Janina Fialkowska (picture credit: © Julien Faugère / ATMA)
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?
My mother was an ambitious ‘failed’ pianist. She got me started at age four and I enjoyed it from the beginning.
Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?
A few people to be honest; certainly Alfred Cortot to begin with as he was the teacher of not only my mother, but also my teacher in Montreal (Yvonne Hubert…who also taught Louis Lortie and Marc Andre Hamelin!!) and my teacher in Paris, Yvonne Lefebure. I was then associated first as a pupil then as an assistant to the great Russian pedagogue who taught at Juilliard in New York, Sasha Gorodnitzki. His style was light years away from the French school I had been brought up in and from him I was introduced to the rich sound of the old Russian school. The biggest influence, however, was Arthur Rubinstein…He was my idol since I first heard him when I was twelve, and I was fortunate enough to have become his last pupil and close friend during the last 7 years of his wonderful life.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Just keeping my career afloat for the past forty years or so…it doesn’t get any easier.
What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?
Naturally if there is a conductor, it is always a help if he or she is a pleasant and flexible musician with good accompanying skills and a sensitivity to my own brand of music making. If the conductor is unpleasant but a brilliant musician, this can work, but not always. If he is pleasant and a lousy conductor, this also can work because then I just make alliances with the principals in the orchestra. If the orchestra is young or just not top quality, it can be very exciting especially if the players are enthusiastic…then we are all working very hard towards a common goal and the fun is to see how far we can get. With a great orchestra it is always a pleasure, particularly if I am playing Chopin and I can impress them enough that they also get some enjoyment out of the piece (Chopin concertos have rather sparse orchestral accompaniments and sometimes the orchestra members get bored). What I have always tried to do is to give my utmost, NOT just in the performances but also in rehearsal out of respect to my colleagues sitting around me.
Which recordings are you most proud of?
Honestly…….I really don’t listen to my recordings once they are made public. I did, however, hear my latest Mozart CD ( K415 and 449 with the Chamber Players of Canada) as someone played it to me in the car driving somewhere. It sounded okay. I like my recording of the Paderewski Concerto and the Polish radio orchestra, but that’s mainly because I love the slow movement of that piece and no one seems to want to program it in concert anywhere so one never hears it which is a shame.
Do you have a favourite concert venue?
Manitoulan Island, in the province of Ontario, Canada – a magical place, a pleasant little auditorium and the best audience of all.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I assume you mean musicians that are still living?
There are too many to list but I will try and remember some; I have six Canadian pianist colleagues who I adore (Hamelin, Hewitt, Parker, Chang, Lortie, Laplante) .
Outside of Canada there is Imogen Cooper, Krystian Zimerman and Radu Lupu whom I admire more than you can imagine, and of course Perahia, Barenboim, Zacharias, Ax, Argerich, Sokolov, Jeffrey Swann, and MANY others. Of the younger generation I have been most impressed by the young Germans, Alexander Schimpf and Hinrich Alpers, the Georgian, Tamar Beraia, the Frenchmen Lorenzo Soules and Francois Dumont, the Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz and the Scottish/Dutch pianist Christopher Devine.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
My comeback recital in Irsee, Germany in 2004. It had been exactly two years to the day in exactly the same venue that I had last performed before succumbing to a cancerous tumour which paralysed my left arm. After a muscle transfer surgery I came back to play in Irsee and it was quite emotional for me. The hall was filled with friends not only from all over Germany but also from America and the UK.
What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?
Mozart and Chopin are my favourites to play. Probably I’d enjoy a Lieder recital the most to listen to…….I love Mozart operas and I have a passion for Wagner.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?
That the composer comes first always. That one does not become a concert pianist for the money or to become famous but simply because one loves music deeply and one has a special talent to communicate a composers wishes and dreams to the audience. That playing the piano is not a sport but a deeply spiritual, artistic endeavor. That the more knowledge one accumulates and absorbs about not just piano music but all great music and Art, the better an artist one will become …but only after many years of experience. One cannot hurry these things. The trick is to somehow pay the bills during those long years of study and experience gathering.
What are you working on at the moment?
28 Chopin Mazurkas (I just recorded the first 29 and will complete the recording in June) as well as the Lutoslawski Concerto which I will play this year with the Toronto Symphony. I am also working on a nice recital program of Grieg, Schubert and Chopin works.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
At home working in my garden.
Janina Fialkowska will be giving a lunchtime concert of music by Chopin at London’s Wigmore Hall on Monday 8th April (details here) and will give a benefit concert for The Red Cross at The Sage, Gateshead on 11 April in a programme of music by Grieg, Schubert and Chopin. Further information and tickets here
Beloved the world over for her exquisite pianism, Janina Fialkowska has enchanted audiences for over thirty years with her glorious lyrical sound, her sterling musicianship and her profound sense of musical integrity. Blending her vast experience with her refreshingly natural approach “Fialkowska has become an artist of rare distinction as well as retaining all the virtuosity of her youth” (La Presse, Montreal, February 13, 2009)
Celebrated for her interpretations of the classical and romantic repertoire, she is particularly distinguished as one of the great interpreters of the piano works of Chopin and Mozart. She has also won acclaim as a champion of the music of twentieth-century Polish composers, both in concert and on disc.
Read Janina’s full biography here