Showing posts with label Krystian Zimerman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Krystian Zimerman. Show all posts

Monday, April 25, 2016

Breaking: Zimerman to play last-minute London recital

Krystian Zimerman. Photo: Kassakra/Deutsche Grammophon

Just in: Mitsuko Uchida has sadly had to cancel her Royal Festival Hall recital tomorrow. They have found a replacement. His name is Krystian Zimerman. He will play Szymanowski Mazurkas Op.50 Nos 13, 14, 15 and 16 and Schubert's two final piano sonatas, D959 in A major and D960 in B flat.

Zimerman has not given a London recital for something like six years, so this is all rather amazing.

Call the box office PDQ on 0207 960 4200. 

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Happy Birthday, Krystian Zimerman!

The great Polish pianist is 59 today. Still one of the greatest of them all.

If he will forgive me for posting this, here he is with a rather special take on the 'Moonlight' Sonata that's a bit appropriate. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Honeymoon music-making, and a story about Brahms

Rattle (left), Zimerman (centre) and the LSO: a night to remember. Photo: Amy T. Zielinksi

The honeymoon is underway over at the Barbican: Sir Simon Rattle is here for his first concerts with the LSO since The Announcement a few months back. On Thursday night he kicked off this stint with his orchestra-to-be, offering a high-octane programme of Brahms and Dvorak.

The LSO, let's face it, needs him. We need him, too. He offers a taste of the genuine passion that should be at the heart of musical experience, yet all too often isn't as others let its precedence falter under the competing weight, variously, of intellect (necessary, but in balance), power (less necessary), greed (not at all) and ego-building pretension (aagh...). Rattle is, for music, pioneer, evangelist and born leader; and while raising such high expectations for his forthcoming tenure at the LSO is obviously dangerous, it's hard not to notice that everyone is hoping he'll be the best thing that's happened to us in a good while.

The fact that he was able to bring Krystian Zimerman with him to play the Brahms D minor Concerto says much about his persuasive nature, since this titan of a pianist is, sadly, now among several greats who no longer willingly subject themselves on a regular basis to the many and varied iniquities of London.

Rattle in action. Photo: Creative Commons
Rattle conducts like a man in love with music and with life; and the orchestra responded to him like a purring cat experiencing sunshine and tuna fish. One almost expected it to roll on its collective back and let him stroke its tummy. The sheer sensual gorgeousness of sound he draws from them is light years away from Gergiev's heavy-duty ferocity; no less visceral, but with different intent, different texture - speaking to the heart as much as to the gut.

A second half of Dvorak tone-poems and a joyous, high-stepping Slavonic dance as encore was a surprising but refreshing choice of repertoire - something else we need from the LSO and Rattle is a healthy injection of unusual pieces - and when delivered with such narrative charm and all-giving warmth (y'know, Mrs Rattle is Czech), it convinces, lingering in the mind. And Zimerman's Brahms found conductor and soloist in more than exceptional accord.

When I interviewed Zimerman for the first time back in c1990, I quizzed him about that special intensity that seems to drive his playing. He commented that he likes to play on the very edge of what's possible. Sometimes it seems he goes beyond it. This Brahms was one such occasion - and how excellent to hear, once more, that white-hot quality that so compelled in the young pianist, and that remains intact and alight in his late fifties.

Brahms's Piano Concerto No.1 is the creation of a very young composer; the first sketches date from 1854, when he was all of 21 and was considering writing a symphony, soon after Schumann's attempted suicide and incarceration in the Endenich mental hospital. Several permutations later, the drafts evolved into the D minor Concerto. Brahms once wrote to Clara Schumann that the Adagio was a "gentle portrait" of her - and the theme apparently sets the unheard words "Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domine", from the Requiem mass, in tribute to Schumann, who by then had died.

So far, so beautiful - but what about that last movement? Some approach it as an austere, Bachian-Beethovenian counterpoint exercise. Zimerman brought us a Hungarian dance. When have we ever heard it sound quite so alive and aflame?

