Maestro Karol Radziwonowicz, the renowned Polish pianist, has arrived in Israel to perform a solo recital of music by Polish composers June 26th 2010 at the Einav Cultural Center (Tel Aviv.) Under the auspices of the Polish Institute, the concert is one of the festive “Chopin Year in Israel” events. I spoke to Karol Radziwonowicz June 24th.
Pamela Hickman: Maestro Radziwonowicz, welcome to Israel.
Karol Radziwonowicz: Thank you. This is my first visit here. My wife and I are looking forward to meeting the people, to seeing the concert halls, the country, its historical sites and its nature.
PH: What were your earliest musical experiences?
KR: I was born into a musical family, where both parents were professional pianists. At the age of five, I began piano lessons with my father. My mother was a concert pianist when young but stopped her performing career in order to raise us three children. She turned her energy to teaching piano and continues to teach piano in Warsaw today at age 86!
PH: Where did you continue your music studies?
KR: I went through music schools, graduating from the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music (Warsaw) and in 1986 won a Fulbright Scholarship to study under George Sebok at the School of Music of Indiana University at Bloomington. Sebok was a great among piano teachers and the artist’s degree I took with him meant much performing in different universities; I enjoyed having the opportunity to travel around the USA.
PH: What are your current professional activities?
KR: I perform in recitals and concerts with orchestras all over the world and, of course, in my native Poland. In addition to the gamut of concert repertoire, I specialize in the performance of Polish music - Chopin’s music of course, but also the works of composers such as Juliusz Zarebsky (1854-1885), Carl Mikuli (1819-1897) and Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), whose music might be less familiar to the concert-going public than that of Chopin’s. I was the first pianist to have recorded all of Paderewski’s piano works – they comprise of two piano concertos and many solo piano pieces. As a result, many other pianists are now performing his music. After Poland won its independence, Paderewski became its third prime minister: a public figure, he had become known to the Poles through his music!
PH: Your have also performed with your brother, violinist Tomasz Radziwonowicz.
KR: Yes. A graduate of the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, he is a composer, arranger and chamber musician but he mostly conducts nowadays. In 1990 Tomasz formed the “Solisti di Varsavia”, a string quintet which I joined in order to record all of Chopin’s works for piano and orchestra. My brother arranged these works for this combination. Of course, the effect is different to that of a full orchestra, more the spirit of chamber music; but we do know that Chopin himself often played his works with chamber ensembles for lack of an orchestra, so there certainly is a measure of authenticity in the project.
PH: Talking of Chopin, what is Fryderyk Chopin’s music for you?
KR: Of course, it is international music, but, for me, it is typically Polish in its moods. Understanding its message is more direct to Poles. The Polish word “zal” could be translated as something like “sorrow” in English. Chopin claimed his music described “zal” and this mood is very familiar to the Polish people. Chopin’s very essence was Polish – his first composition was a Polonaise, his last, a Mazurka (both Polish national dances.)
PH: What works will your Tel Aviv recital include?
KR: With 2010 celebrating the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, I will, of course, be playing several of his works. But the program will include a mix of pieces by other composers who had admired Chopin, their music finding its roots, inspiration or influence in his music. So the audience will have much to compare and think about while listening! Choosing a program means knowing for whom I am going to play in order to have feedback between myself and the people seated in the auditorium. It is most thrilling to the performer to sense that his/her audience is very focused on the music.
PH: Do you teach?
KR: I do not have time to teach, with such a busy performing schedule, but I do serve on piano competition juries and I hold master classes in many cities where I perform. I will be giving one day of master classes at the Israel Conservatory of Music here in Tel Aviv. I will also give a lecture on the interpretation of Chopin’s music in Poland. Throughout the lecture we will be listening to some historical recordings; technically they may be of poor quality, but musically they are magnificent! The old masters were true musicians who played several instruments, and one hears this versatility in their piano recordings.
PH: What are your future plans?
KR: I go back to Poland for recitals. One very interesting event will be a concert in the Atma mountain village, at the Karol Szymanowski Museum, a pre-1910 wooden building in which composer, pianist and author Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) lived and worked from 1930 to 1936. A far cry from a modern concert hall, the building, however, breathes atmosphere and history. And it must not be forgotten that 2010 is also the 150th anniversary of Paderewski’s birth and his music will be addressed in concerts.
PH: Let’s leave music for a moment. How do you spend your leisure time?
KR: I am a very keen photographer. My father also was and I learned much about it from him. I take many photos on my travels and, in Poland, have had exhibitions of my work. I love to take pictures of landscapes - views without signs of civilization. One of my exhibitions was called “Chopin’s Impressions” – it focused on landscapes from all over the world; there were, in fact, no photos of places where Chopin had been, but the mood of the exhibition was that of Chopin’s music, that of “zal”. And I am looking forward to taking photographs here in Israel when we tour around. My wife is a graphic designer; our artistic tastes meet both in music and in the visual arts!
PH: Maestro Radziwonowicz, many thanks for your time and for sharing so many interesting ideas. I wish you much enjoyment on your visit here in Israel.