Four pianists made international headlines this year. Glenn Gould died almost exactly on his 50th birthday -- an incalculable loss. As the year was ending, Arthur Rubinstein also died. It would be hard to imagine two pianists who reached comparable levels of greatness by such different routes.

Leon Fleisher returned to the standard repertoire, after a crippling illness that had disabled his right hand since the mid-1960s. Dimitris Sgouros, a 12-year-old piano prodigy from Athens, made a spectacular American debut with the National Symphony in Carnegie Hall and dumbfounded an audience mostly of fellow pianists with a solo recital at the University of Maryland Piano Festival.

Before his crippling illness, Fleisher had been the most widely acclaimed pianist of the younger generation, and the news that he was playing again was eagerly welcomed around the world.

His return marked the opening of the new Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore -- one of five major performing arts centers that went into business this year, braving recession, from Toronto to New Orleans.

Sgouros may be the major question mark of 1982. It will be years before the world knows whether he can develop a depth of vision and breadth of repertoire to match his remarkable coordination of hand and eye. In terms of pure musicianship rather than semi-athletic prowess, at least two young artists who performed in Washington this year are more interesting than Sgouros: cellist Carter Bray and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.