It makes sense, too. Think about it. Variation 14 of the Brahms 'Handel Variations' is extremely similar to this movement's main theme in certain ways: a lively, staccato, syncopated number with strongly marked rhythms, trills flying around and a running semiquaver bassline; and it follows from the sultry variation 13, verbunkos style. The two variations make up a lassù and friss. You can almost feel Joseph Joachim, Brahms's close friend and Hungarian violinist par excellence, peering over his shoulder and picking up the tribute with a brusque nod of thanks. Perhaps it's not only youthfully exuberant; perhaps, complete with that pernickety fugue episode, it's a portrait of Joachim to complement the portrait of Clara? It would not have been the first such piece Brahms created, and it certainly wasn't the last.

Who does that leave for movement no.1? It's been said before that the opening plunges, with Schumann, into the Rhine. This music feels like a soul in existential crisis. As Zimerman and Rattle bounced ideas off each other, plumbing the extremities of the score, the anguish and struggle behind Brahms's conception shone out as vividly as if they'd poured descaler over its furred-up contours and brought it to life new-minted. Zimerman's moments of pianissimo playing at times seemed almost to shock the orchestra into matching him. The balance never faltered; Rattle's support let him fly up to the sun on wings that can take the heat.

Is this a sign of things we can look forward to when Rattle arrives in earnest? Bring it on.

Next summer Zimerman is scheduled to come back with him, too, this time for a spot of Beethoven.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Birthday wishes for...

Krystian Zimerman, 58 today. Here he is in a beautiful, fresh, witty and pure-toned performance of the Mozart Sonata in C, K330. Gloriously expressive eyebrows, a tone to die for, and much more. Don't miss the ending.

Fans alert: he will be IN LONDON on 2 July to perform Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 with the LSO and Simon Rattle at the Barbican. Don't miss it.

Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin*

(*"All the best on your birthday" - Polish)

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Masterclass with a legend

Professor Andrzej Jasinski visits the Chopin Society. Photos by Marek Ostas

The other night I was fortunate enough to be drafted in by the Chopin Society as interviewer for a very special evening at Steinway's with Professor Andrzej Jasinski from Katowice, the former teacher of Krystian Zimerman and president of the jury at the Chopin Competition these past several sessions. First he played us some vivid Mozart and Chopin; then we discussed all manner of things; after that, he taught two gifted students including Mishka Rushdie Momen (top left), who has appeared on the Andrew Marr Show (amongst other accolades) and is in the final of the Dudley International Piano Competition next week.

Prof Jasinski's energy, charm and insights seemed boundless. I found myself marvelling at the mystery and complexity of the process by which music must travel from the composer via the brain and into the hands. Controlling the articulation, the professor demonstrated, is vital in order to inject a communicative, speaking sound into every turn of phrase, indeed every note.

We covered numerous topics in the interview. Prof Jasinski reminisced about a day sometime in the mid 1960s when he was assistant in Katowice to a great professor who had met Brahms...and called Jasinski asking him to teach a small boy from nearby Zabrze who needed a younger teacher. The lad's name was, of course, Krystian Zimerman. It was several years later that Jasinksi realised exactly how special his charge was: aged about 13, Krystian was asked to play Rhapsody in Blue with an orchestra, learned it in three weeks and did a great job. But to nurture such a talent, Jasinski added, you must go slowly, step by step; and he lauded his star pupil's parents for not pushing him into the limelight too early.

It's also not every day you get to ask an expert of this magnitude what the key might be to playing Chopin's mazurkas - and find a response that is so practical, solid and detailed. First of all, he promises that you don't actually have to be Polish to get the hang of them, pointing out the excellent playing of Fou Ts'ong. Next, look at the score! The indications show you where to sustain a note, where it is staccato and where an enhanced mark tells you it's more than a staccato: a jump. But a jump only in the melodic line, not the left hand as well.

