In 1966 he won the Busoni
Competition in Italy, and in 1968, the Montreal Piano Competition, but it was his 1970 victory in the Chopin
Competition in Warsaw that launched his career. He was the first American winner, and his victory gained some of the same kind of attention as had Van Cliburn
Competition triumph a little over a decade earlier. A Warsaw critic called Ohlsson a "bear-butterfly" of a pianist, and the young pianist had a distinctive image to go with his credentials.
Ohlsson has maintained a strong association with the music of Chopin
, and has played the Polish master's complete piano works several times in recital and on recordings. His Chopin
interpretations favor intense emotionalism over a languid, swooning salon style. Ohlsson is by no means exclusively a player of Chopin
; however, his repertory extends from Haydn
to 20th century masters and includes more than 80 works for piano and orchestra. He tours and appears as a guest soloist with orchestras around the world and has made over a dozen tours to Poland alone, where he continues to be particularly esteemed for his Chopin
playing. He is also an avid chamber performer and has collaborated with the Cleveland
quartets. With violinist Jorja Fleezanis and cellist Michael Grebanier he founded the FOG Trio, based in San Francisco. During the 2002-2003 season, Ohlsson appeared as part of the Lincoln Center Great Performers series in New York, performing works by Busoni
. A pianist completely consumed with musical life, Ohlsson has, when asked by an interviewer, been unable to remember what kind of car he drives.