went to the Gnessin School of Music in Moscow before pursuing studies for piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Making his own debut at eight, he has also studied composition and written for piano or chamber ensemble.
Also, his spellbinding technique, along with rich sound, marks him out as an excellent student of Russian schools.
With incredible talents, he has won numerous awards, earning this young talent worldwide recognition and fame.
For example, from 2010 to 2011, he came third in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, won the Arthur Rubinstein International Competition in Tel Aviv and Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition. His achievements are getting more impressive.
13. Evgeny Kissin
Another talent we would introduce is this Russian classical artist. He began to improvise on pianos at the age of two.
He soon got global fame as an amazing child prodigy when he was six. At that age, he went to the Moscow Gnessin School of Music for the gifted students.
He made a debut at only ten along with the Ulyanovsk State Symphony Orchestra, performing a Mozart’s Piano Concerto and gave his Moscow’s recital a year later.
At 24, he was the youngest artist ever won the Musician of the Year award ofMusical America.
In 1997, he was the first musician who gave a recital in the Proms event organized by the BBC. He has made recital tours of America, Asia or Europe and has performed with many outstanding orchestras in the world.
Overall, he is among the finest artists on many concert stages. He is famous for such great interpretations of the Romantic era works.
14. Fazil Say
Born in Ankara in 1970, he’s a famous Turkish composer and pianist. He’s a genius at both playing the pianos and writing music.
That fact makes him one of the greatest and the most original musicians today.
He’s the only child of a music critic and a pharmacist. At only five, he started to practice piano lessons. He studied how to play with his great emotion without looking at any pages.
Fazil can create the own tempos, style, as well as the classical music versions. He composed his first musical piece for the pianos at just seven.
At sixteen, this genius could write Black Hymns. He had signed his contract with Atlantic Records in his twenties.
The first personal recording was his dedication toward Bach and Mozart.
He won a high prize in the New York City-based Young Concert Artists contest at 25.
That event had changed his life forever and made him a well-known star like Murray Perahia or Pinchas Zukerman.
Fazil became an educator at the Berlin Academy in 1992. He worked there for about three years and kept performing in Germany, France, Finland, and Turkey.
15. Grigory Sokolov
Sokolov, a Russian concert musician, was born in 1950. At five, he began studying piano lessons and went to the Leningrad Conservatory at seven. At twelve, he had the first important performance.
He is one of the most esteemed pianists and admired for visionary interpretations, broad repertoire, and perfect technical perfection. Those interpretations are individual, poetic, and the rhythmic freedom of his phrase which seem to be unequaled among artists today.
Heretofore, he quotes Rachmaninoff as one of this pianist’s best musical influences.
He has also released many CDs, mainly of music by Beethoven, Bach, and Chopin. People now call him a talented figure in playing the piano.
16. Herbie Hancock
This 79-year-old American pianist is also a skillful bandleader, keyboardist, actor, and composer.
He started studying music when he was 7, and at just 11, he performed together with the Chicago Symphony. Then, he switched to jazz after watching his classmate improvise. This talent also got the recognition for showing the use of synthesizer types into jazz playing.
Herbie himself has worked with many famous musicians. He has covered some pop music by Prince, Peter Gabriel, The Beatles, and more.
He has also led lots of international and national Institute tours. They have introduced around-the-world people to jazz as well as its valuable cultural heritage.
The music of Herbie Hancock is influential and controversial. He is worth being one of the greatest musicians now.
17. Ivan Bessonov
This young Russian composer and pianist are just 17 years old. He started to play the piano at six. He is now a learner of the Moscow Central Music School.
In 2016, he presented a recital at the historical Mariinsky Theatre. Later, he continued to perform together with the St. Petersburg State Capella Symphony Orchestra and the Tatarstan State Symphony Orchestra.
Besides, he’s a winner of numerous competitions. Especially, at the St Petersburg Music Lyceum, he’s won 6 Grand Prix at the Étude Competition.
He has also collaborated with some noble conductors such as Alexander Sladkovsky, Valery Gergiev, and others.
In 2019, this young talent became the spokesperson of the Russian jury at the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, Ivan has performed his recitals in both Russia and abroad.
18. Ivo Pogorelić
This Croatian pianist was born in 1958 in Yugoslavia. He started the musical education at just seven and made his solo debut at the young age of only 10.
For four decades, this legendary pianist has also brought certain contributions to classical music.