The professor finished our discussion by demonstrating Chopin's closeness to Mozart. Arthur Rubinstein, he remarked, used to say that you should play Chopin like Mozart and Mozart like Chopin. He took lines of Chopin and added Mozartian accompaniments, for example turning the Fantasie-Impromptu into Rondo alls Turca as if by magic. In the masterclasses that followed, Mishka played the Polonaise-Fantasie, which to Jasinski is full of Chopin's feelings for his native Poland: conflict, fear, happy memories, the pounding of horses' hooves in battle and ultimately optimism for the future.

At discussions afterwards, I was just reflecting upon the way that a life in music can keep someone so young and energetic (the professor is 78, but followed an intense schedule of masterclasses in the various London conservatoires through his visit this week), when I met someone from the audience who was still teaching piano aged 91 - she was a former pupil of Gina Bachauer. This on top of having just received an advance copy of a CD that captures Menahem Pressler's 90th birthday concert with the Quatuor Ebène in Paris (Dvorak Quintet, Schubert 'Trout', etc) that overflows with joy in music-making.

Philip Glass may advocate yoga and vegetarianism as a secret to long life and good health, and I'm sure those help. But if you want to stay young: be a musician.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Happy Birthday to the Ballades champion

If you heard my BBC Radio 3 Building a Library on the Chopin 4 Ballades the other day, you'll know that we ended up with three top choices: Krystian Zimerman (recorded c1988), Alfred Cortot (1929) and Sviatoslav Richter (1960). It's Krystian Zimerman's birthday today, as luck would have it, so here he is in the surprise wild card of the four: the heart-warming poem that is the A flat Ballade No.3.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KRYSTIAN, wherever you may be!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Oops. Happy birthday to us.

Ah. So 2 March was JDCMB's 9th birthday. Oops. Thought it was today. I've never been much good at remembering birthdays. Luckily, it seems we celebrated in the best possible way - at that Parsifal cinecast - had I but thought to check.

Since I didn't, here is Krystian Zimerman playing the music of someone whose birthday was the day before, unless it was in fact a week earlier. (Well, any excuse would do.)

In the meantime, it is becoming apparent that this time next year, this blog will have been going for a decade. I'm looking for a good way to combine high quality chocolate, amazing singers, great pianists, slidey strings, inspirational composers, words&music, fine wine and no gluten. What do you think we should do to mark the occasion? Please feel free to write in with any suggestions!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Friday not-really-historical: Zimerman in 1975

While we're indulging in a spot of Zimerphilia, here's where it all began: in Poland in 1975, the year he won the Chopin Competition. Here he is, aged 18, playing the second movement of Chopin's Piano Concerto No.1 with the Krakow University Orchestra.

Lutoslawski lives

The other night Krystian Zimerman lifted the score of Lutoslawski's Piano Concerto off the RFH Steinway and kissed it. But by then it was the London public that was really taking the piece to their hearts. It couldn't have had better advocates. Zimerman's playing offered all its characteristic meld of white-hot power and molten-gold touch - the sound for which this work was originally conceived - and Salonen, himself a composer, naturally sculpts a work's structure into clear lines, allowing it to stand out in vivid 3D.

The concerto, though, seems to operate in more than three dimensions. It's in four sections, played without a break and, throughout, Lutoslawski's control of timbre, his imagination for the most minute touches of colour - flecks between woodwind and percussion echoed high on the piano, or the terse, secretive, scurrying chaconne idea on the double basses that opens the last section - provides a unique "finish" on top of his strong architecture and the considerable flair he demands in the solo part.

Some of the magnificent piano writing resembles a giant fantasy on Scriabin or Liszt; at other times it puts one in mind of Bartok's 'Night Music', echoes of strange creatures from invisible corners. Above all, its vision has integrity, its form offers an entirely personal twist on the tradition and its voice - whooshing the concerto concept into the late 20th century, hands first - should assure it a place in the standard repertoire from now on. It's not easy listening - whoever said listening should be easy in any case? - but the better you know it, the better if gets.

