Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?
I grew up in a very much culturally, and musically, rich household, although neither of my parents were musicians. I started my piano lessons early, by the age of four (the Soviet-inspired music education system was then held in great and well- deserved esteem, for one to be judged as apt to pursue a serious, as it was, musical training was considered something of an honour); but it was not until relatively later that my relationship with the instrument and music making was definitely shaped: indeed at 12 I was privileged enough to assist Sviatoslav Richter on stage during his unforgettable recital in my hometown Tarnow, Poland (he let me hold down the bass notes in one of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux), while also sharing a conversation and the great man’s private moments. I consider this to be a very major, pivotal event in my life. Schooling over, I realised that the only thing I could do quite decently was to play the piano, so it stayed that way, eventually evolving into a professional activity. Now it has become a way of life and I can hardly imagine it otherwise.
Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing?
I have long been fascinated by the “old school” of piano playing and its total mastery of the keyboard in all of its dimensions: technical, poetic, emotional, transcendental…….I do acknowledge the importance (and consider myself subjected to) and significant influence of the so-called Russian school of piano playing, both of Liszt-Siloti and Neuhaus lineage, its research of sound quality, lyrical expression, rhythmic drive, broadly understood articulation, both digital and epic, stylistic and structural intelligence (curiously and surprisingly enough I found many of these elements in Cortot’s Chopin edition that I value highly). There is also a timeless legacy of individuals like Horowitz or Gould which constitutes a continual and enlightened source of inspiration.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
At the early stages of a career, what inevitably stands out as a challenge is having to deal with “glass ceiling’ and “moving sands” syndromes, on top of not letting one’s ignorance of basic communication skills and socio-technical tricks stand in the way of personal improvement and, ultimately, personal fullfilment. Understanding the secret life of a professional agenda punctuated by phone calls or lack of, understanding the particularities of different life stages and their impact on social/professional interactions, all this while trying to keep an “inner child” alive, constantly expanding, upgrading and keeping up with the repertoire, knowing it inside out and upside down at all times, being at ease with proselytizing and successfully funding oneself and one’s intimate passions; and also the ability to preserve some time on one’s own, not letting personal life to become a wasteland are but a few of the constant challenges to which a professional musician is subjected during his/her life. I think we would also all reasonably agree that what probably is the most difficult in a long run is sticking to however unrealistic goal, once set, and never diverting from the straight path to achieve it, as well as never giving up in the face of ever-increasing competition.
Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?
During the last few years I greatly enjoyed performing both Liszt Concertos in France and in the United Kingdom and giving all-Chopin recitals, including on period instruments. I am very proud of my collaboration with the Rio de Janeiro youth string Orquestra de Cordas da Grota conducted by Ubiratan Rodrigues: during the Policia Pacificadora siege of Rio favelas in November and December 2010 we rehearsed, performed and recorded J.S.Bach’s Concertos BWV 1052 and 1058 (prod. Martin Voll for Otherwise Records). I am equally proud of my latest CD release Jozef Kapustka: Improvisations with Bashir containing my own improvisations in the oriental style, and where I am joined by Iranian virtuosi Bashir Faramarzi and Pedram Khavarzamini (sole distributor: DUX Recording Producers/Naxos, 2013). This recording, produced by Sanaz Khosravi, has been well received on both sides of the current diplomatic and ideological conflict.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
There are so many of them…… Great pianos, great acoustics, great public, great surroundings or any combination of these makes each experience unique and unforgettable. In terms of psychological impact, performing in some of New York venues while still in my twenties (Lincoln Center Alice Tully Hall, NY Public Library, Metropolitan Museum, Carnegie Hall) made a very lasting impression on me as I was striving not to be intimidated by all the great names, historic and current, that “made” these places.
Exceptional pianos, that one may get to play while travelling the world of concert venues, is another thread worth following in this context: I was allowed to “touch” Chopin’s piano on a display in the Chopin Society in Warsaw, Schubert’s piano in Germanisches Museum in Nuremberg and even allowed to practice on Rachmaninov’s piano exhibited in Steinway Hall in New York. No words can describe these moments: the feeling of living out a history, of what the French call “plenitude” (roughly “fullness” or “abundance”), continuity and unity. In 2011 I found myself performing Liszt Concerto No.2 (alongside Leamington Sinfonia conducted by Jenny Barrie) in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare’s burial place – and imagined both Shakespeare’s and Liszt spirits wondering freely around, somewhere up in the skies……
On a more anecdotal side, I had also a fair share of surreal moments in my career, once playing in the ancient seaside Roman theatre of Sabratha in Libya (then still under the rule of Qaddafi) to a virtually non-existent or imaginary public and feeling as if I were on a planet Mars, a blast of light and sound……
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
At the moment my favourite, both to listen and perform, are Rachmaninov’s Moments Musicaux op.16; otherwise the spectrum fluctuates freely, ranging from lesser-known, melancholy Baroque tablatures to Mahler Symphonies to Strauss Symphonic Poems to Soviet and American avant-garde (Ustvolskaya, Feldman). Nevertheless my all time favourites to perform are the two-piano versions of Stravinsky The Rite of Spring and Ravel La Valse, of which I made my own transcription, constantly in the process of being refined. Occasionally I also enjoy the “cheesy” side of the repertoire, with Latin sounds and rhythms or Viennese waltz extravaganzas.