The suggestive and innovative interpretations of this talent help to broaden horizons, understanding as well as experience of the pianistic literature.
In addition to a professional career on the stages, he has also engaged in humanitarian work and helped many young artists.
To support them, he founded the fund for young artists in 1986 in Zagreb with the aim of financing their education abroad. Currently, he is making some studio recordings of vast repertoire.
19. Jon Batiste
This 33-year-old excellent jazz pianist coming from Louisiana is also worth a position in this list. For years, he has been among the most famous and outspoken advocates of American jazz.
The birth name of this American musician is Jonathan Batiste, and his nickname is Jon. At eight, he played drums and percussion for the family band. Anyway, his mother guided him to learn the piano later.
He becomes famous for being a gospel singer and a founder of Stay Human band with their popular album Social Music.
His music style steeped in that of New Orleans band. Besides, his innovative also breathes life into this genre, which attracts millions of audiences all over the world.
In recent years, he and his band Stay Human have done lots of successful tours.
20. Khatia Buniatishvili
Do you know this talented woman? Born in Georgia in 1987, the French-Georgian pianist started studying piano lessons under the guidance of her mother when she was only three.
That 6-year-old girl also gave the first concert along with Tbilisi Chamber Orchestra and then appeared internationally when reaching the age of 10.
As a foreign guest, she attended many performances in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and more.
Her musical partners include many leading orchestras and conductors in the world. And since humanity becomes the center of all arts, her music always serves as an important portion of her activism.
Especially, she won ECHO Klassik Award twice, in 2012 for Franz Liszt and 2016 for Kaleidoscope.
The Guardian newspaper described her as one of the most inspiring and musically gifted young artists today.
21. Lydian Nadhaswaram
In the world of many veteran pianists and accomplished musicians, this young Indian boy still stands tall. Considered an India’s treasure, at 14, he has struck the right note.
His inclination to music became clearer when he played drums at just two. At eight, he observed his sister and tried playing by ear, without formal training.
Besides, this child prodigy can tap away at his Steinway piano at an amazing speed. Noting his perfect pitch, musical memory, and remarkable abilities, an India TED show invites him to Mumbai to express the thoughts about music.
Since then, this talent has performed in many international programs, including NBC’s 2017 TV show in Miami.
In 2019, he won The World’s Best show of CBS and received a prize of $1 million. He is also the winner of many other awards, which makes everyone amazed at his talent at such a young age.
22. Martha Argerich
Do you know this talent? She was born in Argentina in 1941. With the technical ability and passionate playing, this Argentine classical pianist is among the best pianists alive.
At the young age of eight, Argerich began performing her piano pieces. She then continued to study and improve her skills. Argerich studied under Maria Curcio, Stefan Askenase, and Friedrich Gulda.
Being 24 years old, she became more famous when winning Warsaw’s Chopin Competition. After that, she traveled and performed in the USA.
She usually performed as a solo musician before. Now, she tends to perform in concertos along with many other musicians. In addition to performing herself, she has spent much time on the work promotion of many aspiring young artists.
23. Maurizio Pollini
Pollini, born in 1942, is a famous Italian pianist. He first studied piano with Carlo Lonati until 13 years old and later with Carlo Vidusso until 18.
In 1960, this Italian-born pianist won the first prize in the Warsaw’s Chopin Competition. Since then, Pollini has got invitations from many well-known concert halls in America, Europe, and Japan.
Being a respected and admired pianist, he has also appeared throughout the world along with noble conductors and orchestras. In some later years, Pollini worked as a skillful conductor who led many concerts.
His concert programs are innovative, and his recordings have gained several international awards. No one can deny his incredible skills when playing the piano.
24. Mikhail Pletnev
This pianist, composer, and conductor was born in 1957, in Russia. He becomes an all-around artist that defies categorization. His parents are great musicians, and he displays exceptional talent from an early age.
At 13, Pletnev began to learn the piano lessons at the Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory with many famous pianists and trainers.
The impressive musicianship of this genius encompasses an inspirational, emotional range and a brilliant technical power.
In 1978, he won the First Prize and Gold Medal in Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky Competition. That prize earned this international talent recognition soon.
During the years, Pletnev has performed as a soloist together with many leading conductors and orchestras in the world. Now, he becomes one of the most influential and respected musicians.
25. Nikolai Lugansky
Highly acclaimed, Nikolai Lugansky, 47 years old, becomes an artist of extraordinary versatility and depth.
At five, before learning to read the music, he could play a Beethoven sonata that he learned by ear.