As for Lutoslawski's comment that the piece is "very playable" because, as a pianist himself, he wrote it to be so...that might seem amusing to anyone peering over at the antheap of notes assigned to the soloist. But I'm reliably assured (by Zimerman) that the bits that sound difficult are not in fact the hardest to play. He is, incidentally, in marvellous form.(And no, he didn't bring his own piano this time - apparently this concerto, written to be played on a modern concert grand, doesn't need anything more.)

Where next for the contemporary piano concerto? Ligeti's is a favourite of mine - if I'd been a real pianist it would have been top of my liszt. What a pity it is that, as we hear on the grapevine, certain efforts to persuade him to write another, bigger one didn't come to fruition. James MacMillan's concerti and the two by Lowell Liebermann have both fared well, not least thanks to the ballet world - the Royal Ballet whiz-kid Liam Scarlett has now choreographed both of the latter's. But what the rapturous reception for the Lutoslawski seems to prove is that the form is far from exhausted, the notion of it anything but dead, and there's an excitement out there that's ready to celebrate exploration and adventure within a familiar genre.

The mixture of The Rest is Noise, The Minotaur, Lutoslawski's centenary and adventurous individuals advocating the new, strong and creative - notably Kasper Holten at Covent Garden - already seems to be transforming public appetite for recent music and fresh masterpieces to succeed it. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to experience an epiphany over Boulez at the Proms last summer, thanks to Barenboim. New and recent music needs great performances to win new and thriving audiences. On Wednesday night, Lutoslawski got one. Here's to many, many more.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Today is Witold Lutoslawski's centenary. Back in 1992 I met him for the first, and sadly only, time - and talked to him about his Piano Concerto and working with Krystian Zimerman. This interview was never published, though, and I'm lucky that the cassette tape just about survived the intervening 20 years. I played it through my old Walkman; it emerged a bit slow and a bit low, but with words entirely clear. I've now made an article out of it for Sinfini.

I can't help finding the great composer's comment about this concerto being "playable" slightly amusing - to me it looks 500% impossible.

As Krystian is playing it on Wednesday with the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen at the RFH, the interview is out just in time. Read it here:

And book for the concert here:

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year Fireworks!


As a disembodied voice said over the firework display by the Thames, "London 2012: we did it right". Wonder if we can keep that up in 2013? 

Here are a few handy points for starting the year with best foot forward.

1. Feel free to enjoy the New Year's Day Concert from Vienna. Whatever those self-righteous moaners say about the Vienna Philharmonic, I love it and New Year's Day would feel all wrong without it...
UPDATE, 11.55am: woops. This year's, conducted by Franz Welser-Most, really is "frankly worse than most" and I have SWITCHED IT OFF for the first time in living memory. There's no point grumbling about the number of women in the orchestra if there is an elephant on the podium.

Solution? Make Your Own New Year's Day Concert. Here's Willi Boskowsky, leading a Csardas with violin, smile and real pizzazz in 1967. This, dear friends, is more like it...

2. Make some fun resolutions. Yesterday the Royal Opera House asked us on Twitter for our best operatic ones. Mine include recognising that gold rings are overrated, especially when sourced in the Rhine - stick to platinum in future. And do not write unsolicited love-letters to handsome visitors, even if they can sing in Russian.

3. Then there are non-operatic resolutions, such as practising the piano, going back to ballet class, finishing the new novel, and other things that are probably doomed if you have to make a resolution about doing them.

4. Invest in some good carpet shampoo. Handy for cleaning up others' mess. (I think Solti must have overindulged at the cat party last night.)

5. Ring out the old, ring in the new. What's past is past.

6. Speaking of the Ring, this year there will be so much Verdi, Wagner and Britten around that it's tempting to board up the windows and say GONE SOMEWHERE SUNNY, SEE YOU IN 2014. Which of the three birthday boys will you still want to hear in 366 days' time?

