Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I really do not know, perhaps my older sister’s lessons which I liked to listen to from the age of 3. She was not doing very well, in fact she hated practising the piano ( although she always loved the music but not the work involved) ,but I was learning a lot behind closed doors. We had a lovely grand piano and the piano & me were inseparable, very strange for a child of that age. I was also constantly glued to the radio, in those days in Poland, all you heard was either classical music or propaganda programmes. I chose music!!

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My Russian teacher Professor Tatjana Kestner in Moscow, Professor Wanda Losakiewicz, Professor Zbigniew Drzewiecki in Poland and my last teacher, Professor Ryszard Bakst at The RNCM in the UK.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Challanges? In a musician’s life there are always plenty of challenges. You have to challenge yourself all the time otherwise your standards will drop. As I have had a long break from the piano for various reasons, my biggest challenge is to re-establish myself again on the concert platform.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my recital performance I gave few years ago at Chethams School of Music during their annual International Summer School Festival for Pianists in Manchester (where I am a frequent member of the Piano faculty) just few weeks after my beloved sister Eliżbieta lost her long battle with cancer. It was a very difficult recital for me to play, in fact I was not sure if I could get through it. I have dedicated that performance and a CD which was recorded live during that recital to her memory. It was a very memorable and moving experience, and I received a standing ovation…

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love playing Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, most romantic composers – and Chopin of course.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It depends what I am asked for. I find that very often I will be asked to give all-Chopin recital. But I like to mix my programmes and deliver a variety of styles: it makes it so much more interesting and demanding, as you can show the different sounds and colours of the piano, especially when playing Debussy and  Ravel.

I still like to add new works to my repertoire, and I enjoy learning new pieces although it is not quite as straightforward as it used to be!!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I think the most fantastic venue I ever performed in was La Scala Theatre in Milan. The atmosphere on the stage and backstage was incredible. To think of all those wonderful singers like Caruso, Pavarotti, Callas, Frenni and so many others using the same dressing rooms: unbelievable!! (By the way, dressing rooms were not all that grand!!) Sheer beauty of both, recital room and the main hall, is something I will never forget and will treasure for ever. Wigmore Hall is another wonderful place. And of course very close to my heart is Chopin’s birth place, Żelazowa Wola, and Lazienki Park in Warsaw where you perform in the open air underneath Chopin’s monument. Sometimes you think he is going to say something to you – a bit scary!!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Chopin’s 4th Ballade and 1st Piano concerto, Schubert’s B-flat major Sonata D960 and Franck’s Prelude, Chorale & Fugue all feature very highly as my favourites but….. There are just so many pieces I love playing and fugues are amongst my favourites, in any style. Give me a fugue and I can spend hours poring over it!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Rubinstein, Richte, Gilels, Argerich to name just a few….

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are a few, but most probably the most intense and memorable because of where it was – Mozart’s Piano Concerto KV 466 in La Scala ,Milan.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

It is very important to play to others, especially if it involves a new piece never performed before. Play with a second piano if performing a concerto, and make sure that you study the orchestral score well so when it comes to first rehearsal you are not put off by some new tune you have not heard when playing with second piano! Also learn to take criticism and benefit from it. It is not always right, but there is always some truth in it, so do not be put off, and persevere .

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Very happy to be on the beach in Villajoyosa in Spain or walking around Old Town in Warsaw.

What is your most treasured possession?
My piano and my cat Pudding.

What is your present state of mind?

Feeling hopeful that some of my wishes connected with stage comeback will come true.

 

Alicja Fiderkiewicz was born in Warsaw, Poland and began to learn the piano at the age of seven. Her studies continued at the Central School of Music in the Moscow Conservatoire, Warsaw School of Music and finally at The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where she was a student of Professor Ryszard Bakst.

Full biography on Alicja’s website:

 

 

www.alicjafiderkiewicz.com

 

 

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?

Alert

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.[2] 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).

www.jozefkapustka.net

I purchased my ticket to hear Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski almost a year ago, to avoid disappointment: he is a pianist I’ve long wanted to hear live, in particular after seeing ‘Unquiet Traveller’, the wonderful and quirky film about him by Bruno Monsaingeon. In it, Anderszewski revealed himself to be a sensitive, thoughtful and original musician, and his comments about the need to “sing to Mozart” struck a special chord (forgive the pun!) with me as I was, at the time of seeing the film, involved the final work on Mozart’s Rondo in A minor K511 for my diploma, a work full of arias and operatic statements, with an opening melody that looks forward to Chopin at his most intimate.

Anderszewski is a famously perfectionist musician (he walked off the stage during the semi-finals of the Leeds Piano Competition in 1990 because he wasn’t happy with his playing) and is one of the few musicians I’ve encountered in interview to talk openly about performance anxiety and the loneliness of the concert pianist (more here). But there was no sense of a precious personality at work when he strode onto the stage at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday night, to a full house, and launched into a sprightly and colourful ‘Allemande’ of Bach’s French Suite No. 5, its melody streaming forth. Bach’s French Suites are more intimate than the English Suites, and Anderszewski offered a persuasive and thoughtful account, particularly in the exquisitely measured Sarabande and the stately Loure. The faster movements were dancing, witty and playful.