In his early twenties, the reputation of this pianist had been developing more, with prize-achieving performances in the Europe and Soviet Union.
The glittering career of Lugansky has taken him to several concert venues in the world. His repertoire has more than 40 concertos as well as a range of chamber and solo works.
He has also worked with many distinguished conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Paavo Berglund, and more.
Lugansky has produced many award-gaining recordings. Not only he is performing and recording music, but also works as a great teacher at the Moscow Conservatory.
26. Nobuyuki Tsujii
Don’t miss the famous blind pianist on this list! He is a young Japanese piano player and composer that possesses a natural musical talent.
He was born blind but showed his great sense of music at just two. At that time, he played Do Re Mi on the toy piano. When he was four, he could perform Jingle Bells tunes as well.
At seven years old, he won the All Japan Music Competition and made a debut with the Century Orchestra Osaka at just ten. Besides, he had many performances abroad and won some certain awards.
For example, he won the 15th Chopin Competition award, Beverley Taylor Smith Award for his best piano performance, and more.
Also, he launched some albums, including original compositions and showing his flawless music. There is even a film named Touching the Sound, which shows his life story and has boosted the global popularity of this talent more.
Currently, he has performed in different countries and also begins to create his original classical music.
27. Robert Glasper
This jazz pianist is one more bright candidate in our list. Born in 1978, in Texas, he has his knack for harmonically complex, mellow compositions that show a hip-hop influence.
Young Robert soon developed his sound in the church where he studied the way of hearing harmony. Later, he would infuse jazz harmonies with gospel harmonies. Before reaching twelve, he was playing the piano in this church.
Especially, his jazz immersion and the acceptance to Houston’s High School for the Performing Arts take him to the piano performance career later. In 2004, he released the debut album called Mood on the Fresh Sound label.
This piano player has also performed at many festivals and venues all over the world. Besides, he maintains his steady workflow as a producer, music director as well as film composer across multiple platforms.
Despite his R&B Grammy-winning album called Black Radio, he still recorded many other ones on the Blue Note label. Through the years, he has won three of his six Grammy nominations.
28. Stevie Wonder
You know this popular musician, don’t you? He was born in 1950 and raised in Saginaw, Michigan. Because of being born a few weeks premature, he lost his vision.
But that disability doesn’t prevent him from being an innovator and pioneer in the music industry.
He started out performing all instruments types which he could get both hands on. He became a part of the church choir and played the harmonica, the piano, and drums there.
At eleven years old, he signed a recording contract and has since continued to craft some of the most common of-all-time songs.
This phenomenal pianist has touched all the hearts of listeners through his music and philanthropic generosity. People call him a peace messenger who can address musical controversies, which a few artists could do at that period.
29. Valentina Lisitsa
Let’s discover why this born-in-1973 pianist becomes famous. She began performing on the piano when she was only three and showing the first solo piano recital at four.
This Ukrainian-American pianist is also one of the most often viewed artists on YouTube. Besides, she launched her career on social networks, without signing with any record company or tour promoter.
Realizing the YouTube success of this girl, the Royal Albert Hall decided to open the doors for her London debut in 2012. This recorded-by-Decca Classics concert was the first release on her label.
Not only that, but she is also the first classical musician to convert her internet fame into her worldwide concert career in many principal places of the USA, Europe, Asia, and South America.
Also, she has collaborated with Hilary Hahn, a famous violinist, for many recital engagements. She is now a world-renowned pianist thanks to her brilliance and splendid technique.
30. Vladimir Ashkenazy
Some of the readers here may ever hear about this talented pianist. Born in 1937, he is a globally-recognized solo musician, and conductor.
His mother encouraged the pianistic gifts of this great man. He started performing on the piano when he was six and went to the Central Music School at eight.
His various activities bring inspiration to numerous music-lovers over the world. They love his incisive and bright piano playing. The style contains an intellectual depth, clear articulation, and a warm feeling, which conveys a powerful emotion.
His recordings have received many accolades and awards. They have a significant contribution to the huge library of great masterpieces recorded by the foremost performers.
Those recordings have also brought him up to 5 Grammy awards and the Icelandic Order of the Falcon. He is now among the greatest pianists of the modern era.
Well, we’ve just shown you a list of the best pianist alive. That list of the talented pianists along with their achievements, may become an important source of motivation in your own life, right?
Don’t hesitate to let us know in case we have missed out any one of your favorite below. Thanks for reading!
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