7. While V, W and B are carpet-bombing us (or should that be BWV? is it all a plot by Bach?), please don't forget Lutoslawski. Luckily the Philharmonia is celebrating his centenary. Krystian Zimerman is performing the Piano Concerto that Lutoslawski wrote for him - RFH, 30 January.

8. I have a new concert-of-the-novel in the works, this time based on Alicia's Gift, with the lovely pianist Viv McLean. The story of a child prodigy trying to grow up, it includes piano music by Chopin, Ravel, Granados and others. I read, Viv plays and we'll launch it in the autumn. Ideal as a coffee-concert with a difference. Book us!

9. The Hungarian Dances concert and A Walk through the End of Time are expecting more airings - watch this space. I'm also looking forward to some seriously exciting interviews and various things that are currently queuing up in the ether, waiting to be written and performed.

10. It's tough out there. We'll all have to be positive and ingenious to navigate through '13. But if we have music, love and laughter in our hearts, we can do that. We need to invent, communicate, inspire and do good things. And you know something? We intend to. Please join us.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Krystian Zimerman talks about sound...

...and about pianos, maturity, Rubinstein, Lutoslawski... This seems to be from Hong Kong radio - not sure precisely when the broadcast was, but it seems to have been uploaded about six months ago.

And here's another treasure I just found: Krystian aged about 25 playing the first movement of Chopin's B flat minor Sonata in a televised concert in Japan, 1982.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Krystian speaks...

My German isn't brilliant, but I think that this open letter from Krystian Zimerman explains why he and Gidon Kremer did not appear together as originally planned at this year's Salzburg Festival.

For those of us who rely on the universal language that is music, here is KZ playing two of Gershwin's Preludes in Japan. I'm told that he also made a substantial speech to the audience - in Japanese - about American politics and the war in Iraq, but that has not as yet made it on to Youtube.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Krystian Zimerman notches up half a century today. When I was 14, I went with my parents to hear him play at the Royal Festival Hall. He was 23 and I'd never heard anything like it. There was a world in his piano that rolled together everything that was finest about art, poetry and pure, white-hot energy. He played the Brahms F minor Sonata Op.5, the Chopin First Ballade and the 'Funeral March' Sonata. Nothing was ever the same again. Ten years later, I had a job on a music magazine and I suddenly realised that all I needed to do was sell him to an editor, call up his manager and fix an interview, and then I could ask him all the questions I wanted to about what made that musicianship tick.

That was quite a while ago, but to this day, this man gives me faith in human nature, because he is as special a person as he is a pianist. The finest musicians play as they are; listening to the playing, you listen to them speak. You can hear their essence, distilled, in their music-making. Krystian is no exception. Few pianists have this degree of sensitivity, tenderness, intelligence and visionary wisdom, and few people.

Here's his page at Deutsche Grammophon: follow the link to the discography...

Happy birthday, Krystian! Have fun!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Return of the king

Tom and I have accumulated a cast of musician's nicknames that somehow resembles Alice in Wonderland. There's a Bishop, a Baron, a Count and, of course, several delightful Queens! But there is only one king. Having spent five years in Denmark, where kings tend to be called Frederick or Christian, Tom has dubbed our favourite pianist King Krystian. Last Thursday, Krystian Zimerman came back to the Festival Hall for a recital that simply blew our socks off.

Over the last 25 years I've missed maybe two of Krystian's London concerts - I hope not more than that - so by now my expectations of his playing are of course astrononimcal. But however much I expect of him, I'm always astonished, devastated and humbled by how far he goes. He always discovers some new truth that makes your heart stop for a second or more; while the emotional range of the whole is nothing less than phenomenal. On Thursday he began with the most angelic of Mozart sonatas and progressed, via the Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and the Chopin Fourth Ballade, towards some mazurkas and the B flat minor sonata at completely the other end of the spectrum. And while the Mozart was as pure and exquisite as I've ever heard it, the Ravel as exciting and the Ballade radiant with that elemental energy that few can truly sustain through its coda, the second half was where the extreme magic happened.