Despite being called English Suites, there is nothing especially English about them: they are essentially French in the dances featured in them, and are ‘player’s music’ rather than concert pieces. Anderszewski brought the grandiose opening ‘Prelude’ to life with a strong sense of the orchestral textures and fugal elements, and the following movements were elegantly presented. It was in the ‘Sarabande’, a movement which fully exploits the dark hues and gravity of G minor, that Anderszewski’s exquisite control, sensitivity and beauty of sound really came to the fore. He is also unafraid of exploiting the possibilities of the modern piano to the full, including the use of the pedal to create rich, warm sounds and shimmering pools of colour, and to highlight the melodic aspects of the movements. A marked contrast to the rather more mannered, traditional interpretations of Bach’s keyboard music.

After the interval, the less well-known Book 2 of Janacek’s On An Overgrown Path, a suite in five movements written at a time when the composer was coming to terms with the untimely death of his daughter Olga. These intensely introspective movements are emotionally searing and highly personal, imbued with references to Moravian folk music and harmonic fragments akin to Debussy’s soundworld.

It was in these pieces that Anderszewski’s ability to move from the most delicately nuanced pianissimos to rich, full fortes was most evident, and the subtleties and shifting moods of these poignant works were highlighted with great sensitivity and insight.

If we were wondering whether Anderszewski could also offer passion and sweeping virtuosity, without compromising his beautiful quality of sound, we were left in no doubt after his performance of Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major, Op 17, a work the composer described as “a profound lament” for his wife, Clara. It was a grandiose, declamatory and heartfelt close to a superb evening of piano playing of the highest order.

After several curtain calls, Anderszewski returned the piano and announced he would play the French Suite again. The audience laughed, a little uncertainly, perhaps not sure that he meant this, but by the time he reached the Sarabande, it was quite obvious he intended to complete the entire suite. It is rare to be given such a generous encore: indeed, I could have happily listened to Piotr Anderszewski playing Bach all night, such was the allure of his sound, understanding and musical sensitivity.

Piotr Anderszewki – Unquiet Traveller. More about the film by Bruno Monsaingeon here

Robert Schumann

ABEGG Variations, Op. 1, Widmung (Dedication) Op 25 no. 1 (arr. Liszt)

Fryderyk Chopin

Étude, Op 10, no. 5 ‘Black Keys’, Mazurka in D, Op 33 no. 2, Mazurka in F minor, Op 68 no. 4, Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante

Anna Stachula, piano

While a brisk November gale whipped up fallen leaves in Bushy Park and rattled the long windows of the Scientific Museum at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Silesian-born pianist, Anna Maria Stachula, gave an impressive debut concert at the NPL Musical Society.

Now in its 62nd season, the NPL Musical Society (NPLMS) hosts regular lunchtime concerts in an elegant room in Bushy House. Concerts are very well-supported by staff, former staff and the general public, and the Society attracts a varied range of chamber musicians. Concerts are held in the Scientific Musuem, an intimate space with a hundred year old medium-sized Steinway, and fine views across Bushy Park.

Anna Maria Stachula first came to my notice through her teacher, John Humphreys (Birmingham Conservatoire). John described Anna as possessing the kind of talent and technique one could expect at the Wigmore Hall, but despite this, Anna is virtually unknown in the UK and her day job is in a post office sorting office (where, she told me after the concert, she listens to music through her headphones while she is sorting post).

In a programme of popular works by Schumann and Chopin, Anna played with huge commitment and conviction, technical assuredness, dynamic shading, and musical insight. The opening piece, Schumann’s ABEGG Variations had a romantic sweep, yet there was humour and warmth too, and an understanding of the varied characters of this work. The casual closing cadence earned a chuckle of delight from the audience.

Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s ravishing love song Widmung, composed the year he married Clara Wieck, and Anna did justice to this beauty of this music with an enchanting performance.

Two contrasting Mazurkas by Chopin followed. The first, in jaunty D major, had a foot-tapping, dancing metre, and Anna brought a distinctly folksy vibrancy to the piece with her characterful playing. The second, in F minor, and one of the last works Chopin composed, was poignant and sincere, with tasteful rubato and subtle dynamic shading.

Anna’s account of Chopin’s B-flat minor Scherzo, the most popular of his Scherzi, was highly dramatic, brave and heartfelt, the contrasting sections of the work highlighted with careful attention to detail, and some really gorgeous playing, particularly in the trio which opened with a gentle hymn-like motif. (This for me was the highlight of an excellent programme.) The same rich cantabile tone was evident in the Andante Spianato (which translates as “smooth”), while the Grande Polonaise Brillante was fearless, spirited and virtuosic. The audience’s appreciation was very evident at the end with enthusiastic applause, and several people went to congratulate Anna afterwards.

Anna’s teacher John Humphreys will feature in my ‘At the Piano…..’ series

The next NPLMS concert is on Monday 26th November. Pianist Petra Casen performs a Spanish programme with music by Granados, Albeniz and Mompou. Concerts are held in the Scientific Musseum, Bushy House, and start at 12.45pm. Tickets £3 on the door.