When pianist Ivo Pogorelich did not advance past the semifinals at the 1980 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, one judge resigned in protest. The resulting furor -- and the artist who generated it -- captured the attention of the music world. "I did not win," says Pogorelich, "but suddenly all doors were open to me. Overnight it overshadowed everything I did before."

The 26-year-old Yugoslavian, who is the featured soloist with the Orchestre National de Lille at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall today at 3 p.m., also won a reputation as something of an artistic outlaw. There were reports that he scorned all tradition and even wore leather on stage. "That never happened. Merely a journalist's fancy," he says. "I've never worn leather or anything of the sort. It is the music that challenges, not the clothes or the looks."

Pogorelich started playing piano at 7, and began 10 years of instruction at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow when he was 11. He was trained by the Russian branch of the Liszt School "in a fashion that was very, very strict," he says. "I see performing as a big responsibility. It's like doing research. I always choose compositions that contain a lot of mystery and beauty -- that tell me something which I could tell to someone else." He is married to Alice Kezeradze, a former teacher, and says that "to have children will be an interesting idea." But his plans for a 300-concert tour of the United States and Canada over the next three years may leave room for little else. "I am constantly at work perfecting my art," he says, "a process which I hope will never end."