The Op.24 mazurkas finish with one of my favourites, in B flat minor - which KZ made into a bridge towards the sonata in the same key, its conclusion suspended in mid air like a premonition. And finally the sonata revealed everything he had saved up until then. In the funeral march, the sound of the piano somehow doubled in size - and just when you thought you'd heard it all, at the climax of the march's return, down went the soft pedal. The sonoric effect was absolutely extraordinary: comparable only to a black gauze curtain falling in front of a brilliantly lit stage. I don't believe I've heard a sound like that come out of a piano before. The standing ovation begged him for an encore, but I have the impression he never plays an encore after that sonata and I don't think anyone could blame him. After such a journey of emotional devastation, it's amazing that he could even stand up.

Though a totally different musician from Grigory Sokolov, Zimerman has one thing in common with him: he gives five hundred per cent of himself in a concert. Musicians who can do this have always been the ones I admire the most - but now I understand why that is. Having tried to perform myself, I feel that the vast majority of musicians can't physically take the risk of turning their souls inside out on stage. Only the absolute masters with total artistic integrity can manage it and live to tell the tale.

Andrew Clements gives him a five-star review in The Guardian today.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Fragile! [or Handel with care...]

Spare a thought for the box office staff and the organisers of the International Piano Series at the South Bank Centre as the news breaks this morning that Krystian Zimerman has cancelled his Royal Festival Hall recital tomorrow. This wasn't unexpected. Krystian is rather prone to lung infections and pneumonia and had to cancel an entire US tour last month; now apparently he's had a relapse.

When I was 15, the non-appearance of Krystian (then my hero, today, by fabulous chance, transformed into a truly exceptional friend and colleague) was enough to send me into the darkest of depressions for several weeks. Even now, it's a source of sorry disappointment. We all need something to look forward to through the daily grind, and a recital by a favourite musician is almost the equivalent, for concert-goers, of a longed-for summer holiday.

People make a huge investment in concert-going. We buy tickets way in advance. We plan evenings with friends, think about where to eat beforehand, how to get there (for Tom and me, this often involves standing on Mortlake station for ages waiting for trains that get cancelled at the last minute) and turning down every other possibility for that evening. I'm missing the London Philharmonic gala tomorrow night because nothing, not even my husband's orchestra with the wonderful 'Vladi' Jurowski conducting in the exquisite Guildhall with a swanky fundraising dinner afterwards to which I was invited as journalist, could keep me away from hearing Krystian playing the Chopin B flat minor sonata. Tant pis. I shall probably go to see the new Harry Potter movie instead.

The problem is the psychology of musical admiration, and it is not with our heroes but ourselves. It seems to us that musicians of Krystian's calibre have a superhuman ability, something godlike, something that lifts them out of the general mass of humanity onto another level - something that proves that humans can exist on that level, that we are not just consuming animals, that we can be something greater than the sum of our physical parts. By following in their angelic wake, we can pull our own level up a few notches. That's why we put them on pedestals.

Trouble is, in the end they're not angels; they are only human too. Sometimes they come tumbling off those pedestals and we're the ones who feel bruised when that happens. There's nothing worse than disillusionment with someone whose ability you've worshipped, rightly or wrongly. (I'm not referring to Krystian here, by the way, as he's the one person I've never been disillusioned with! He's just got bad lungs.) Maybe we expect too much of our artists, our exemplars, our role models. Or maybe we don't expect enough of ourselves? We turn them into gurus and expect their example to sort out our lives for us. It never works. In the end we can't sort out our lives by escaping into music or dreaming of a better existence in Planet Concert. We have to roll up our sleeves, plunge into the mud and do it ourselves.

How's that for a little profundity on a wet Tuesday morning?