In a remarkable turn of events, Kempf's early adult career ironically benefited from his failure to win the 1998 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, where the first prize in the piano section went instead to Denis Matsuev. Apparently, some judges had wanted to award the first prize jointly to Matsuev and Kempf, and had successfully negotiated with the Russian Culture Ministry for the additional funding. However, Kempf only collected the third prize in the end, which provoked a barrage of indignant protests from both the audience and the Russian press, who accused some of the judges of bias, especially towards contestants who also happened to be their former pupils. In April 1999, Kempf returned to Moscow with a series of television broadcasts and sold-out concerts. His popularity has been compared with that garnered by American pianist Van Cliburn who, in a different result in 1958, had won the inaugural Competition.
In 2000 he formed the Kempf Trio, with Pierre Bensaid (violin) and Alexander Chaushian (cello). The trio has been well received on the continent, as well as in their international concerts. Now London based and well received in Europe, they have appeared at the Flanders Festival in Belgium and in France at the Orpheus & Bacchus Festival. "The ensemble made its United States debut in the chamber music series at La Jolla, California, and in Scottsdale, Phoenix."[Arizona]*
Quote appears (unattributed) in the liner notes from the Trio's BIS-SACD-1172 (www.bis.se) an all Beethoven disc: - Op. 1 No. 3 and Op. 57 "Archduke" Trios. Also on BIS: Tchaikovsky: Trio Op. 50 and Rachmaninov: Trio 'elegiaque' No. 1 on BIS-CD-1302, ibid.