He told the paper that he didn't want to discuss details, but that he some "physical problems." He did, however, show his extended hands to the Corriere journalist, who noted that three fingers were misshapen by arthritis.
Ashkenazy last played in public about a year ago; his hands apparently didn't cause him pain at the time, but he wasn't fully satisfied with his performance, according to the article, and decided to give up public concerts several months ago. He does plan to continue recording, however, pointing out that in the studio, he can stop and start if necessary and so repair any mistakes. (He mentioned among his plans a disc with his clarinetist son and a solo program of Sibelius.)
Asked if he had any regrets about his piano career, Ashkenazy told Corriere that he was sorry he could never play Liszt's Sonata in B minor, because of his small fingers.
His pianistic career may be waning, but Ashkenazy's conducting career has been flourishing: the Sydney Symphony Orchestra recently appointed him their Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for a three-year term beginning in January 2009.
Born in the old Soviet Union and a longtime citizen of Iceland, Ashkenazy won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels (1956) and the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (1962). He won five Grammy Awards for solo and chamber music recordings between the years 1979 and 2000.
He took up conducting seriously in the 1980s and was appointed chief conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1987, serving there until 1994. He has also been principal conductor of the Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin (1989-99) and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (1996-2003). Since 2000 he has been music director of the European Union Youth Orchestra, and this summer he completes a three-year term as music director of the NHK Symphony, Japan's leading orchestra.