Who are your favourite musicians?
My favourite musicians are: among pianists Rachmaninov, Horowitz, Richter, Cziffra; conductors Celibidache, Scherchen, Kleiber, violinist David Oistrakh; and singers Callas and Wunderlich . Well, I guess everything has been said about these giants, the subject is probably largely exhausted, and any attempt to comment further would be vain. As far as the contemporary scene is concerned, I will just limit myself to saying that I do have my “pros” and “cons”, however the issue is always delicate, at least since the phrase “de gustibus non disputandum est” has been pronounced in some distant past…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Besides having the opportunity to listen to Richter and Pogorelich playing live (1991 Lincoln Center recital), which springs to my mind as quite obvious a choice, I would like to surprise you with the following story:
Whoever lived in Krakow, Poland, back in the 80s will remember the blind Gipsy violinist playing next to the garbage bin on the Florianska street. Stefan Dymiter (1938-2002), for this was his name (although at the time very few knew either his name or his story), used to perform in a way that stands not only against every teaching principle of every possible violin school but also overtly defies quite a few laws of physics, particularly that of gravitation; he was holding his violin with the right hand like a cello, his bow with the left hand and accidentally happened to be the most pure form of a musical genius somewhere in between Mozart and Ervin Nyiregyhazi. Among anecdotes that circulated later, he was rumored to refuse to appear alongside Lord Menuhin, whose playing he disliked; also the late professor Szlezer from the Krakow Higher Academy of Music had been known to be send his students to listen to the man play and try to pick up some of his technical tricks . Well, myself I could just stand there for hours and listen to his inimitable, God-given sound……
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
It is important to bear in mind that one plays the piano not with fingers but with the mind, soul and spirit or with what the ancient Egyptians called “the divine breath”, Shou. This notion is to be somehow skillfully conciliated with the profession’s bare realities.
With a growing contempt for classical music as a highly demanding, noble art in favour of perceiving it as a somehow rather unsophisticated leisure, most conservatories are either deliberately out of focus with the “modern times” or simply are not equipped, in terms of human resources, to deal with shifting priorities, dogmas, “old boy networks” and a die-hard reality of material strains and psychological violence (as a matter of fact they never were). We are expected to “build a career”, move freely between its different stages, develop and implement a “professional strategy” with the emphasis on “getting there”, no errors, trials and tribulations allowed; good old days of plain music making are no more.
While still within an “ivory tower” world of the music school, few understand that there is no such thing as “getting there”: either you are where you want to be or you are not, and if you are not, someone, let’s call him “the game master”, simply has to put you where you aim to belong, it is as simple as it sounds but you will not pull off the stunt all by yourself. While the right networking moves are essential, the real factor of increased mobility and visibility is spending power; it is evident that money “buys” a “career”, not the other way around, so you’d better know what you are doing and most importantly, who is paying for it. The subject is largely a taboo.
Moreover, occasionally some wise spirits like to remind us, not without a twinkle in the eye, that music making is a passion and should be the source of infinite, nearly ecstatic pleasure. Yes, it is indeed. Therefore I stand by what I have said earlier in an interview for the London Royal Academy of Music online journal, if I may quote myself here: As an artist be true, be genuine, be sincere, and be passionate. Do not imitate, it does not interest anybody, be yourself. Respect yourself, respect your colleagues. Be faithful and decent. And last but not least: “Work hard, see large, achieve!”
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 3, it has been with me for few decades now and I have finally decided to give it a try.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Probably where I am meant to be there and then. Here and now is always what it should be and it is the only valid notion in time/space travels.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A happiness within. Contrary to popular belief, one does not need objects to be happy.
What is your most treasured possession?
Sviatoslav Richter handwritten message: “I wish you much happiness and success”
What do you enjoy doing most?
Walking in the countryside
What is your present state of mind?
Jozef Kapustka was born in 1969. He began receiving early musical tuition from local instructor Danuta Cieślik at the age of 3. He then briefly studied at the State Higher Academy of Music in Kraków with Ewa Bukojemska. Having graduated from The Juilliard School in New York (Bachelor of Music degree, 1992; piano with Josef Raieff, then Jerome Lowenthal and chamber music with Joseph Fuchs), he moved on to obtain a Postgraduate Advanced Studies Diploma specializing in piano performance from the Royal Academy of Music in London (1997), with Martin Roscoe. He also worked with Dimitri Bashkirov (masterclasses held under auspices of the Queen Sofía College of Music in Spain) and Vera Gornostaeva in Paris and Moscow. Being an alumnus of the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, 1991, he holds a Diplome superieur de la langue et civilization francaise from Paris Sorbonne University (1994). In 1994 he received a Grand Prix of the Conservatoire International de Musique de Paris. He was nominated for the Molière award in 2010 (Best musical play: Diva à Sarcelles, written and directed by Virginie Lemoine).